When being black, female and sensitive just gets too much…

Earlier I went to the South London Gallery in Peckham to visit their current exhibition ‘The place is here’. It’s actually a decent exhibition with a collection of videos, photographs, mixed media pieces and archives relating to prominent black British art and artists in the 1980’s and 1990’s, at the time of Afrocentrism and riots.

I was there for a fair bit as I wanted to really get a sense of the space and the content. [context – I used to study black British art of this particular period as part of my history of art degree at SOAS…SOAS represent!! ūüôĆūüŹĺ]

There were artists I knew of like Eddie Chambers, Kieth Piper, Sonya Boyce, Mona Hatoum and Rasheed Araeen. So it was great to see their works close up! Although it didn’t help that when I arrived staff there decided to walk up near me and randomly have a convo about their personal life, like ‘Hello? I’m trying to engage with this video, not your life!’

I digress.

It was after when I exited the gallery that a very panic-stricken woman came up to me whilst I was texting on my phone and asked for money.

I usually just say sorry and keep going (keeping it real here). But she caught my attention so much I couldn’t ignore her.

She was in a right state. She begged for ¬£6 to help her pay her council tax bill as well as food for her children. “I”m suicidal! I tried to take my life earlier. I had to have sex to buy this [points to her carrier bag with a bread loaf in it], and he cummed in me and I have to get tested for AIDS now [and a lot more rambling that I couldn’t figure out because she was distressed]… I’m suicidal, I’m going to kill myself!!”

Wow.

“Don’t do that please”, I firmly said because who knows? She was that manic, that she may have just jumped in the road.

“Look at my feet, they’re all dirty… [mumbling again that I couldn’t make out as she was distressed]” She then took off her right shoe and revealed some dutty feet.

“It’s okay, you don’t need to do that” – This is going far now.

I gave her ¬£2 in the end – “no I need ¬£6” – I still gave her 2 quid and she was off.

Walking up to my bus stop, I was a mixed bag of emotions – what should I have done? Should I have just said sorry and walked away? Should I have googled a helpline for her? Should I have said “Everything is gunna be alright”. This lady looked Caribbean and distressed and I really felt for her but I still felt like I was being conned. But then, I just got out of an exhibition all about the struggles of British black people in the U.K. especially London, and here I am confronted by a real life example. I couldn’t help but to do something for my British black women community. But still.

I just felt helpless.

I knew my money probably didn’t go to her bills, but then this woman doesn’t need money. She needs a support system. People who have her back. People who can help her and won’t oppress her for having brown skin and curly Afro-Caribbean hair, for having outspoken opinions and a different form of banter. She may have had a history of mental health problems or just the struggle to have basic human rights is what made her this way. I don’t know. All I know is this shit ain’t right. And yes it’s upsetting. Today I really felt all the troubles and frustrations that people with brown skin have to endure in London. Sometimes it gets to me more than others and I do have a heavy heart…This shit ain’t right…

 

What would you do?

 

“Go get a job!”

My friend and I were in central London, enjoying our ice creams. We turned to a road leading to Tottenham court road, ¬†at which point I saw a BIG ISSUE seller already approaching a woman eating outside the restaurant. If you’re a Londoner, you almost always see a Big Issue representative outside stations, tourist attractions, public facilities. I see one at my local train station. I’ve even started conversations with one more mature lady to find out why she was there and given money. And most of the time you know why they’re there. Even if you’re not ¬†from London, the person usually doesn’t look well groomed so you can assume their begging for money (the Big Issue¬†foundation¬†is a homelessness organisation¬†giving jobs to homeless people selling Big Issue magazines on the streets, as well as other things)

“GO GET A JOB!” she screams, angrily¬†and annoyed at this young BIG issue man trying to sell her a magazine.

He’s shocked. And so am I.

He walks off muttering to himself in amazement at how rude this woman is. “Go get a job, pfff!’

…How can she say that? That’s my first reaction. I mean she’s sitting there eating her gourmet food, telling him to go find a job. RAS CLAAAATT. REALLY???? He’s got a job selling magazines! It may not be her ideal job but it’s honest hard graft- he’s making a positive step to reclaiming his life, regardless of what happened to him, whether he became addicted to drugs, or stole or whatever would make you homeless. He’s seeking steps to help himself. And no one should knock a person down for that. NO ONE.¬†Woman need to check herself.

Even if he was being persistent and being annoying, there’s no need to speak to a human being like that. Just keep saying no. Ignore him even if you have to. I was vexed to be honest, and I had afterthoughts of how I would have gone up to that lady and given her a piece of my mind. Told her how ugly her attitude is. How she shouldn’t be angry at him, she should be angry at the government for not doing more to support homeless, unemployed people. For not doing more to help people with mental health concerns, young people with low self esteem as well as other issues. The government has let us down with its dodgy political, social and financial infrastructure. A person can abuse the welfare system so easily, and live like a king or queen by not working and claiming benefits, but then you have people struggling for their lives not getting a penny or a pound in welfare. The system is screwed. Shouting at homeless people to get a job does not help that person. We don’t know what that person is going through, emotionally, socially, psychologically, physically. So how are you gunna just shout at this person! Serious!

I walked off before the aftermath (or maybe there wasn’t?), but I hope she can think about her actions. And I hope the seller doesn’t get too disheartened by her words, but gives him more of a desire to succeed. Life isn’t easy no matter what background you come from, so we need to help each other. So please, be mindful of other and mind the gap.

Rant over.