Anthony Lennon, 53, who was born in London and whose parents are Irish, won a place on a two year Arts Council funded scheme, after a leading black theatre company accepted his claim to be of “mixed heritage”.
He was one of four “theatre practitioners of colour”, to be awarded part of a £400,000 talent development grant.
But Mr Lennon has been accused of being a “racial imposter” after it emerged that despite changing his name to Taharka Ekundayo at one point, he is unquestionably white.
The company involved, Talawa, which is one of the country’s leading black theatre groups, last night defended its position, insisting Mr Lennon was an “exceptional” person for the role.
Exceptional? Well, there’s no doubt that’s an appropriate description, but perhaps not with the meaning intended.
In a statement, a Talawa spokesman said: “As an artist of mixed heritage he is not only eligible for the position, but his experience, work and achievements make him an exceptional person for the role.”
Mixed heritage? Like I am of mixed heritage? Which application form do I need to complete for my grant money?
Anthony Lennon (right)
He later wrote: “Some people call themselves a born-again Christian. Some people call me a born-again African. I prefer to call myself an African born again.”
He has also talked about going through the “struggles of a black actor”.
But he has at times also acknowledged his true ethnic heritage, telling a BBC documentary in 1990: “My parents are white, and so are their parents, and so are their parents, and so are their parents.”
Ok. So we’re talking Elizabeth Warren levels of ethnic heritage here, if at all.
Habeeb Akande, a writer on race issues, said: “Many of us are becoming sick and tired of racial imposters who are commodifying blackness for their own financial gain. You cannot wear the cloak of blackness when it suits you.”
Actually, it would seem one absolutely can “wear the cloak of blackness when it suits you” and get a slice of a £400k grant too.
Hilarity such as this can be expected while the “social constructionists” tie themselves in logical knots. If race, gender, sexuality, etc. are merely social constructs, there will be people on the margins who will find ways to benefit.
Anthony “Ali G” Lennon is actually remaining consistent to his world view; he genuinely believes he has some characteristics or history that qualifies him as an African. That being the case, why wouldn’t he feel qualified for a handout targeted to that demographic?
Of course, it’s not Lennon’s call. We have a societal duty to treat people suffering from mental illness with sympathy but not pander to their delusions. If a man presented himself to you claiming to be Icarus, you wouldn’t hand him a bag of feathers and a pot of glue then drive him to the nearest cliff.
There actually may be some historical explanation as to why someone with a background of several generations in Ireland might have dark skin; the legacy of the Spanish Armada. This might also explain the curious fact that “Juan” (pronounced “Ju-on”) is a common first name on the Isle of Man.
Nonetheless, our intersectional Bedlamites are going to be increasingly faced with such logical quandaries as Lennon while they try to legislate for something as difficult to define as race.
Perhaps the best response is to buy popcorn and enjoy the show.