An interview with Rehana Gittens discussing the design of her Black Lives Matter protest postcards.

Rehana Gittens, former Box Office Manager at The Postal Museum, tells us about postcards she designed and sent after attending Black Lives Matter protests in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. She shares how her designs were intended to connect with friends and family who couldn’t attend in person and how postcards can be used as a form of protest.

Rehana’s Black Lives Matter postcards

Rehana is a life-long collector of philatelic and postal material, a keen letter writer and a regular Postcrosser. Several of the postcards discussed in this interview have been collected by The Postal Museum, for future generations to discover.

What started your interest in collecting philatelic and postal material? Is it something that was part of your life growing up?

I’ve always sent postcards when I’ve travelled. While I do love Instagram, I’m not a big social media user. Postcards were just another way to share my travels. When I moved to Japan, I told friends and family I would write rather than Skype.

I’m a first-generation West Indian. My dad was from Barbados and my mum has a collection of his letters from friends and family back home. He also collected stamps from all his post when he travelled and had friends all over the world. My mum ended up keeping his stamp collection. When I wrote home from Japan, she kept my letters and collected all the stamps too.

Can you tell us about the Black Lives Matter postcards that you designed and what inspired them?

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, I took part in the Black Lives Matter protests. This was one of the few things I left home for during the first lockdown, as I felt it was essential. I created these postcards after attending and shared them with friends who could not protest in person. As the UK was still in lockdown, I could not see friends and family affected, or who were supportive of BLM. Using the postal service was the only way to send them, but also a way to spread the message further unintentionally. I included anti-racist quotes on the back. I liked the idea of these travelling through the postal service as postcards, without an envelope, and therefore being seen by a wider audience.

Making of Black Lives Matter postcards

How did you decide on the quotes?

The phrase for the front of the design wasn’t really a hard decision for my postcards. I wanted something simple and effective. Black Lives Matter says it all. Everybody knows it and it’s a simple but effective statement of fact or truth. I used the quotes on the back as means to educate and inspire. To be honest I didn’t know what to write initially, so I decided to use quotes from people who articulated my thoughts better than I could. I didn’t want just quotes about racism but also anti-racist quotes. I included words from Michelle Obama, Desmond Tutu, Angela Davis and Eliezer Wiesel.

Quotes on the back of Black Lives Matter postcards

You’re a keen letter writer and collector of postal material. Did this interest influence your designs and the choices that you made?
I made the postcards right after the protest. I wanted something simple that would look like a placard that you would see a protest, something that wouldn’t just be sent as postcard but used as a sign. Something that could be put up in windows or pinned up somewhere. It can be easily read and is very clear and simple statement.

I already owned block stamps and it was easy to print the messages over and over, creating several postcards. I also wanted the message to speak for itself. Letter writing was something I was doing in lockdown anyway as way of coping and connecting. Incorporating an anti-racist message and sending the postcards made sense.

Did your interest in philately influence your choice of stamps?

I’m always conscious about the stamps that I use and I try to incorporate them into mail art. For these postcards I knew I didn’t want to use definitive stamps. I didn’t want a white person and head of the monarchy to be included on the designs, as this felt out of place with the message and made me uncomfortable. Monarchy, partially the British Monarchy, had no place on this post, partially because of ties to colonialism and slavery.

Ideally, I would have preferred using stamps depicting people of colour. However, this was extremely difficult as there is a lack of representation of people of colour, who aren’t fictional, on Royal Mail Stamps. I did have a Black Panther stamp at the time of writing, and I was able to use that, amongst other selections.

What would you like someone to feel when they see your postcards?

I hope that when people see my postcards in the future, they think of the journey the postcard took through the postal system, sharing its message as it went. Also, that there is more than one way to protest, signs are not just for marches. I hope people see the statement ‘Black Lives Matter’ is an obvious and accepted truth and not something open for question or debate, having to be fought for or proved repeatedly.

What would you like someone in the future who discovers your postcards in the museum’s collection to know about them? About the global context that inspired their creation and about their significance?

I hope people look and think about the different ways people protest or share information, particularly in a pandemic. It does not have to be digital, or a social media post, but can be from one individual to another. I want people to know that people adapted their ways to protest in the COVID-19 pandemic. Not everyone could go out and join others but could do things from their homes. When I went on my one walk a day around my neighbourhood during lockdown, I saw people had signs and rainbows for the NHS and I saw some supporting Black Lives Matter. I don’t think I would have seen that outside a pandemic. That was more impactful to me than a social media post.

Look out for our next Meet the Maker interview, coming soon.