Great Britain has long had an extravagantly high opinion of itself – look no further than its choice of name, with all the swagger and hauteur it implies. Great ambitions fuel great expectations, but as its aura of grandeur starts to fade, it’s not uncommon for a nation to big itself up again at the expense of others, whether they be outside or inside its borders, De’Anne Crooks’ Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation is a stark, impassioned inventory of just how far Britannia falls short in its numerous claims and pretensions, particularly towards its marginalised, minority communities. Held together by a poetic monologue that draws inspiration from Toni Morrison, Hilton Als and Danez Smith, and performed against a backdrop of domestic scenes (all familiar from the time of lockdown, but with a low-tech feel that evokes a nostalgia for an earlier, happier time), Crooks’ 10-minute video gains even greater poignancy by taking the form of a love letter to the artist’s unborn child, warning them about the struggles that lie ahead, preparing them for the dilemmas they are certain to face. Prominent among these, as the video’s subtitle, the gaslighting of a nation, suggests, is the insidious pressure that will be brought to bear to convince Black Britons that the racism and discrimination they regularly encounter is more a facet of their mind rather than the habitual expression of the structures of white supremacy underlying the apparently liberal and munificient state. Comparing these patterns of brainwashing and coercion to the various stages of a toxic relationship with a manipulative spouse, Crooks calls out a uniquely British flair for duplicity, disinformation and distortion. Combining a heartfelt tenderness with a hard-won knowledge that only comes from bitter experience, Great-ish is a vivid reminder, if any reminders were ever needed, of how a hopeful future cannot come into being until Britain confronts the legacies of its past.
Read Rianna Walcott's piece responding to Great-ish: The Gaslighting of a Nation, exploring matrilineal cycles of trauma, and the collective gaslighting of the Black community in Britain.