"Identity is the crisis you can't see. When you look in the mirror/ Do you see yourself/ Do you see yourself/ On the T.V. screen/ Do you see yourself in the magazine." - Poly Styrene, X ray Spex.

By Helga Henry

Some of you may be too young to remember Poly Styrene and her band X Ray Spex. But the great thing about the internet is that you can look her up. But what you can't perhaps see when you watch her on YouTube is the impact she had on my life, and the lives of many others. I was 14 years old.

1978 was a dark time: the dying gasps of a Labour government were about to battle with a series of public sector strikes that became known as the "Winter of Discontent" - an embattled minority government clung to power. There was record inflation. Birmingham was a dark, un-prepossessing city and the glamour and shine of the 60's precincts and high rises had now faded in to a sort of uniform grey.

The big films of the year were "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever": women looked ( or at least were supposed to look) like Oliver Newton-John and Karen Lynn (the woman in red who draped over John Travolta's Tony Manero). Those women had big hair and bright lipstick: they were defined by the men they wanted or who wanted them.

And then punk happened.

In fact by 1978 it had already happened but there weren't so many women in punk. So I clearly remember the impact seeing this woman - with her curls, her shapeless tunics, her military headwear and *gasp* braces on her teeth - had made on me.

She had a Scottish/ Irish mother and a Somali father. She literally didn't look like anyone else on television. As she cried and sang and danced and wailed she was the total opposite of Olivia Newton-John in both her iterations as the virginal "Sandra Dee" and the vampy lycra clad vixen of "You're the One That I Want." It was almost as if *gasp* she didn't want to look attractive to men.

Poly Styrene showed me that there was another way to be a woman. That you could be vital, have an afro, conduct yourself in a way that pleased yourself and not some man. She may not have been the first punk woman but she is the first person of colour I remember in punk. And y'know, I looked more like Poly Styrene than I ever looked like Olivia Neutron-Bomb.

And now - some 30 years later - 2018 has its own political challenges, even if inflation is under control. Birmingham is a very different place: full of hipster bars, a stunning cultural offer and an international, multicultural population. But the topic of representation is as current as ever.

As new forms proliferate we have more than films and tv programmes to contend with: stories are being told in a myriad of ways on a plethora of platforms. We consume media in ways we could only dream or imagine in 1978. And the need for representation in that media has grown as the same rate.

So I'm hoping that Hello Culture will have the same sort of impact on its delegates that Poly Styrene had on a Brummie 14-old in a living room in Bearwood as she watched Top of the Pops (look it up). I'm hoping that we can celebrate the power of seeing ourselves - all of us - on the TV screen, on the monitor,s on our tablets and smart phones, in our headsets and headphones. And on the technology that, in 30 years time, we can only dream or imagine right now.

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