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Lady Phyll
Lady Phyll
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PHOTOGRAPHY
TOBi & LADY PHYLL
Co-founder & Director of UK Black Pride
United Kingdom
Shot by iPhone 12
PHOTOGRAPHY
Makeda Sandford
TOBi
A common rhetoric right now is how terrible 2020 has been. I think this was the first time the world was forced to sit with the realities of marginalized folks. What do you make of that idea? Is 2020 really that special of a year?
LADY PHYLL
Well, I’m not sure this is the first time the world has been forced to sit with the realities of marginalized folks. For generations, there have been uprisings, protests and liberation movements and we should be specific about how 2020 differs from the years before it. We are in a unique moment: namely, that Covid-19 and the attendant lockdowns, furloughs and unemployment have played a huge role in how the protests and awakening of this year have taken shape. More people have had more time than ever to actually see, read and understand what’s happening, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that the protests against police brutality, to take one example, arose only because police brutality is bad; so many people were already angry, and the murders of Black people by police – which are still ongoing – gave them reason to take to the streets. And it’s okay to be honest about that. What we hope, what I hope, is that over the course of this year, more people have begun to see what Black people experience daily. In that is where the uniqueness of this year lies: everything has come together, happened in such a way, that we may have cause to be cautiously hopeful, but we have yet to see whether the awakening of this year is one of waking up, or whether people will fall back asleep. Let’s see.
TOBi
Pouring into the lives of others, by working to undo systemic issues, how do you make sure your personal vessel is full?
LADY PHYLL
I’ve been doing work in our communities for well over 20 years and I can tell you rather frankly that I haven’t quite figured out how to keep my own self full. And maybe that’s not always necessary – I feel compelled to do this work and I feel empowered, inspired and supported by not only the people I see and know doing the work alongside me, but by the many who’ve come before me and who didn’t make it to the future we deserve to live in. I try my best to carve out time for myself, and I must get better at it, and I have people around me who are almost forcing me to unplug. But for those of us who do this work because of necessity and not for recognition, it’s a joy. We do this work because it matters, because it energises us, because it’s necessary. So I’m okay with missing a few night’s sleep here and there.
TOBi
The work that organizations like UK Black Pride does is so important. It saves lives. There was a video during the #ENDSARS protests in Nigeria, where a young person ran through the streets yelling "Queer Lives Matter". I was so happy, yet fearful for their life, knowing how hostile of an environment Nigeria can be towards the LGBTQ+ community. How can we in the diaspora, support the bravest of our family in less tolerant nations worldwide?
LADY PHYLL
The courage our queer siblings around the world are showing - and have shown - should be commended. I know from personal experience that speaking up in defense of yourself can have drastic and violent consequences. I’m so proud of our siblings on the ground in Nigeria who are showing their faces and taking the risk. I’m also really proud of those who don’t speak up, who can’t and who survive. We have to make sure that we don’t put upon others a bravery we’ve come to conflate with pride. So many people I know are not out, but they’re very proud. And they’re living and doing things behind the scenes and working really hard. I say this to say, that in the diaspora, I think we tend to internalise this idea that coming out, that being heard, that facing the consequences no matter the risk, is the only way to live bravely – and I think we have to resist that narrative. We can support our siblings in very obvious ways like donating to the right organisations and spreading their messages and movements across social media. And we can also support them by unpicking and untangling white and Western notions about what it means to be queer, to be proud, to be ourselves. The more space we create for more versions of our people, the more expansive our understanding of our communities will become.
TOBi
I read a quote from you stating "...I have inherited a strength that I think would be hubristic to call my own...", when referring to your lineage as an activist and I thought that was so brilliant. What would you say is one of the superpowers that you have inherited?
LADY PHYLL
I wouldn’t call it a superpower, but I think my ability to find the people who will support me and love me and hold me has been incredibly beneficial. It’s almost a sixth sense: I know who I can trust and who I cannot, and I think that is an ancestral power. Or it could have been honed over my four-plus decades on this earth. I don’t know. I think we should move away from seeing Black women as supernatural and instead as human, and we should acknowledge that there is wisdom we inherit and wisdom we earn. What we do with that wisdom is what perhaps becomes our superpower.
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