When you go from only having one aspect you hate about yourself, to hating every aspect of yourself when you look in the mirror, you know something has gone horribly wrong!
Akin Wright talks about the inspiration behind his show, I Am Not Black, which following a sold out run this January at Barons Court Theatre, returns to CPT for its second run 28 - 30 Sep
When I used to look in the mirror, while I was getting ready for primary school the first thing I would tend to notice about myself was my ears. They were rather pointy and made me look a little elfish. Around Christmas time I would get the odd joke about when my next trip to the North Pole was, and if I could check Santa’s list to see whether they were on the naughty or nice list.
I used to hate those jokes, mainly cos they were so lazy and repetitive. I know that nine year olds aren’t the most inventive when it comes to insults but they could have tried to think outside the box a little.
I never would have imagined that I’d reach a point where I actually missed the poorly thought-out humour.
I remember being beyond excited for Secondary School. I had heard the stories from older cousins and family friends about how much more fun it was than primary, and how it’s where you meet some of your best friends for life.
I had assumed I would leave the school after seven years with a solid group of friends, multiple exciting stories and perhaps even a girlfriend, if I was lucky.
I never imagined I’d leave after five years hating nearly every aspect of myself.
Now when I looked in the mirror, the first thing I noticed wasn’t my pointy ears. It was my ‘big blowjob lips'. It was my nose, that was so big it basically took up my whole face. It was my skin, that made it so whenever the lights would go off in class people would shout “Where did he go?!”. It was a whole multitude of things based around my race, that at an unbelievable point in time had never crossed my mind.
I know that my experience isn’t unique. That there are thousands of other black people who experienced the same constant stream of microaggressions and racism.
Yet, I wonder how many of them also dealt with the removal of their identity, as I had.
Coconut, Oreo, Choc Ice, Bounty. These where comments that had been thrown at me by white people for years. I didn’t live up to their definition of a black person.
And yet, I also didn’t live up to black people’s definition either. As far as these people were concerned I was an anomaly, an outlier. I was nothing.
I had my black card revoked by both white & black people. I got to a stage where the only thing I hated more than the people who threw me into boxes, was myself. I hated absolutely every aspect of my body. I often dreamed about waking up a completely different race, perhaps a mixed one, that way I would be liked by everyone, get all the girls I wanted and I wouldn’t be expected to fit into any particular box.
This feeling of self-hatred went on for years.
So what changed?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the turning point was. Leaving school and going to a different sixth form definitely helped. Going to university slowly growing in confidence was another. Gaining a solid friendship group that had a similar lived experience to mine was also invaluable to me.
But I believe the most vital thing was writing. Writing poetry, writing plays, writing stories about my life and my experiences.
Writing for my younger self. Writing what I would have loved to read when I was young, vulnerable and alone.
In many ways, I Am Not Black helped me forgive myself for all the years I spent riddled with self-hate.
And seeing how much it resonated with audiences, both young and old, was my catharsis.
I can never get back the years I lost, wallowing in an ocean of deep sadness and despair, questioning my identity, cursing my black skin.
But if I can make just one person, spend more years loving themselves for who they truly are, then maybe, just maybe… I can get those years back.
28 - 30 Sep 2023
Tickets £8 - £12