During my teenage years I struggled to reconcile the parts of me that are black, British, African, female, feminist and anti-racist in fear of being accused of playing minority top trumps. Only recently have I become more in tune with my identity as I started reading into black feminist theories. As I read more about black feminism, I’ve found the general consensus to be that black women find themselves in double jeopardy. In 1991 Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality”. In her article ‘Mapping the Margins’ she explains how people who are both women and people of colour are discriminated against in ways that do not fit within the realms of either racism or sexism but rather a combination of both. Now I’ve come to understand that there are overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination and I exist at one of those intersections.
Having spoken to many black British women about their own experiences I found that many felt the same. They were proud of their blackness and womanhood, but they were discouraged when they were met with colourist jokes, ridiculed for their hair, called sassy and overconfident or labelled the angry black woman. These microaggressions are rooted in racism and sexism and they contribute to the self-conscious, inhibited nature of many black women. Many that I spoke to said that they have to mould themselves to their environment for fear that their true selves are intimidating. Some would straighten their hair before starting a new job, talk less and quieter or dress differently. These are experiences that I too am familiar with – a mixture of microaggressions, colourism, fetishization and gaslighting is the tea that British society serves to black women.
While black women celebrate the progress made – from seeing Sharon White become chief executive of John Lewis, AJ Odudu grace our screens and magazine covers, Dina Asher Smith set records on any track she steps foot on, witnessing Patricia Bright take the influencer industry by storm, we also experience a feeling of collective mourning. We experience challenges and pain that will never be understood by our white female and black male counterparts.
Black British women could empathise with the terrorisation of Meghan Markle. We were familiar with the abuse of Diane Abbott. We mourned with the women who were victims of the disparities of maternal mortality rates. We were angered by the racial profiling of Dawn Butler.
The feminist movement as it stands does not work to liberate black women from all systems that oppress them. White feminists must diversify their narrative. Not all women are oppressed equally, you can be both a victim of patriarchy and experience privilege. White feminists need to understand that if their feminism does not include anti-racism work then they are wasting their time. But if their liberation as feminists is bound up and tied to the liberation of black women from racism then we can begin to move forward.
Similarly, the anti-racism work has to actively challenge the way that black women in particular are terrorised in popular culture. Black men must diversify their narrative and understand that whilst they are victims of racism their manhood awards them some sort of privilege not accessible to black women.
What I’m coming to accept is that I am beautiful, feminine, confident and worthy, despite whatever box society tries to put me in. I am learning to live outside the whiteness that shrouded my youth, I now see that the world does not revolve around white cis men. I understand that my identity is multifaceted, I am not the issue as opposed to the feminist and anti-racism work that does not consider my intersectionality. You need not take this piece as anything more than a discussion of my experience and opinions (along with those who agreed to speak to me). It is not in its intention meant to be a call to action – if this does prompt you to act then that’s just a bonus.