Though not at all costs.
Though not at all times.
Visibility matters but raises questions that are too rarely asked – whose visibility? Visible to who? Visible for what?
Pride season is often the time of year when calls for greater visibility reach a crescendo. We march through city centres to cries of, ‘We’re here, we’re queer, we’re not shopping!’. We wave flags, bang drums, and drape our vehicles, our buildings, and ourselves in rainbows and other variations of flags that announce the presence of our tribe, our community, or our existence. Between us, we engage in sometimes bitter, always heartfelt, debates about whether we are seeking to be seen as the guest at a party or an agitator at a protest. We worry about who we are seen with, who should be at the front and who behind. We not-so-secretly hope that among the throng, we will be the one featured on the news bulletin, whose outfit will tickle the fancy of the photo editor, whose witty chant about our pet issues will go viral – because visibility matters.
On reflection, it is pretty odd behaviour. Are we guilty of mistaking visibility for validity? Are we more valid for being seen by unconnected others? Is the momentary attention of Moira in Macclesfield, or Dennis in Devizes, watching the news while waiting to check their lottery numbers a measure of our worth? Do we really think that being visible to gaggles of pleasantly surprised tourists whose trip to town has taken a lively and colourful turn by coincidence, somehow a prize worth pursuing? Are we really suggesting that we want decision-makers to respond to our needs because we have the banner that gets the most LOLs, or the parade entry that moves most rhythmically?
Nor are we claiming when asserting that visibility matters that those who feel able to be visible are any more worthy or valuable than those who do not. We know that visibility comes with risks to life and limb for many. We know that some are able to be selectively visible, and that that choice is a privilege.
So what are we doing. Why this year are BlackOut asking Black queer men in the UK to take part in Revolutionary Love: The Movie? Why were we #FlyingTheFlag at Pride in London?
For us visibility matters.
Visibility to each other.
Visibility for our liberation.
Visibility that enables us to lift each other up; that helps us articulate what it means to share the challenges, opportunities and joys of being Black, queer and male in the UK in 2019. If we don’t see each other, how can we know each other? If we don’t know each other, how can we build a shared future? What kind of community could we build if we are made up of hidden faces, false names, and fake avatars, except for one that too is hidden, false and fake?
Like casting pearls before swine, we share our images on social media – sometimes with a real identity, sometimes without. Our best life edit. Some thirst trap for attention, others perform to distance themselves from other Black men in the hope that their ‘respectability’ will buy them a ‘get out of racism free card’, some run to cash in on ‘influence’ by generating clicks so corporates can sell us stuff we don’t need, yet others think ‘visibility’ is an end in itself, claiming that simply wearing full make-up or a skirt down the high street is in some way a public service for which non-make-up-wearing/ without-the-legs-for-a-skirt, minions ought to be grateful.
Visibility matters and alive to this we use our visibility in different ways. No foul – do what works for you.
BlackOut seeks to use our visibility to build community among us. Visibility as virtue rather than vanity. Like the nod of acknowledgement that you see Black men exchanging with each other across the globe – we want to use our visibility to say, ‘we see you, we got you, we respect you‘
That is why we invited fashion photographer Benjamin Glean to use his considerable skills to capture images of Black queer men at UK Black Pride earlier this month, to kick off our new feature, Seen on Scene.
Check it out and let us know what you think – if you are a photographer who would like to work with BlackOut to create images of us that use our visibility to build our community, get in touch.
After all, visibility can matter.