Dear guest, for context, please read the 21st Century Burlesque article
Hi Toulouse Burlesque Festival producers and Fafa Bulleuse,
My name is Sadie Sinner The Songbird, and I love Nina Simone too! I recently paid homage to Nina at a show I curate, called The Cocoa Butter Club, which showcases and celebrates performers of colour in London (and recently Australia). For the tribute, I belted the classic “Don’t let me be misunderstood”, after playing a wonderful 3-minute video of Nina entitled “The Artists Duty” – and I shall now aptly use these titles to address ‘the incident’! (Thank you Nina!)
“The Artist’s Duty”
Fafa, Toulouse Burlesque Festival, I want to thank you; “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times”- Nina Simone. Thank you for reflecting the times- for proving we still have a long way to go when it comes to white performers (or white people in general) understanding the full gravity of their privilege and impact of their racist actions.
Whilst you’ve done the art form and yourselves a disservice, this could also be a blessing in disguise, allowing us (black/ brown/ poc performers) to once and for all put a stop to this foolishness.
Heed my warning- I’m not going to mince my words- stop messing with my very real culture and experiences in order to make yourself seem special. Seriously, back off plain Jane. I understand, on my most basic day I am more fabulous than you on a good-to-best, because of what runs through my veins, however, this culture, experience and race comes with a price: I don’t have freedom. As a black woman, I do not have freedom to move through the world untroubled. As a black woman, I have to watch simple Sallies, like you, casually put on the best parts of my culture and take them off as you please and continue moving freely.
When you do “borrow” my culture, you do so from a position of privilege; ain’t no one gonna treat you black, coz you aint black- that same way we don’t start asking little Megan to do actual adult things when she dresses up as her mummy. So, you see, you’re like a child dressing up – you “look” like the thing, but have no actual experience or responsibilities of being the thing. You just decided it looks nice, or you want to be it for the day, or you thought it would make those who love you laugh, and you love attention, so of course you’re gonna engage in this thing- to get some sort of reaction. I just feel it would have been more credible to you as an artist, had you decided to shock us with your talent, and not your desire to dress up.
“Please… Don’t let me be misunderstood”
Fafa, you are racist. Toulouse Burlesque Festival, you are also racist, for choosing to actively endorse Fafa’s monstrosity. You’re both racist as you are choosing to ignore the experiences of the people you have chosen to clown and those allied to them, by gas-lighting our responses, because you think you know better. No one knows being black like I do, so now I’ll tell you the truth- but I’m gonna tell it to you how you wish to be told- like a strong, resilient, magical, proud black person … try not to cry; black people are hella strong, and I’m treating you like black people:
Fafa, you are lazy and uncreative. Toulouse Burlesque Festival, you are lazy and a “sell-out”. You chose to keep the act in your festival as you “value shock factor” (guess you want the easy marketing)… erm, do you know what shock factor is?
Honey Renard’s Fox act has shock factor (check that ending!) Rubyyy Jones‘ Pottyyymouth Princess has shock factor (all that swearing!) Tempest Rose’s Revue en Rose has shock factor (OMG that costume just became another costume!!). These are 3 simple examples of creative shock factor. These are 3 examples of “wow” moments in burlesque choreography that would have had your audience talking- abuzz with the disbelief at the originality of these creative acts.
Whilst we certainly are talking about Toulouse, it’s not for “shock factor”… it’s for racism.
Fafa, where was your originality when you decided to black up to portray a black person? You haven’t even got past stage one! Very basic. Now, I get you wanted to pay tribute to Nina, but erm… do you even know what Nina was about?
She wasn’t about you. She wasn’t for you. You could enjoy her too, but she was not for or about you. As a black woman, let me say, I would return from the dead to haunt the women who dare treat my skin colour and what it means as an accessory and try pass off fulfilling their fantasy of being ‘black’ as paying tribute to me.
Fafa, by the way, between being very annoyed at your delusion and privilege, black people are laughing at you. Like, just look at a photo of yourself in this act- girl you look a fool. You cant even perform that act for anyone except racist people. Do you think a crowd of black people would praise you for this monstrosity? Do you think Nina would praise you?
Toulouse Burlesque Festival – from producer to producer- just being real: you know that moment your eyes peeled, when you watched Fafa’s video submission and you knew you just HAD to have this act in your show- what was it about the act that you liked so much? I’m genuinely interested. Was it enough for you that Fafa blacked-up, like was that the USP, the thing, the dollar signs? At what point when watching her submission did you feel that producer excitement and desire to endorse this piece?
Do you understand the moment you allowed a black facing act to go on your stage you were staying a MASSIVE “F*%K YOU” to black people EVERYWHERE? You actively chose to ignore the history of black facing and opinions of your black audience. That’s why you’re racist. Excuse the Kanye, but you don’t care about black people…
“Please… Don’t let me be misunderstood” AND “The Artist’s Duty”
Okay, you’ve made it this far! Let’s go a little deeper:
Toulouse Burlesque Festival, right now, no people of colour want to work for you. I also implore any allies (no “allies lite” subscribers please) to take the same position.
(If) you are racist, and we don’t want racism being promoted in this art form, then it’s time to shut you down, until you are no longer racist (…) Alternatively, racists, feel free to apply for Toulouse Burlesque Festival – we’ll just all secretly accept Toulouse Burlesque Festival is “that racist burlesque festival” we have. We’re accepting just as problematic things in this industry anyway, what’s one more squiffy festival to add to the list?
You see, it is our own responsibility in life, to communicate to others how we wish to be treated, and I am graciously taking the time, as a black artist, emotionally affected by the f*%kery of this all, to communicate to you that I and all performers of colour would like white performers to stop clowning us.
White performers, do you know how much your POC peers love you? How much we sacrifice for you? All the times we bite our tongue instead of dragging you after you make a silly micro-aggression. We love you so much, we are supressing ourselves to make you comfortable. We shrink ourselves in your presence. We want you (white people) to feel comfortable.
Well, burlesque, its time to revoke that privilege. You lost it when you chose to disrespect POC by blacking up; when you don’t hire POC but hire white women wearing Afros; when you say performers of colour don’t exist – when actually you just don’t bother leaving your comfort zone to find them; when you praise a white performer twerking, however a black performer twerking “isnt burlesque vocabulary”.
So, POC (and authentic allies), from here on out, if you see f*%kery CALL IT OUT: don’t let that act even make it to stage and don’t mince your words when you’re telling them why. Shut your problematic white fav down when they f*%k up to this degree. Hold these people accountable.
Lastly, Fafa, one of the reasons I founded The Cocoa Butter Club was because we do it best. No one can do a cultural act like a person of colour, so throw away the paint and resign the act. Also, here’s the video I screened for my Nina tribute. I think you can agree, from her words here, Nina would be disgusted by your act.