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Race row director Anthony Ekundayo Lennon: ‘I’ve been made to feel like a liar and a thief’

A director on a scheme for minority ethnic arts leaders who is at the centre of an identity row has hit back at those who have made him feel like “a liar and a thief”.

Last week, reports emerged that Anthony Ekundayo Lennon was participating in the scheme with Talawa [1], a black-led touring company, despite having spoken in the past about his white Irish parents.

It was claimed that Lennon had been quoted as saying that although he had white heritage, he identified as mixed race and described himself as an “African born again”.

Now, Lennon has spoken for the first time about the current situation, stating that, while he has Irish parents, “my identity is different”.

Writing in the Guardian [2], Lennon recalls being interviewed in a documentary in 1990, in which he said he identified as a “black man” because of his physical appearance. He says his own appearance had led some to conclude, wrongly, that he had been adopted.

Lennon describes living below a Rastafarian couple when he was 12, who would “take me up to their flat and I would feel at home”.

“In my mind there is no doubt that I have some African ancestry,” he says.

He goes on to describe his experiences growing up, and how he eventually found his “community” in the black theatre sector.

Addressing recent claims he had appropriated his own identity, he writes: “During the last few days, all my industry friends and colleagues – the African-centred community of actors, producers, dancers and film-makers to which I belong – have reassured me that this is part of the wider conservation about identity and evolving consciousness.”

He adds: “But others have made me feel like a liar and a thief. It disappoints me that an attempt to reduce my life’s experiences into a misleading headline can so easily lead to character assassination”.

Lennon continues that he will “not allow anyone who can’t accept or understand my life to be relevant to my existence”.

Last week, Talawa addressed claims it had appointed a white man to its scheme, arguing that identity has “nuances and grey areas” [3].