Reflecting on June 2020: A photography series

In this photography interview series, Oona reflects on black people’s mental health, sense of identity and relationships during June 2020 and how this changed in the year that followed.

In June 2020 after George Floyd’s murder, we saw the rise of the BLM movement. A year later, four young black people reflect on that time and the year that they’ve had since.

Lucy J Turner

How did you feel in June 2020?

“I felt like this stuff had been a long time coming. I was happy that the movement was gaining popularity again, even though it’s been going since like 2015, 2016. I felt happy it was back in the public eye. People seemed to be taking it seriously somewhat. But also it just brought up a life full of trauma and it felt like you were being suffocated by it. Everywhere you went, you would see videos of black people being killed. Everyone was talking about it, everyone on social media was sharing things. It kind of felt like for me as a black person I know this because I live it so, please don’t put it in my face. So, there were days where I was to be totally honest, I almost wish that this wasn’t happening because it’s too much for me personally to have to live through every day.”

What was social media like for you during this time?

“On my social media I had to stop going on it because it really was too traumatic. I think maybe that’s because also at the time I was realising a lot of my social media was white, white people or white friends. I felt suffocated and like none of my friends were understanding me, they didn’t get it. They didn’t see that sending me videos of black people in danger was not helpful. So there were a few days where I just couldn’t go on my phone. I couldn’t look at all, but it also forced me, because I was having this moment of everyone’s so white, my timeline’s so white it’s making me feel sick. I’m just not seeing myself anywhere. That’s when I started drawing, illustrating.  I made a choice to only draw black bodies. Because I was like, I’m not seeing that anywhere. If I’m not seeing it then let me put it out there and let me turn this into something positive for me. That was a real turning point for me and also my career and what I was interested in doing. And that’s when I felt social media was bit more bearable.”

Were you able to talk to your family?

“So, I’m actually adopted. I’m obviously black and my whole family’s white. My family have always been very liberal, they very much want me to be interested in black culture and they really encouraged me. I don’t know how to say this, I was going to say it didn’t feel like I was growing up in a white household. But what does that mean?”

“They were always really excited about me wanting to find where I was from, my roots, all that. My mum took classes to do my hair when I was little. They did everything they had to do. But this year, just forced me to look back on my whole life and all of my experiences ever. It was a lot man, wasn’t it? I was just looking back. Every time we were  out and about, people didn’t know I was their child. Just the looks you get when someone’s trying to work out like how you fit into that family. Or if I’m like shouting, “Mum, Dad.” across the street and then everyone’s like but there’s no black people here. It’s all these small things that I didn’t realise.”

“I had a lot of difficult conversations with them and they were really open, which I was very, I was going to say lucky, but why are we lucky for having open conversations? But I was happy about it, that they were open. But they’ll never be able to understand my viewpoint. And that’s the thing, no matter how many times I talk to them, my family, my parents will not get it. There was a part of me that was like, this is really lonely, being the only one in this family who’s ever going to experience it and not being able to talk to you about it.  All I can say is that those conversations, they can be painful, but that’s what’s helped me, that’s what helps you learn. That’s what makes the world go round talking, conversating, sharing your narratives, your perspectives, your point of view.”

How did you feel when the Colston statue came down?

“Oh incredible, elated, so proud of Bristol. That was travelling throughout the world, the footage of Colston being brought down and pushed into that harbour, it was everywhere. It was the start, Bristol had started something, then other cities were doing it and it just felt like fucking yes. This is what we’re doing, grass roots shit.”

“We had this WhatsApp group of black women creatives in Bristol. We had an idea to go and do this photoshoot with the Jen Reid statue. The Council had said it was going to be taken down in 24 hours, so let’s go tonight, so we hustled. We were all instructed to go down there dressed in black and we’re just going to pose and we’re just going to make a statement about black women and reclaiming this and taking our city back, man. It was so powerful being surrounded by other black women as well.”

Growing up in majority white areas as you got older did you ever feel ‘not black enough’?

“God, yeah, like my whole life and this thing about code switching, even my voice. I’ve looked back at all my situations where I’ve put on this different voice to try and fit in with this group. Then if I’m hanging out with a predominantly black group of friends, I then think my accent isn’t enough for them, so I must change it for them. Now that’s not necessarily them, that’s me and my head. That’s society. That’s media.”

How do you feel about that now?

I’m black. I’m happy and I’m proud and I’m black enough. What is black enough? For who? What does that mean? I love my skin. I love my hair. I love my nose. I love everything. Now, finally. It’s sad that it’s kind of taken me 28 years to get to this place of like, you know what? I’m sick.”

“I am black and I’m proud and I love myself and I love my skin colour. That’s what I want to teach my kids, I never want them to have any of this self doubt. This “you’re not this you’re not that” like you are who you are and be so proud of it. That’s what I want.”

All photos by Oona Chanfi

This interview was created as part of Rife Residencies, edited by Lucy J Turner

How have you reflected on June 2020? We’d love to know your thoughts on our socials.

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