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Thursday, 11 June 2020

'Coming out' with Mixed feelings

Little Mix's fifth album
No one could ever accuse me of being a Little Mix fan; apart from anything else, I am definitely not part of their target audience, and until I decided to write this post, I couldn't name any song they've recorded. However, while I don't usually pay much attention to acts that come through TV talent shows, I've always had a certain respect for this group.

When they were doing well on X Factor, the name proposed for them was Rhythmix. At the time I thought this sounded very like the Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart band Eurythmics, but an even closer similarity came to light: when X Factor tried to trademark the name, it turned out that it was already being used by a children's music charity based in Brighton, who quite reasonably didn't want their name to be appropriated. I read at the time that Simon Cowell was all for brazening it out - clearly no one tells Simon what to do - but the young women themselves decided to change their collective name to Little Mix. "Good on them!" I thought, genuinely impressed.

Last week in the aftermath of the worldwide protests following the murder of George Floyd, the group's Leigh-Anne Pinnock published a video, now gone viral, in which she talks about her own experiences of racism. She described one particular incident as the biggest awakening of her life when she was filming the video for the group's single 'Wings'. The director and choreographer Frank Gatson, himself black, told her: "You're the black girl. You have to work 10 times harder." She said: "Never in my life had someone told me I would need to work harder because of my race", but in time she found he'd been right.

Other artists who have publicly described similar experiences have lost fans as a result, but Leigh-Anne's attitude is: "I don't care if I lose fans. Now the whole world is speaking about it and hopefully there is going to be a change. I feel hopeful." [More about this on the BBC news site here.]

Her band mate Jade Thirwell has also described some of the racism she had been subjected to, saying: "If you weren’t evidently black, you were called the P-word or called 'half-caste'. I would get so confused because I’m not from Pakistan. One time I got pinned down in the toilets and they put a bindi spot on my forehead – my mam was fuming!... I’d identify myself as mixed-race; if I delved deeper, I’d say of Arab heritage, I guess. I’ve had an inner battle of not knowing where I fit in or what larger community I fit into."

Jade was rightly incensed when media coverage of her description of this racism was illustrated by a photograph of Leigh-Anne, telling them: "You might want to make sure you're using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group." A good example of casual racism - almost certainly unintended, but racism nonetheless.

Although I'm a white male, I can to a very limited extent identify with some of this. During the height of the 'Me Too' movement, I became sick of reading comments by people - mostly but not exclusively male - asking why it had taken so long for some of the accusers to tell their stories, with more than a few sarcastically suggesting the motive was money. I was so incensed by such stupidity that I 'came out' myself in a post on Facebook about my own experiences of being on the receiving end of sustained domestic violence. In response to anyone who questioned why it had taken some of these women perhaps 10 or 15 years to come forward, I pointed that my own 'coming out' had taken nearly 40 years.

I'm not deluded: I do understand that I don't have the public profile of Leigh-Anne and Jade, but I also know it is not easy to put something so personal and painful in the public domain, so I admire the steps they have taken: it cannot have been easy, but if my own experience is at all relevant (and I leave others to judge that), I'm sure they won't regret doing it.

[Read more in this Metro article.]

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