I just finished watching Stormzy’s Glastonbury performance and I am completely blown away. It felt like the entire gig was an hour-long ‘fuck you’ to an inherently racist Britain and as a black woman taking it in I can only attempt to describe how empowered I feel.
Between bouncing up and down on my bed with gun fingers raised high in the sky, uncontrollable tears and moments of mystic-like reflection, Stormzy took me on a journey that was as political as it was personal.
Throughout his performance, Stormzy referenced the fact that he believed his entire life journey was preparing him for this moment.
As I basked in euphoria celebrating his personal achievement I couldn’t help but feel that the moment did not only belong to him. Scrolling through Black Twitter, it is clear that many of us feel that this moment belongs to us too.
Stormzy’s performance led me to reflect on my own life, my own dreams and the endless possibilities to achieve and become anything I work hard enough for. The performance was a visual depiction of what it means to break down racial barriers and take claim of spaces historically denied to us.
I watched Stormzy reclaim what it means to be British.
The sheer excellence with which he embodies invalidating any argument that Black Brits should be treated as second class citizens in this country. Despite being born and bred in North London I have always wrestled with wearing the label ‘British’; when forced to describe my identity in relation to the country of my birth I choose to opt for the more comfortable fit of ‘Black British’, but for that hour in front of my laptop screen I can honestly say that is the most ‘British’ I have felt in my entire 26 years of life.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not naive enough to pretend that representation is where the struggle against racism in Britain starts and ends. I’m also not disillusioned enough to claim that Stormzy’s performance will unravel the threads of racism woven into the institutions which uphold this country. Institutions built on the backs of Black people here and abroad. Institutions willing to accept the blood, sweat and tears of Black people in order to attain the name ‘Great Britain’, yet unwilling to give credit, reverence or equal opportunities to Black people, even those who are British born.
In this frightening political climate, I won’t pretend that this moment represents a less racist Britain. Nor can I ignore the fact that the frontrunner for the role of our next Prime Minister is a man who casually refers to Black people as ‘piccaninnies’ and compares Muslim women to letterboxes.
Unfortunately even Stormzy’s brilliance cannot penetrate the nightmare we’re collectively experiencing as a result of this countries, incompetent leaders. What Stormzy’s performance did do, however, was offer me hope in spite of these harrowing facts.
Glastormzbury couldn’t fix the travesty that is British politics, but that doesn’t subtract from the satisfaction gained in witnessing him lead a crowd of nearly 200,000 people in screaming ‘fuck the government and fuck Borris’.
Black Brits experience racism in schools, universities, the criminal justice system, the NHS (in particular mental health services), housing and employment opportunities – all of which affect our overall life chances. We must not underestimate the impact of witnessing Stormzy transcend these barriers and use his platform to highlight many of the social issues affecting the Black community whilst simultaneously making room for Black artists such as Ballet Black, Dave and Fredo.
Stormzy’s performance made me believe that I too can overcome the racism I’m up against and achieve even my wildest dreams.
Stormzy opened his set with a video of him in conversation with JayZ, who had previously headlined the festival. The conversation addresses some of the scepticism around Stormzy’s validity to headline such a major event. JayZ advises Stormzy to look beyond his critics, emphasising that ‘culture moves the world’.
Throughout his performance we see Stormzy celebrate Black British culture with a mastery that is only amplified by his humility and gratitude.
His lyric “I know they put me on the poster just to match the quota”, displays his awareness of some of the systemic adversities faced by Black artists. However, the talent and ability conveyed on stage on Friday render any conversation about quotas redundant.
At no point does Stormzy suggest that he is an anomaly, nor does he ever attempt to divorce himself from Black British culture. In fact, he did the opposite in making a point of hailing a handful of grime artists, who despite not being recognised on major stages such as The Pyramid stage have still paved the way for him to make history in this way. Moreover, Stormzy shared the stage with Dave and Fredo, two other Black British artists.
As I observed the three Black men own the stage, the pride and excitement I felt were visceral. Witnessing carefree Black joy from these men was a complete contrast to the way Black men are too often depicted in mainstream media.
Stormy’s performance was consistent with his entire career. We have observed Stormzy set up a scholarship aiding Black youth to go to Cambridge, launch his initiative Merky Books, call out Theresa May for her silence on Grenfell and repeatedly criticise The Daily Mail for their overt racism. Seeing Stormzy appear on stage in his stab-proof vest complete with the Union Jack was just another statement in a long conversation Stormzy has actively contributed to. This is not to say that Stormzy pioneers all conversations on race in British society, however, he has utilised his platform and his passion to confront race irrespective of how who is consuming his message.
In my personal life, I have struggled with extended periods of writers’ block, making me question my own ability to contribute to important topics such as racism in Britain which I am passionate about. Through his performance, Stormzy has given me back my words and for this I am grateful. Thinking back to his performance only makes me wonder what else I can achieve if I put my mind to it.
Ezimma is a creative facilitator with a background in youth work, working mainly with young people in London. Over 5 years she has specialised in working with young women exploring issues such as healthy relationships, labels and identity. Previously, Ezimma was the Young Women’s Worker for award-winning charity Leap Confronting Conflict. She now works on a freelance basis with young women, often using drama and creative writing to explore difficult topics. Ezimma has developed a bespoke programme for this under her newly established organisation The Luna Project.