Tag Archives: black women

Insecure

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-8-10-52-am-www-imagesplitter-netI have long been a fan of Issa Rae and her particular brand of wry humour. I loved Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and I’ve just finished watching her new show, Insecure.

I can’t recommend it enough. It’s funny but painfully real. The secondary characters are well-developed and I love how complex the lead character is. It’s the sort of complexity that’s usually reserved for male characters, who are never under pressure to be likeable. Issa is flawed, human, hilarious. Real.

But for me personally, her best friend Molly really resonates. Her series of dating dramas just speak to me powerfully and I know I’m not alone. There are so many great characters in the show and her portrayal of that interconnected web of relationships, colleagues and friends is just pitch perfect.

At the moment, watching this, Atlanta and Crazyhead, I feel like I’ve been spoiled for good TV with Black leads. Susan Wokoma (Crazyhead) played my favourite character in Chewing Gum and in Crazyhead she tears up every scene she is in, giving it attitude, pathos, reserve and humour as appropriate and with ease, switching gears with a quiet self-assurance. I hope to see more of her and that we don’t lose her to the States when Crazyhead lands there this month*

 

*I wish her well of course. But if we want to keep talent like hers on this side of the pond, the roles need to be there. I hope the industry takes note!

 

 

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Grey Ambition

anthea.pngThis is going to seem really shallow, but I’m going grey and it has really unsettled me.

Getting older is a funny process. It’s only when you mention something in passing to your friends that you think is only happening to you that you realise everyone is figuring out what to do with wrinkles, the odd errant chin hair and skin that might go from oily to dry or even from flawless to teenage-style oily.

But the real issues are below the surface. For women especially, the ageing process is reveals so much about your conceptions of femininity and what expectations you have for yourself in terms of family and career.

It’s rare to see women with grey hair in the workplace, particularly in more corporate environments. It’s not perceived as distinguished and dashing as it is on men. Dyeing your hair to mask grey is not dissimilar to wearing makeup – For some, it’s an imperative to subscribe to the cult of youth, to others it’s just fun or they like how it looks. I don’t judge. But I was struck that whereas some of my friends may or may not wear makeup, or shave their legs, or pluck their eyebrows, the friends who have told me they are going grey all dye their hair or have weaves, wigs or braids that cover it, even my friends who wear their hair natural.

There’s something about hair. Perhaps because woman’s hair is almost emblematic and traditionally there has always been pressure for women to have long hair that conforms to the “feminine ideal”. Less so now; but still: everyone remembers the apex of Britney Spear’s troubled year in 2007 as the point when she shaved off her hair. The natural hair/weave/relaxed hair debate continues to roil in black communities. Shaving your head or growing a huge afro is seen a bold political statement.

Hair is tied up in our notions of femininity in a way that wrinkles are not. I have found myself unsettled, I’ve realised, not because I’m upset about ageing but because I expected to be in a different place in my life when this process became most visible.

This is stupid – I’ve had friends who went grey at 15 – but having interrogated my emotions, I feel like I did turning 30. It’s not the date that bothered me, just the disappointment of unmet expectations – expectations that I didn’t know I had. (to be clear: that I would be married, further along in my career, that I would have a career, children).

And that’s why the grey hair has thrown me for a loop this year. I didn’t really know that I had any thoughts about it until it happened and I feel strangely vulnerable still being “on the market” dating-wise as a visibly older woman. (I know, even as I type this I’m thinking, REALLY? But yes, this is an honest post).

I don’t want to dye it because I actually like my hair and all its colours (black and brown in different lights, now silver too) and I am loathe to change it. So I won’t. But it took me a little while to summon the courage to decide this, even though when it comes to other matters of hair removal or makeup or body image I am totally comfortable drawing my own line and walking it.

I’m disappointed in myself; I’ve clearly still got some way to go in terms of growing into my confidence as a 34 year-old. I’ve put a picture of the academic Anthea Butler here because I’ve always loved her look and thought that I’d try it perhaps when I got older.

Well, the first silvery threads are here and they brought friends, gathering into what appear to be two streaks at the front. They catch the light and keep surprising me. But I’m not going to dye them. I am learning to lean in and show up as that creature that society is alternately fascinated and repelled by – the (visibly) older woman.

 

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Black Twitter

Twitter can be frustrating much of the time, but there are corners of it that give me joy, primarily for their humour. Muslim Twitter and Black Twitter in particular.

Buzzfeed (who else?) rounded up some tweets that are all too real for Black girls.

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Respectability Politics

Why don’t we have our own version of Code Switch on the BBC or another major platform? For the views of PoC we have the Voice and other publications, and to be fair there is the BBC Black stream of programming, but there is something about Code Switch’s exploration of issues from a slightly nerdy political science/social studies perspective that I really wish we could apply in the UK.

I found myself thinking this again while reading a fascinating discussion on Respectability Politics , which I had heard of, and the origin and evolution of the concept, which I had not – all in the context of #BlackLivesMatter

As NPR put it, respectability politics [is] the notion that problems in the black community spume from within, and that by adopting a certain lifestyle, black people can inoculate themselves from discrimination.

But the origins of the term are much more nuanced.

As For Harriet explains: The rejection of respectability is central to the organizing of the Black Lives Matter movement. References to “respectability politics” are often used as short hand to signify standing in solidarity with those most marginalized in Black communities. But rarely is context provided for the phrase, and its origins are almost never mentioned.

Historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham theorized the concept of “the politics of respectability” in her 1993 work, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Therein she articulates a politic in which Black church women with few resources are empowered by embracing a moral authority that is rooted in self-determination rather than shame or blame.

It’s fascinating to read about how the term has changed in meaning – and what respectability politics means in the era of Black Lives Matter.

What a time to be alive.

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Three on Race and Charleston

Three great pieces of analysis on Charleston and race, incidentally all by women *fist bump* What unites them all, for me, is the blunt honesty therein. And how each of them speak to this situation but also wider, into the present, the past and the everyday.

ONE The Cost of White Comfort by Chenjerai Kumanyika . A very honest reflection from Chenjerai on how the work of healing post-Charleston is more vexed than it might first appear. I feel that she also speaks to a wider, universal truth about Black minority survival – something that’s articulated in lesser degrees in smaller, more mundane interactions – and one that’s as applicable to the UK as the US.

“Survival for black folk during slavery, Jim Crow and well beyond necessitated thousands of small demonstrations of pleasant compliance toward white people. This didn’t just mean crossing the street when a white person approached; it meant keeping your eyes down while you did it. It didn’t just mean stepping off the curb for a white person; it meant smiling as you did it.

Today, it means that when I discuss these shootings with my white students and my heart is bursting at the seams with outrage and grief, I must keep my voice and gestures gentle and calm and validate my students’ most hurtful comments so they don’t feel personally indicted.

And it means not just acquiescing to unwarranted police interrogation and arrest. It means being friendly, even gracious, throughout the ordeal. Black survival has so often depended on white comfort.”

TWO I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore by Chloe Angyal. A hardhitting analysis of how the concept of White women’s purity is often marshalled as an excuse for racist violence to be perpetrated on Black men and women. And a good reminder that Black women are so often the bottom of the proverbial pile when conceptualising womanhood in this way. This has been said time and again by Black feminists, and this timely intervention by an ally is welcome.

“[the attack at Emanuel AME] was also the latest in an unbearably long line of lethality meted out in the name of white womanhood—in my name, and maybe in yours. In the name of my purity and virtue and perfect femininity. We must not ignore the role of white womanhood in this act of white supremacist violence, or in any other. We must not find a way, yet again, of avoiding talking about whiteness. And until white women decide that we will no longer be used as an excuse for violence, until we decide that we will no longer tacitly condone and benefit from the violence, we will continue to have blood on our pale, “perfect” hands.”

THREE Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof by Roxane Gay. I love Roxane Gay long time. Her book, Bad Feminist is up there as one of my favourite feminist reads. This article, with excerpts from a longer interview, is thought provoking. While not detracting from the right of the families and church community in Charleston to offer forigiveness, she explains why she can’t. I admire the families for their grace, and I can only hope and pray that I would have the courage to do the same in their position. So, in that sense, I disagree with Gay, however, what she speaks to is a more political forgiveness, or how Black people’s forgiveness is used to move the conversation along and forego any deeper analysis of events like this. On that I absolutely agree with her. Forgiveness must not excuse us from the hard work of excavating this attack and the White supremacist system feeding it – it’s beyond just one man. Furthermore, the onus is not on the minority to make the majority feel comfortable (it ties back quite neatly to Chenjerai’s piece in this regard).

“In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims: the families of the nine slain and then Dylan Roof’s family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof’s family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we’ve also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, ‘OK, we forgive this so that we can move on, so that we can heal.’ But I don’t think that it’s our job to forgive anymore. I think that it’s time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.”

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Shondaland

I’ve been catching up on my favourites list; articles and shows that I have bookmarked and not got round to reading yet.

One of these was Shonda Rhimes’ acceptance speech from October last year when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership award for being a pioneer in her field. Shonda owns Thursday night TV with her shows Scandal, How to Get Away with Murder and Grey’s Anatomy. She is the first woman to have that sort of TV real estate and definitely the first Black woman to do so.

I have to say, I enjoy all her shows. They are full of action, drama, ridiculous, breathless dialogue and fabulous music. She also makes some great (though at times quite heavyhanded) points on sexism, racism and other issues. She makes the pill sweet to swallow. Her shows lack the subtlety and devastating finesse of The Good Wife or Damages, but they are punchy and assertive; much like the woman herself.

Her reflections on leadership and women breaking through the industry remind me of Hillary Clinton’s comment about cracking the glass ceiling when she lost the Democratic nomination to Obama.

“I know this isn’t an award because I’m a woman or because I’m African-American. I know that it’s really about breaking the glass ceiling that exists in the face of being a woman and being black in this very male, very white town.,”

“But I haven’t broken through the glass ceiling…If I had broken through any glass ceilings, I would know..If I had broken through a glass ceiling, I would have felt some cuts, I would have some bruises, there’d be shards of glass in my hair. … If I’d broken the glass ceiling, that would mean I made it through to the other side, where the air is rare. I would feel the wind on my face.”

“The view from here  —  way up here where the glass ceiling is broken  —  would be incredible. Right? So how come I don’t remember the moment? When me with my woman-ness and my brown skin went running full speed, gravity be damned, into that thick layer of glass and smashed right through it? How come I don’t remember that happening? Here’s why: It’s 2014. This moment right here, me standing up here all brown with my boobs and my Thursday night of network television full of women of color, competitive women, strong women, women who own their bodies and whose lives revolve around their work instead of their men, women who are big dogs, that could only be happening right now.”

She went on to pay tribute to all the women who have gone before her. It’s easy, as a woman living now, to forget that the privileges we enjoy are hard-won, that so many women fell at the first hurdles so that we could walk over them later.

My maternal grandmother left the home to work as a postmistress in rural Jamaica. My paternal grandmother was one of the first primary school teachers in her region in Malawi, outlived two husbands, built a life for herself and her children. Even in my small family, there are stories of breaking the mould, of the power of education for women, stories of sacrifice and strength. They paved the way for me; crucially, they and other women in my family expanded my ideas of what I, as a woman, could achieve. I have been nurtured, encouraged, challenged by a whole host of remarkable, understated women who would never make a song or dance about it, but who have powerfully shaped my life.

As Rhimes put it:

“How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared?” Rhimes said. “How many cuts did they get, how many bruises? How hard did they have to hit the ceiling? How many women had to hit that glass to ripple it, to send out a thousand hairline fractures? How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run, it didn’t even look like a ceiling anymore. I mean, the wind was already whistling through  —  I could always feel it on my face. And there were all these holes giving me a perfect view to other side. I didn’t even notice the gravity, I think it had worn itself away.

“So I didn’t have to fight as hard. I had time to study the cracks. I had time to decide where the air felt the rarest, where the wind was the coolest, where the view was the most soaring. I picked my spot in the glass and called it my target. And I ran. And when I hit finally that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it. No cuts. No bruises. No bleeding. Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”

 

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Time Lapse Hair styles

I’m a bit late to this party, but I loved the video of 100 years of Black hairstyles – especially the 1940s and 1990s styles, which I love for vintage nostalgia and (in the case of the 90s obvs) the lived experience!

Here it is side by side with the White version – it appears they were Part I and II of a series. Love it!

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#faithfeminisms

Last week, rather belatedly, I stumbled on the Faith Feminisms project, women talking about the intersection of their faith and feminism. One particular post really resonated with me, basically about intersectionality and theology, Loving Eve and Ham.

My journey as a feminist and a Christian was also glacial, with a gradual blossoming, settling of ideas and logic. I suppose there have always been feminist influences in my life; my mother and so many other women I grew up around, though they would never self-identify that way – they just did what they thought was right; they made their choices around work and home with a confidence and self-possession that left a deep impression on me. Later, at my all-girls school, we were never explicitly taught about feminism, but we were encouraged to believe that we could do anything that any other girl-or boy – was capable of. Reading Maya Angelou as a young woman moved me in ways that I can only articulate now. And there are more, so many more interactions that have acted upon me at different moments in my life, distilling down gradually in my thought processes.

My journey of faith has been exactly that; moving across a landscape that was ever-changing, learning what to carry with me, what to question and what to set aside; growing in a relationship with God and my changing impressions of what that even means (!) Reading about the women in the Bible, named and unnamed, whose stories (sometimes surprising or shocking) are preserved there to be explored anew, was also a transformational experience. (So much more there than Proverbs 31 woman!)

But here we are. I’m a Christian. I’m a feminist. I’m still learning, but the intersection of faith and feminism is dynamic and constantly challenging.  From the article:

“My feminism will always live at the intersection of race. It recognizes the Divine within all black women, all women of color, all women, all people. It doesn’t erase me from the Bible or make me the scourge of it. It proclaims the innate goodness of womanhood.

My feminism loves as hard as it fights. It basks in the glow of sisterhood. It nurtures relationships. It gives generously, protects fiercely, laughs freely, weeps courageously, dances with child-like abandon. Like shared wine and chocolate cheesecake with her best friends at midnight, it drinks deeply.  It lives.”

 

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History is usually written by the winners

The UCL is involved in a great research project on slavery in Britain  looking at how the history of slavery is entwined in Britain’s institutions, business, fabric of life. It’s been going on for a few years, and every so often I see articles or videos linked to the project.

The endeavour strikes me as an important step to facing Britain’s legacy in the slave trade (beyond the comfortable story of abolition) and reasserting narratives of Black History in the UK.  And as Professor Catherine Hall puts it in the video, “The ways in which contemporary racial thought has many inflections from this long, long history”

Here is a great snippet of the researchers’ work (from 2011 but I came across it recently):

Caribbean nations are currently pressing for reparations, a topic that I used to feel quite ambivalent about, before reading Ta-nehisi Coates’ breathtaking, meticulous article on the subject. Although he is writing from a US context, his point that the issue of reparations is about far more than money is an important one, and one that is applicable for the UK and other countries. I think his call for an honest reckoning with the past would be painful, but important and a worthy goal in and of itself:

“Perhaps after a serious discussion and debate…we may find that the country can never fully repay African Americans. But we stand to discover much about ourselves in such a discussion—and that is perhaps what scares us. The idea of reparations is frightening not simply because we might lack the ability to pay. The idea of reparations threatens something much deeper—America’s heritage, history, and standing in the world.”

 

 

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Dencia Defending Skin Whiteners

“If you feel like your whole body is a dark spot…fine…say goodbye to dark spots.”

Cameroonian singer Dencia, whose cream I mentioned in my last article, defended the cream  on Channel 4. A very disingenuous interview followed. She alleges that the cream is for dark spots…but the advertising campaign just doesn’t add up.

 

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