Stacey Lamptey on normalising black people
‘We don’t always have to talk about race’
Stacey Lamptey likes Bridgerton. Sure, there were no actual black queens in Regency-era England, but what’s more important for those who watch the Netflix period series is that people of colour are portrayed in positions of power and influence.
‘Not having white people at the centre of everything can have an effect on how other people are viewed around the world’, she says. ‘We should normalise seeing people of colour in everyday spaces.’
When Stacey founded Black Ladies of Groningen (BLOG) in 2018, she didn’t expect the community would hit the headlines as an activist group. She simply wanted to create a safe space for her friends.
Are you new here? We have this group for black girls
When one of them was talking about how she wished there was a community for black women where she could share her issues openly without encountering even ‘mild forms of racism’, Stacey realised she could help her out. As an active student, she had a lot of friends of African and Caribbean descent, so she quickly created a WhatsApp group and added every single woman she knew, hoping they all would connect and make friends.
‘At first, I would see someone on the street and literally go like: hey, are you new here? We have this group for black girls, would you like to join?’ she says, laughing.
The initial idea was to have fun together – cook dinner, watch films, do their hair – and talk about ‘anything and everything’ with women who really understood each other. By word of mouth, the group attracted 131 people, and Stacey realised she had a platform to speak up about things that mattered to them all.
It was one year ago, in June, that Stacey came to the forefront to support the Black Lives Matter events and show that ‘there are people in the North of the Netherlands who care’. Together with the Groningen Feminist Network and the Women’s March Groningen, BLOG organised the sit-in against anti-black violence, which attracted hundreds of supporters on the Grote Markt. They hit local and national headlines, too. It was a blast, after which BLOG became visible.
With ‘everybody wanting to know who this group is that organised the sit-in’, Stacey’s been invited to give dozens of interviews and speeches. Be it an event organised by a left-wing party or an education conference by a university, Stacey would be typically given the floor to talk about race issues. Suddenly racial injustice was the topic of discussion everywhere.
Nevertheless, she stays clear-eyed about the Black Lives Matter movement. ‘Racism may seem like a new trendy concept to some, but it’s something that we’ve been seeing for years.’
Is she happy that she can reach more people now? Definitely. Is she sure whether they are all genuinely interested in anti-racism? She doesn’t know. Some people just want to look cool or don’t want to be called out, she fears.
She has learned to distinguish those who merely want to share their own opinions from those who are genuinely interested in understanding the roots of racism, though. The latter are willing to detect and unlearn their unconscious biases, even if it takes parting with some of their childhood memories. ‘Imagine that something that traumatises you is loved and celebrated by other people: would that change your perspective on Zwarte Piet?’ says Stacey, who grew up in Belgium.
I don’t know why you’re racist, you do
As for the former, she will not waste her time explaining things to them: it’s draining, it’s useless and it’s not her job. The bottom line is that she, as a person of colour, can’t always be the one to find solutions to racism. ‘I don’t know why you’re racist’, she says. ‘You know why you’re racist.’
She’s convinced that one’s attitude towards racism comes down to choice. In the end, this is the year 2021: if you’re saying that you have no idea what racism is, ‘you’re choosing to remain blissfully ignorant or – with all the information being available – refusing to learn about it’.
Stacey has noticed that people get defensive when they feel they’re blamed for systemic racism. Even though they might be benefitting from the system that prioritises them, that’s not their personal fault, of course. The moment of personal responsibility comes once they look at their position in a wider context and recognise their privilege. ‘It’s up to them to get involved then.’
Even though it can be stressful, she tries not to take it personally when she encounters negative comments online. ‘It’s not about me, it’s about them.’
Speaking up about racism can be exhausting, so once in a while she has to remind herself that she is more than a generic black person that some people might see her as. ‘I’m a woman, I’m also an artist, I’ve studied law, I love music and I’m speaking out because I want to speak up, not because I have to.’
I’m speaking out because I want to, not because I have to
But not everyone has the energy to be outspoken, she says. That’s why, while many BLOG events are open to everyone interested, some will stay private for its members. Even though the world seems to be having a racial reckoning, the BLOG members still need a closed-off space to talk openly about personal experiences of, for example, winter depression. Or, sometimes, to simply spend time together. ‘It really gives me the sense of community and family far away from home.’
Now that some members have graduated, Stacey is planning on establishing a network of BLOGs in different cities, so its members can share career opportunities and mentor younger students. They have to support each other to gain access to the workplace, she says.
Once, she was contacted by a big company which was organising staff trainings because ‘they’ve had a really horrible history of bias with their recruitments: if you have an ethnic name, it’s game over’. The BLOG network will help counter such discrimination in the labour market, she hopes.
Normalising black people
Now that BLOG has launched a website and a radio show, Stacey hopes her idea of normalising black people in everyday spaces will move forward. For example, the radio show – Thursdays on online station Relate Radio – will not just be focused on blackness or activism. Instead, the BLOG members will have conversations about everyday topics, be it ‘girly stuff’ or student life. ‘Whenever you see a black person on TV, they are talking about race’, she says. That’s limiting. ‘It doesn’t always have to be about that.’
She wants the show to be about the perspectives of black girls living in the Netherlands. ‘It’s important to have a show with black people who are not just filling a diversity quota.’
Because sometimes, that’s all it takes to normalise seeing people of colour in spaces they were excluded from before. ‘Just like with Bridgerton and the black queen.’