I hope you’re keeping well in the midst of the lockdowns happening across the world. Here in South Africa, for the past 2 weeks we have been on level 3 lockdown with restrictions including access to the beach which has made it particularly hard for us Ocean lovers, I want to shade my current upset but think I need to sit a little bit more before I delve into South African race and legacy of apartheid problems.
So what am I writing to you about today?
The wonder of, if the exclusion of BIPOC people in ocean spaces is intentional.
A human bought me a ticket to watch the online Ocean Film Festival that happens in the UK (I figure it is similar to Wavescape here in South Africa), and as I watched was the admiration of the beautiful stories being told of adventure and humans overcoming discomfort to make epic ocean adventures possible.
There was one feature film that included humans called street surfers that featured Black people and it was beautiful to see this story being told because I have such respect for the work they do and how hard they work (normally between 03h00 and 04h00 you can hear the guys racing down the streets and I’d sometimes come outside to watch them in awe… just yes, watch the film!), however, as I closed my eyes to sleep, the horror of the fact that no BIPOC people had been featured in a festival of probably 10 Ocean stories, over 2 hours long, not one BIPOC person.
All stories were white, created by white people, narrated by white people, of white expeditions, also hosted and presented by white people.
Needless to say, I spent the next few hours mulling in distress of how this was possible, where the Black people in the UK are and how anyone allowed for these stories to be the only stories that were told… like how… was there even a BIPOC person in the room?
So I shared parts of my distress on social but figured that this is incredibly important and that it needed time and space on this platform where we are all working to make the Ocean arena more diverse and inclusive.
So you may ask, what do you mean there were no Black people, you just spoke about the street surfers, yes. Let's tuck in.
Why is it criminal to have no diverse representation at this film festival?
Because it continues the unhealthy narratives around BIPOC people and water,
Because it furthers the narrative of explorers and water people only being white,
Because its not inclusive and diversifying undiverse spaces should be everyones responsibility particularly those entrusted with power, and the biggest thing, this whole film festival, wrote off an entire population - a whole population of water people was not included.
So what about the Street surfers then?
For the only Black people featured to be poor, living in undignified conditions solidifies the fetishising of Black poverty - Africa being poor and its white saviours. The optics look to meet the current narrative and reaffirm it.
Also, this story spoke of these Black guys, saving the ocean for those who care about the Ocean, they were not Ocean people… broken down as - this guy who tells the story about those guys and their relevance in relation to the ocean.
This was an important story to be told, but isn’t a Black Ocean story but also, it can’t be told in isolation.
There must also be a story with a BIPOC lead, created by a BIPOC person, talking of expeditions they went on, and narrated by a BIPOC person, where the inclusion looks to affirm that, BIPOC people are also capable of leading expeditions and social change in the places they are too, also because Black joy at sea exists too.
The sharing of the why is important because it's how we learn together, and how in places where we hold power, can use our voices to create the world we want to see.
Sjoe, i fee l lighter already.
I then got a question that acknowledged the points raised, and a question posed - what is your call to action, what do you want us to do with this information, something along the lines of : what can white males do or is it a call for Black people to step up?,
I had to sit and think about it because the answer is multifaceted - there’s the physical creating, the funding process, the process of submission for features and then putting the work into the world, so I am going to give a response as I did to the human, because it allows us time to think around how we bring social change, but also, its a beginning point where you can take what you can, to use where you are and action what’s within your power,
So what is my call to action?
It's a call to people who have power and influence (like white males and then, white females) to speak up when opportunities come up - to intentionally look to bring diversity into discussions of whatever is on the table.
For people in power or with influence, in the room to be upholders of diverse and inclusive spaces by speaking up when there is no diversity in something like this festival, no one else would know but the people in the room, and if you don’t know, asking the organizers if there is diverse representation in the films lined up for the night or a reminder to the organisers about the importance of celebrating diverse stories.
It’s a call for people with influence to share their platforms with BIPOC people in order to increase exposure for ocean loving and living BIPOC people by creating with and lifting their untold stories too.
A call to empower those who’s stories are not being told - underwater filming gear is expensive which makes the idea of ‘a call for more black films makers and storytellers to stand up to the plate’ though noble, near impossible because the barrier to entry makes it inaccessible, for example, I bought an expensive dslr in hope to capture underwater good then realized the underwater housing costs more than my camera and that meant another pause until I can afford this next barrier, so, you might find a human and begin to share your know in hope that the other human, with you, can perhaps, in having access to your gear, create something they’ve always wanted to while saving up towards their own gear.
And then, you can help open the doors for BIPOC people to make it onto the table of discussions when funding for these films are discussed or processes and wording that helps secure the funding and the feature (a human recently spoke of language to use when speaking to this particular brand and I was like soooooo… you wouldn’t know if you haven’t been rolling in those circles)
This process helps to break down the barrier of access in the creation phase, but then allows for diverse representation to slowly become a norm where the empowered start to become peers, begin to own gear and are in the full circle of being empowered to create while knowing they are supported in a very close knit industry (read white dominated and protected by white) and maybe, just maybe, make it into the room.
So what’s my close on the opening question? Is the exclusion of BIPOC people intentional? Im leaning towards yes, where ignorance is a possibility, I find myself astounded that, in the midst of everything happening in the world, including Black Lives Matter, something this big could still be overlooked.
Also, the common appropriating of indigenous language for benefit in an arena that denies their existence makes me battle in the sit of how unintentional it could be.
But maybe Black people have been everywhere else but not at sea, so not a fathom or consideration… so maybe then ignorance.
I, as a South African, use BIPOC as Black, Indian and People of Colour though its important to note that in its traditional, it stands for : Black, Indigenous and People of Colour.
Thanks for reading, wishing you a stunner week and see you on Thursday at 18h00!! Our first live for the year, I'm so excited to share about my guest, if you missed our last live with Matthew Majola, catch up on it here and here.
A phenomenal live with Matthew Majola - we talk the water human, the passion, how he taught himself how to swim and the traumatic experience that led him to learn how to swim and later become a lifesaver.
Such incredible stories that are soo important! Matthews passion is tangible, from an ocean heart to an ocean heart with love, enjoy! 💙🧜🏽♀️
His Instagram handle is : @matthew_4821