NANA AKUA: 'Black only' theatre performance uses language of apartheid

NANA AKUA: The London theatre holding a ‘black only’ performance to keep the play free of the ‘white gaze’ uses the language of apartheid

The idea of a specific race being excluded from a British theatre performance is so appalling that, when I learnt yesterday that this was happening at the prestigious Theatre Royal Stratford East, I simply could not believe it.

Segregation goes against every principle I hold dear as a black Briton.

Yet on July 5, a performance of Tambo & Bones – a play said to explore 300 years of African-American history – will be staged for an exclusively black audience.

The theatre may claim that ‘no one is excluded’. But it also makes clear that white people will not be welcome at the so-called ‘Black Out night’. The aim, organisers insist, is to create a ‘safe, private space’ for an ‘all-Black-identifying audience, free from the white gaze’.

Needless to say, this is an openly racist policy. To suggest that the mere presence of a certain race is somehow harmful or not ‘safe’ is obviously every bit as exclusionary as any other law or policy that discriminates against one race.

Stars: Rhashan Stone, left, and Daniel Ward

Just imagine if the situation was reversed, with a ‘private’, whites-only audience, free from the ‘black gaze’.

That is the language of apartheid in South Africa or the Deep South of America before the civil rights era.

Theatre show with ‘all-black audience’ that aims to explore race-related issues ‘free from the white gaze’ is accused of setting a ‘dangerous precedent’

I don’t understand why anyone, least of all any black person, would want to introduce it.

It is dangerous and charts the path to some very ugly politics. The arts are one of the most powerful tools we have for challenging people’s prejudices – not enforcing new ones.

All the soapbox preaching in the world cannot have the impact of a great play, book or film about the struggles of black people: Think of 12 Years A Slave, 2013’s triple-Oscar-winning masterpiece.

Tambo & Bones stars Rhashan Stone, well-known from TV hits such as Finding Alice. He’s a fine actor and his name alone is bound to draw an enthusiastic, diverse audience. So why deny white people the opportunity of learning from his performance?

We need education – not exclusion.

A black-only policy is also especially poisonous for mixed couples, where one partner is white. And what about mixed-race people? How ‘black’ do you need to be?

I cannot conceive of anything more callous, ugly and un-British.

Stone and Ward will star in Tambo & Bones at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

Yet the very people who are most vocal on social media, the self-proclaimed prophets of the Black Lives Matter movement, are silent about the Theatre Royal’s announcement.

It makes me wonder whether some who claim to be fighting for racial equality are really more interested in stirring up hatred.

I urge my fellow black Britons to boycott this show until this ill-thought-out policy is reversed.

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