Queens of Sheba, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

In 2015, four black women were turned away from the nightclub DSTRKT for being ‘too black’. It temporarily drew attention to systemic racism, but black women still encounter racism everywhere. In schools, work places, social situations and in public spaces, black women must conform to standards of behaviour and appearance that are dictated by white people. 

The four women in Jessica L Hagan’s show share the universal experiences of black women in Britain at work, on dates and in school. They are forced to minimise their expressions, their hair, their clothing, their volume and more, so they are more palatable to white people. It’s exhausting for them, and hopefully horrifying for white people to realise they are a benchmark, and people of colour must conform to their cultural standards. 

Dating isn’t much easier. White guys love them for being ‘exotic’ and black guys treat them with disdain. Thankfully, there’s the sisterhood of other black women who comfort, encourage and elevate. 

Rachel Clarke, Jacoba Williams, Koko Kwaku and Veronica Beatrice Lewis have had enough of the white patriarchy, microaggressions and misogynoir. They are unrestrained in their critique of white society – as they should be – and in their celebrations of their blackness. It’s wonderful to see them take up space and embarrassing to be a part of the white institutions that oppress them.

The audience applause, tears and laughter lasts far longer than that of other shows, and deservedly so. The confidence and ferocity with which they confront systemic racism and sexism is not just wonderful, it’s absolutely vital.

Queens of Sheba runs through 26 August, then transfers to the New Diorama through 8 September.

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