I Refuse to Allow Racism to Define Who I Am

Community Reporter for Covid 19, Dianna Djokey, interviews Roni Edwards, the creative director of Padmodzi Creatives, mother, and person of colour,  about her work in the art sector and how she navigated the pandemic, when Covid began to affect her creative practice. This is the second of a two part series, read part one here.

Dianna Djokey: Covid 19 took place alongside the Black Lives Matter movement. From what you’ve witnessed, what are your thoughts on that?

Roni Edwards: I found that I was exhausted. I think there was a lot of navel gazing that was happening, because we were all disempowered with our day-to-day structure. So a lot of self-reflection had been going on when the George Floyd death [happened]. It’s almost like a little bit more listening had happened. And it felt like as a result, suddenly people really wanted to talk about it, and talk, and talk, and talk.

And some of that felt a little bit tiring because if I was in a network where there weren’t many other people of colour, and people wanted to talk about stuff with me – which is fine and an absolute privilege – then it started turning into managing their emotions and looking after them. And managing their ‘guilt’, because it wasn’t always about guilt, and it was exhausting.

It was an absolute privilege to dialogue with people but on the flip side of that, [the] one thing that I felt quite wary of was [that], black people had an incredibly unique opportunity to have this platform to really tell it like it was and bring to light incredible levels of discrimination. And for a lot of people the animating energy behind that was anger, which was totally understandable, especially if they had first-hand negative experiences. But there was a lot of potential for that to be used and I remember going to a local BLM rally and just cringing a little bit inside because a young person who spoke missed an opportunity as she let her animating energy be about the anger – which is absolutely fine and absolutely justified – but it got lost.

There was so much opportunity that [we] could have harnessed [to] throw out a challenge to learn, on both sides. I think black people need to still have that listening and learning posture. We are the ones that need holding, but we also need to keep listening and keep learning as well. It shouldn’t be on us, it shouldn’t be our responsibility to do it but sadly, it is. And the moment we stop, we refuse to have a posture of being able to listen and learn, as well as challenge – if we don’t do that, we’re going to go back to square one again.

When you were at the protest what was the atmosphere like? 

I was there with my children, which in itself was a privilege because I needed my children, who are young people of colour, to be exposed to it. I didn’t actually have a conversation with anyone from that particular rally, so I never got any feedback as it were. I can’t comment on what their thoughts were but it felt like – and this is just from watching and not from speaking – it felt like the people who are not of colour who were there, sounded like you’re preaching to the converted. They were there because they strongly felt that black lives matter.

They were there because they recognized white privilege to varying degrees. Obviously, there’s always a journey of learning and understanding but the level of anger that came and the energy behind it almost made it seem like they were the direct culprits of the situation. And it felt like it could potentially be a really crushing experience, but I wonder if it had been approached as a let us see it as an opportunity to listen to each other [and] learn, why didn’t we get a couple of white people talking at the Black Lives Matter rallies?

Do you think Portsmouth City Council has been supportive during the pandemic?

I think the Council did what it could with what it had. And actually there were some really influential people that I know of who worked within the council that really led the way in trying to get those voices heard, especially when the statistics came out about how people of colour were disproportionately impacted by Covid.

There was a lot of dialogue and community dialogue, I feel, that took place with the resources they had to work with. But, like with a lot of things it’s institutional, ingrained racism. I say all this but in the same breath, I’m well aware that a [Council] motion was put forward to explore Black Lives Matter in a little bit more detail.

Would you say that the arts sector has been supportive of other artists who are people of colour?

I have to say, and I guess it’s been an absolute privilege to be able to say this, there’s not one particular experience I can [say where] something has happened to me because I’m a person of colour. I refuse to hustle on that basis. If you’re going to collaborate with me, collaborate with me on the basis of my reputation and work. I’m not going to pull that card out. But that’s not to say that it’s not an issue, it’s just I’ve been privileged enough not to have had that negative impact. And aside from that, this is about lack of education and knowledge, there will always be situations where you’re perceived a certain way and assumptions are made because you’re a person of colour but you harness that and you make it work for you..

I’m grateful that I know how to navigate what I let influence me, and what I let drive me and I seem to have the spiritual language to be able to define and move towards the things that feed me. There’ll be situations where race would have come up and negatively impacted you, and we all have those every other day microaggressions. I just don’t have the energy to focus on them; you don’t feed into it.

It’s almost like you picking your battles.

Yeah. And there’s such healing in that as well because it would be easy for me to hone in on experiences where I was negatively impacted, like the time I was spat at, the time when somebody reached for my bum, or when people try to touch my hair. Those experiences, I refuse for them to  define who I am.

For you it’s about what’s feeding you is your creativity, and for people to understand each other?

Yeah, and celebrate, I hope. It’s being creative, it’s celebrating, it’s affirming. It’s challenging. And it’s leaning into difficult conversations. I don’t do it very well but that is the aspiration.

What’s interesting is that the black experience isn’t one-dimensional. It’s a paradigm and not every person of colour has experience with racism. It’s been insightful for me to hear your experiences, and your understanding of how race plays within Portsmouth and also within the arts sector and how you navigate that. 

It’s just my experience. If you talk to other people, they’ll have had probably traumatizing experiences that molded how they see Portsmouth.


To find out more about Roni’s work with Pamodzi Creatives, visit the website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter


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