Today is international Women’s Day, an important global celebration for women past and present. However, leading up to this day I haven’t seen much equal representation – scrolling through the newsfeeds and articles, I have noticed a lack of Women of Colour. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, mainstream feminism can be called White Feminism. It’s always been glaringly obvious in the key speakers and the agendas (of feminist events), but it made me think of something that I heard (recently from Jada Pinkett), which I believe holds true:
“Black Women can be the most disregarded and the most disrespected creatures on the earth”.
On a global or institutional level, Black women are rarely given a voice. They’re either represented by white women, most notably Angelina Jolie and her many talks on “behalf of women in Africa”, or completely ignored by speakers, who fail to take an intersectional approach in exploring the duality in identity for some women as seen in Emma Watson’s 2015 speech at the UN which she later apologised for.
“It would have been more useful to spend the time asking myself questions like: What are the ways I have benefited from being white? In what ways do I support and uphold a system that is structurally racist? How do my race, class and gender affect my perspective?”
We have seen many movements started by Black Women such as #MeToo be dominated by White Women who are given large platforms and stages for discussion while the original drivers of the movement are pushed to the back. Tarana Burke began the #MeToo campaign in 2006 and received little recognition for it. Only in 2017, when Alyssa Milano used the term did it receive recognition and still Tarana was not given credit. It was only after immense backlash from Black women did Alyssa Milano acknowledge that Burke had coined the phrase years before. Some may argue that the key focus should be raising awareness and the face of it doesn’t matter. However, this is a very lazy view – taking this approach excludes and erases the narrative of Black women and their hard work.
You cannot advocate for all women if you fail to look at the multiple ways in which women can be oppressed and bring a diverse and inclusive panel to the table. You must recognise that female oppression is multi-dimensional and can be rather complex. Even if you can’t deal with it directly, be willing to facilitate the process others to do so. The lack of even representations hints at a maintenance of white supremacy that upholds oppression and ignorance. Historically, Black women are featured in the media in a disparaging way, riddled with negative stereotypes “sassy”, “aggressive”. Just like with anything shown in the media, people build their thoughts and beliefs on that narrative and more importantly, act on it. Instead of acknowledging the contributions Black women have made to movements for equality, they are largely hidden. This has resulted in the misconception that Black Women haven’t done much or it’s simply their white counterparts that have driven the discussion with them waiting in the background. The question I have after seeing this is how do Black Women view themselves?
Now, its very easy to ask ‘why don’t Black Women create their own platforms?’ The fact is they do! And many of them are flourishing and gaining momentum in the UK such as The Black Ballad, Black Girls Book Club, Black Girl Festival, Girl Talk London, WCAN, and the best selling book Slay in your Lane. But it does not erase the disadvantage (in the wider landscape), and the fact these spaces have had to be separately carved out by the maligned group is very telling. The lack of representation reminds us that if you can overcome gender oppression, you still have race to deal with and more often than not, classism.