‘Born-Again African’ Theatre Director Who Identifies As Black Ignites Controversy After Accepting Arts Funding Meant For People Of Color

Anthony David Lennon is a British theater director and artist who has recently found himself on the receiving end of quite a bit of outrage. To explain, we have to go back a few generations. Anthony’s biological grandparents are all white. Anthony’s biological parents are both white. He is neither adopted nor did he grow up in a minority family situation. As he, himself, explains it, his parents are white and “so are their parents, and so are their parents, and so are their parents.” There is no question about Anthony’s heritage.

There is a question, however, about Anthony himself. He identifies as “born again African.” Several years ago, Anthony adopted the Nigerian Yoruba name “Ekundayo” as his middle name and began living his life as a black man. As he explains it, “my genes are white, but I’m black.”

Anthony has even penned a book about his “adoption of sartorial blackness” where he explains that he feels he’s entitled to live as a black man since he has been a victim of “pheneticization.” In other words, since he “kind of looks black” to some people who have commented and treated him differently his whole life, he feels he might as well just run with it because the way other people interpret your race determines how you are treated. He explained that he had been called the n-word, threatened repeatedly, and that when he was growing up he was often bullied by people who assumed he was biracial.

Also, something about buying a hat?  

“When my hair was shorter, it looked like a little Afro, and people just assumed, ‘You’re half-caste, I’n’ it?’ And when I was younger, I used to go ‘No,’ and try to explain. And after a while I just got sick of it – the explaining, and ‘Is he this?’ and ‘Is he that?’ and the scrutinization, and ‘You’re lying, man!’ One day I’m walking through Brixton and there’s this man selling hats. I stood there for a second. And I brought one. And since then people don’t question it. I mean they see a shape being cut on the street and they just do not question it. I’m not walking around to fool. When I’m alone in my bedroom looking in the mirror…I think I am a black man.”

 

The local community thought Anthony’s transition into identifying as black was odd, but it wasn’t something he hid. His story was widely publicized a few decades ago, so it’s not like people didn’t know all about it. Anthony has just continued living his life and doing his thing for over 30 years. He’s done widely appreciated work as an ally to the black art community and all was well — until recently when he applied for and accepted money meant for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) artists. Now people are mad.

Twitter lit up talking about this. Even people who enjoy Anthony’s work and art don’t agree with him taking the money or residency. 

 

 

Unsurprisingly, quite a few people equated this to being transgender.

 

 

But that got shut down pretty quickly. 

 

As for the committee that awarded him the money, they stand by their choice. According to them, Anthony’s story is so unique that it doesn’t fit anywhere, and it was the theater who raised the idea of wanting to fund and support his work.

Talawa raised their wish to support Anthony with us. In responding we took into account the law in relation to race and ethnicity. This is a very unusual case and we do not think it undermines the support we provide to black and minority ethnic people within the theatre sector.

 

We want your thoughts. The case is, indeed, unique. Anthony does great work and absolutely supports artists of color… but is he, in fact, entitled to the grant himself? Does his branding as a “born again African” undermine the struggles of people of color?  Sound off.

 

H/T: Twitter, Indy100, The Times