Racism and Colourism in Burlesque – Some of my thoughts…

If you’re black and reading this you get it. If you’re white and affiliated to the Burlesque or Performance Art scene just think for a second on how many black performers you have seen on a bill recently. And i mean black with some sort of visible african decent. Not another mildly tanned –  white presenting person booked under the umbrella POC. Then think again. Where was that performer on the line up? Last? Listed after all the white performers and white presenting? Right, you understand now what i am talking about. Don’t get me wrong i love all the shades. But racism and colourism in Burlesque is REAL. And the big problem is – It is still been widely overlooked. Especially in Britain. A Country that has so much Black Excellence to offer – left right and centre.

The main problem i am having is with the recent trend of producers booking diverse or saying they include a lot of POC into their cast but in reality you still have to be half white half asian to have a chance of a booking. This is colorism. It’s not ok to prefer light skinned POC. In my eyes this is just a lazy way how people wash their hands free from ‘being racist’ in the public eye (and they won’t have to deal with their white performers on their bill who might be appropriating another culture). Everybody is applauding them. So they even move into the spotlight through this and celebrate their productions as ‘diversity shows’. Gross!

One white producer took it to max exploiting black performers in London.  They produced an all black cabaret show cashing in on big arts council funding for it but then didn’t promote the show at all. So the cast had to perform twice in front of an almost empty theatre. The producer didn’t seem to be surprised or bothered by this fact.  They already made their money! Crazy enough the cast was still inspired and wanted to continue the show but the producer could not offer any support nor showed real interest. So the project died.

At last i want to mention Burlesque productions that book black but then put them last on their line up – regardless if they are internationally renown or not. I have seen this so often. First listing the white performers, then the male performers, then the newcomers, then asian, then black…. It actually happened to me recently. When i called it out to the producer lied to my face that the venue had apparently requested the line up in that order. But i know they make their own posters and have absolute control over what’s printed! I also watched their line ups since then the black performers are always listed last.

All these things are currently in my head and i feel the only way to help changing them is to say them out loud and make more people aware this IS happening.

That’s why i think International Burlesque Festivals in Europe are so important. A lot of Festivals now make a point of booking very diverse but also practising inclusivety in trying actively to make their invited POC performers feel welcome and safe. And they book the whole spectrum of POC too! This is a massive achievement that needs to be pointed out.

There was a lot of talk last year on the international scene with producers actively being involved. I always appreciate when people directly approach me and seek my intel or advice. But it saddens me that not much is changing. I hope for Britain and the rest of the world that things move forward into the right direction. But quite frankly right now i have doubts.


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