Today a black woman spoke quietly and in friendly way to me in what I would consider a rather white space – the changing room of a posh-ish workout space in Canary Wharf. Later that morning, in the same space, another smiled surreptitiously goodbye to me as she left the room. My first thought was, Who me? What, why? I have been going to this space for months and no one ever really makes eye contact with me, let alone speaks to me. My second thought was, oh! Two black women! I am not sure how to explain why this experience was remarkable for me. What I experienced seemed special. It wasn’t that kind of easy camaraderie you might get between gym buddies. It reminded me of a few things.
“I’m happy to create a brand new old boys’ network that circumvents the institutionalised ones we deal with on a daily basis. Because there is a secret cabal of people of colour” – Nikesh Shukla, The Good Immigrant
Someone once said, if a person of colour walks into a room where they expect to be the minority, there is that instinct to scan the room for other people of colour.
In New York, I know of Singaporeans and Malaysians hanging out happily while back in Asia, there is a bit of that scoffy rivalry that goes on.
Why do I usually end up sitting next to the other people of colour during a table read of a play?
I went to a casting today. It was one of those where the ethnicity of the character wasn’t specified as Chinese but the characteristics of the role made it possible for a Chinese actress to be seen for it. Last week, in screen acting class, our lovely teacher was saying how we need to enter the room believing that the role is very easily ours. Not to doubt the casting director. I understand this; I understand how actors sometimes sell themselves short. I said to my class that actors of colour are often brought in to audition because of their colour, and not because of their unique ability or presence. At some point, the very, very lucky, tenacious, and talented (or at least, the more practised) actor of colour, might just be seen for what they can bring to the table. It is not all doom and gloom here in my being. I do get seen for roles I am right for, but only by people who know me. Catch-22-ish.
Anyway, I am pleased that my essay wasn’t about my life as an actor. Riz and Ms L and others write beautifully about that world. I have spoken elsewhere about the continuous construction and representation of self. Ha. Check out the fancy multisyllabic words.
The thing is, yes, I feel trapped. And I know that the way out has to do with how I feel about my situation and what I do, if anything is possible, about it. The thing is, I mustn’t get trapped by blaming myself for not moving or doing or taking action fast enough. I recorded a podcast recently. It’s not out yet but one question was to do with what I’d advise a woman of colour. One of the things I said was to make some effort to see the system that’s around you so that we get some sort of perspective on why it can feel SO DAMN HARD sometimes. History, politics, socialisation. These are big things sloshing about around us. If it sometimes feels difficult, it’s because it is.
I don’t want to be defeated. I don’t currently believe that the universe wants me to be happy, as some have told me, and I don’t believe it’s out to get me either. Isn’t it another big thing to know that I could do anything at all, as long as I didn’t hurt anyone? Simply anything?