Travis Alabanza: Resolutions for the common, black, young, queer kid

I decided, it being January, to write myself a list of resolutions that I could pin up on my wall, to remind me of this energy I’m holding now. Maybe you can pin it up on your wall too, if it helps. 

  1. Brag more. Show off. Say what you have done. I mean it. Tell yourself, others, write it down, bring it into the room. There is something the posh kids have learned and that is this inbuilt self-belief and assurance in their voice, in being quick to know themselves and (often over play) their achievements. Now I don’t need us to do that, I don’t want us to fill the rooms with horrible egos that smell like egg & cress M&S sandwiches. But I wish that I had known last year that I’m allowed to have confidence, pride and excitement at my achievements and I/you am/are allowed to tell people about them.
  2. Stop apologising for yourself. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just accept where we are at, what we bring, and the great aspects of that? So often, it is embedded in our working-class culture in the arts to apologise for taking up space. We say sorry, are polite, are the first to arrive and the last to leave. But honestly, I think we over-apologise. I know I have. Do not apologise for your grammar, dropping your t’s, swearing in a meeting. Allow everyone else to thank you for waking them up.
  3. Know that the very thing you feel shame for is the very thing that they can never unlearn. That spark. That thing that makes you different from the posh boys. The thing you are trying to hide, to cover up, to make quieter, is the very thing that will keep the art world alive. So often these posh walls have stolen working-class culture, aesthetic and music to make themselves more relevant. Hunny, you are the relevance! You are the thing! You are the culture! No time for shame – just to clarify – you are the shit! They may have gone to art school but that cannot teach them how to be interesting.
  4. Remember where you come from, but also the future of where you want to be. ‘Remember where you come from’ is a cliché phrase I feel we often hear as ‘people from the block’. But it’s kinda true and also, how can we forget it? Don’t forget, but do not let it pin you down. Share your knowledge, your resources, if a door is opening for you, grab a fucking huge ass council estate bridge and lodge it open for your gang. They may have got to where they are today on selfishness and stingy rules, but that doesn’t mean that we have to. The future is brighter if all the gang are allowed in too, and the gangs you don’t know.
  5. Request more art directors to meet you in the Greggs that have cafes in them. This one is self-explanatory.

‘Resolutions for the Common, Black, Young, Queer Kid (And Anyone Else Who Needs It…)’ by Travis Alabanza, an extract from Smashing It: Working Class Artists on Life, Art & Making it Happen (The Westbourne Press, October 2019).

This book will be launched at Southbank Centre on 23 September, with performances by Travis Alabanza among many others. Tickets £7, available here.