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November 4, 2017

Why we need to talk to the Tate Modern about Race!

‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge is one of Romance FC ’s favourite books.

Over the last year there has been a lot of conversation and debate about diversity and race between players in our collective. Especially after this summer’s disgraceful discriminatory treatment of England player Eniola Aluko and manager Mark Sampson’s eventual firing. This book spoke to our team and many of our POC friends.

Last night the Tate Modern massively underestimated the demand for a talk from author of said book, Reni Eddo-Lodge and co-curator of 'Soul Of A Nation', Zoe Whitley.

The Tate placed this free talk at the Terrace book shop which has capacity for around 50 people. I arrived at the book shop an hour and a half early knowing the demand for this talk would be massive and ended up near the front of what rapidly became an enormous queue for this tiny event, while staff continued setting up the inadequately small number of folding chairs at one end of the shop. As Tate staff looked to be panicking and trying to work out what to do, the bookshop was bursting at the seams and we heard from organisers that there were at least another 300 people outside waiting to get in (I later found out this number was closer to 600).

The Tate made the call at the very last minute to move the talk to the auditorium and told those in the bookshop that they would be giving out tickets to the first 250 people. It was very clear that this would not include even the whole crowd in the shop at this point, let alone the people outside and a new panic began as those who had been waiting tried to get to the front to claim their tickets, before crowding out and being funnelled into the auditorium. For every person with a ticket who gained entry, there was another being turned away in disappointment, not understanding why a lucky few had tickets to what was publicised as a free and un-ticketed event.

A senior lady from Tate Enterprises introduced both speakers and explained the gallery’s link to this book, explaining that the Soul Of A Nation exhibition had surpassed everyone’s expectations and received 60% higher attendance than anticipated. On its final weekend, enormous queues had stretched through the building. During this exhibition, the Tate Modern sold 1,500 copies of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book. The book has sold 15,000 copies in the UK since release this summer. 1 out of every 10 copies of this book sold in the UK were bought in the Tate Modern’s bookshop.

How can the Tate even pretend to not understand the demand for this talk?

Even when the book’s author emailed to say that she expected a far bigger crowd, the organisers of the event did not pay attention.

In her talk, Reni Eddo-Lodge complained about how difficult she had found building her career as a writer. Not because the audience didn’t exist – it quite clearly does – but because the publishing industry had no faith in the existence of such an audience.

The layers of white, well-to-do institutionalism across the art and creative industry couldn't haven’t been made clearer for me last night. As I literally occupied the tiny space the Tate had given for this event, a tiny corner in a gigantic gallery, it crystallised many of the issues that Reni raises throughout her book.

The liberal art institutions cannot continually underestimate the POC audience and our capacity to work within the arts and creative industry again and again. 

Tonight made visbily clear the Tate’s expectations of Reni Eddo-Lodge and her readers from the completely inadequate space that was given to this event and to POC to discuss this influential book.

Well worth checking out this twitter thread on last nights happening from our friend Neela here.

Written by Tiger Hagino Reid

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