There is a tendency when an article is written about injustices against a specific demographic be it race, gender, ability or orientation that some people want to jump in and talk about ALL. All races. All women. All abilities. If that is your intention, then this article is not for you. Try this one instead.
This article is primarily aimed at my simple voice for standing up for black women of the Diaspora primarily living in the UK and USA, who have come in for a lot of unnecessary negativity.
To My Black Brothers
My first shot from the bow is going to be aimed at my black brothers within the Diaspora. I think it is important to sort out our own house first before taking any broadsides at the wider community.
For many years black women have been pillars in our community. When we as black men have suffered educationally, been arrested wrongfully, had to deal with subtle racism and have had to come home and let off steam to those who have a common thread and understand our plight, sisters have always had our backs. Holding us, reminding us that we should remain strong and that many who went before us went through worse so that we could have opportunities. And yet time after time after time as a wider whole we constantly let them down. Where we could honestly be raising them and placing them on a pedestal of equality we reduce them to caricatures, sidekicks or to use common parlance sidechicks.
Our most popular music is dominated with imagery that reduces our women to tropes, over sexualised memes that we will ogle over on screen but have no intention of bringing home to meet Mum. There is nothing wrong in celebrating black feminity and sexuality in its various forms, but if we do so then surely it should be to empower, not to objectify and reduce our women to a thing. Many of us have men have stood by and said or done nothing while watching our women being physically and emotionally abused by the alpha patriarchal stereotype. And even when we have said something it is often lending itself to victim blaming like the recent Ray Rice case showed. Our aged civil rights poster boys are quick to run to the aid of shot and injured men like Tayvvon and Mike Brown but are physically absent in similar cases like Renisha McBride, Marlene Pinnock or the alleged multiple rape allegations made against Daniel Holtzclaw To be honest I don’t expect much from some of the older civil rights poster boys, as this is a throwback from the earlier days when prominent female voices were hushed on the march on Washington, but that this trend continues with emergent black male voices is a cause for concern.
Too often black women are put down by black men. Whether its that cursory obligation some have felt by many to not marry or cohabit with black women once reaching a specific career or celebrity milestone, or those who won’t necessarily take such a step but constantly refer to their sisters as thots, hoes, bitches, tricks and a host of other pejorative names. How can women feel empowered if their is an expectation within the community that such labels will be applied to those who don’t confirm to a narrow view of what a black woman is?
Too often black women have taken the can for black men too. Whether those who are forced into carrying weapons or narcotics in poorer neighbourhoods, trafficking drugs to and from the Caribbean or ending up incarcerated for fear of snitching. We could also add the the fear many young girls have about being sexually assaulted in a number of communities and we have to realise this totally unacceptable. Yes of course some may roll their eyes
while casting furtive glances at twerking competitions, soca jams or basement gigs, but regardless of how a woman dances, non consensual sexual advances are problematic and unacceptable.
On beauty, a black male friend of mine even questioned why I constantly posted pictures of a range of black women on my social media platforms, specifically this one. Accusing me of playing a race card and saying beauty was beauty and that I was only causing problems. The ensuing monologue I delivered to him of western beauty standards, and the lengths that industries go through to convince black women that their skin colour, shape and hair is not enough, left him in no doubt how I feel and a sheepish “I see your point”.
Of course it is complex and needs constant dialogue for a shift to happen but as black men we need to constantly hold up our women. Across the Diaspora we have to be the first to take that stand. Reminding our sons of the need to acknowledge their role in their shaping of our history, often unheard, and to recognise our community never goes forward without the strength and resilience of black woman. To speak to our own daughters about their inner and outer beauty. Their strength and realisation that beauty standards should not be dictated to them either by the media, or within the narrow confines of our own internal subcultures. To remind them they don’t need to compare themselves intellectually, emotionally
To Everyone Else
This weekend, the New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley wrote an opinion piece on the multi award winning writer and producer Shonda Rhimes and her new TV show “How to Get Away With Murder”.
The article starts thus “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”
OK. Maybe an attempt an humour, but then there’s this.
“Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable.”
The Angry Black female trope is not restricted to just this one incident. Whether it’s the “typical” responses to the Solange and Jay Z elevator incident to the well played out tabloid obsession with Naomi Campbells temperament. It is common.
If I had a pound for the amount of times as a coach and speaker that black professional women have been too afraid to speak out at work for fear of being perceived as aggressive when being assertive. On a subconscious level you see these biases played out both face to face and online. Whether it’s writers like Stanley not recognising how her article is a perpetuation of a well worn stereotype even when challenged by Miss Rhimes herself, or when artists like Lily Allen miss the fact they play into stereotypes when trying to be ironic. It took a peer to remind her. And of course we cannot forget the legendary response by writer Caitlin Moran when asked if she mentioned the absence of colour in Lena Dunham’s Girls, “Nope. I literally couldn’t give a shit about it.”
These are not isolated, singular incidents. Like all other women, black women are faced with the systematic
misogyny that will hold women back. That which can often be challenged, be it minimally, when you are of a certain class, complexion and have access to a certain network or money. Using a few woman to hold up as examples of meritocracy is bullshit. Oprah, Michelle Obama, Shonda Rhimes and maybe Beyonce do not speak for or a not representative of the majority. And if there voices are to be heard then they should be allowed to speak without prejudice without it being belittled or reduced to nothing, firstly from a patriarchal system and secondly from other women who don’t share their experience, backgrounds or cultural frameworks.
Of course we cannot ignore that in a society where black women make up half of the minority that calls for equal representation or for them at least a voice at the table, it can seem like a small protest. An outsider to the community cannot comprehend the anxiety that a professional black woman would go through when conflicted between wearing natural hair or weaved/straightened/extension hair to work. The double thinking of whether they are good enough even when they are more qualified and experienced than this who they are up against.
I stand for black women because often their voice is silenced.
I stand for black women because their beauty is not inferior to other races.
I stand for black women because too often men of all races don’t hold them up enough.
I stand for black women because my Mum is one, my wife is one and so are my children.
I stand for black women because more often than not they are the pillars on which a successful black community across the Diaspora is built.
Whilst it has taken me a while to write these thoughts, believe you me it won’t be the last.