So I recently had a brunch date with some friends who I’ve known since secondary school, an institution I left around 5 years ago (how time flies!) Annoyingly it was the mid-morning of the EU Referendum announcement and due to how switched on my friends are, I all but knew it was going to be a topic of conversation. I’m not going to bore you with the remaINder of our EU conversation but nevertheless it sparked some very important discussions.
One thing I respect about my friends (who for the record are 2 Caucasian girls and 1 African-Caribbean girl) was the acknowledgement and empathy shown towards the struggles we as individuals face in society. As women we all face injustices, some predisposed and some institutional that can result in being treated as less credible members of society. The idea of a woman being ‘governed by emotion’ is one that is widely accepted across many different cultures. The idea of a ‘strong’ woman who is not over-emotional and who maybe doesn’t cry at The Notebook can be seen as a woman who may not be in touch with her emotion, somewhat androgynous in nature or even trying to be manly in her demeanour. (Simplified examples and ‘ ‘ terms used loosely, but you get what I mean). The majority of my friends have probably never seen me cry or really ever comfortably talk about my feelings but that’s not because I’m a stone cold woman who wants to show that I’m one of the lads, but rather that I choose to express myself differently and moreover privately.
Women and men are subject to gender role socialization and a lot of how we behave is as much due to nurture as it is to nature and I can testify to this. It’s funny to see how characteristics of strength are less associated with the female sex unless referring to roles such as motherhood. I’d hoped that by now all of society would have conceptualised that a woman is not just a child bearing object or an emotionally intelligent individual but rather a human being capable of doing most of the things men can. A woman that expresses her emotion more overtly than another does not make her any less stable, rational or capable of being a decision maker. I for one am comfortable being a female and do not want to be a man in any way shape or form but I get extremely aggravated when women are shut down for being strong, taking leadership roles and choosing to govern their emotion in the way they want to. It’s a struggle many women are subject to in their personal and professional lives and something I can see western society is trying to overcome especially with an uproar in feminist movements. However for me, it doesn’t end there.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been hit with the double whammy – not only am I a young woman, I’m also a young BLACK woman (and proud!). Despite how much I relish in my melanin, society has deemed me at even more of a disadvantage than my white counterparts. I would say switch on your TVs and have a look at the injustices not only black women but black people as a whole face, but that’d be pointless as these types of cases never get any airtime anyway! (I’ll save that rant for another time)
As many of you may know, there’s been a big push on social media to unite and support the black community with movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and many other melanin empowering initiatives. I think the push to empower the black community has been great and has encouraged myself and others to love the skin you’re in. And while a social media push is stimulating and facilitating that much needed discussion, the problem goes to the laws, policies and foundations of the institutions that play a huge part in our daily lives. In many professional workplaces its evident that being black is still an issue of contention. I can’t help but think whether some of the opportunities I’ve been given were a matter of reaching a ‘diversity quota’ or if they actually believed in my capabilities. Wouldn’t it be great to exist in a society where that couldn’t even be a possibility and that being black, educated and capable was just as palatable as being a white, educated and middle class? I look at the Board of Directors for some of the institutions I’ve worked and would like to work for and it disappoints me to see there’s not a black individual in sight and best believe if there is, they’re most likely a man. Many people who disagree with institutional racism will probably pull the card of “But look at Obama, leader of the most powerful country in the world, he’s black!”, and yes I agree what a breakthrough that was, but I live in the UK and struggle to see black people let alone black women in a position of any political authority. The number of ethnic minority female MPs in the House of Commons nearly doubled after 2015, from 1.5% (11 of 650) in 2010, to 3.0% (20 of 650) in 2015 (Source: Parliament UK). Sorry, but is this a statistic to be even proud of? The House of Commons are MPs elected to represent the public’s interests and concerns, but how can they do this when only 20 out of the 650 of them could even begin to conceptualise some of the struggles I face as a young black woman.
Things must change and it begins with you and me. You don’t have to be a campaigner or a social media activist to have a voice, it begins with the conversations you have with the people around you – albeit difficult ones. I guess the point of this post was to give you all an insight into some of the thoughts I have regarding the place of young black women in society. My ambitions surpass race and gender and I have made an agreement with myself to never let that get in the way of any opportunity I go for and neither should you. Whether you’re a man, woman, black, white, bi-racial or Asian – I hope you can relate if not empathise with a few of the struggles of a young black woman.
In a nutshell…
“To be white, or straight, or male, or middle class is to be simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. You’re everywhere you look; you’re the standard against which everyone else is measured. You’re like water, like air. People will tell you they went to see a “woman doctor” or they will say they went to see “the doctor.” People will tell you they have a “gay colleague” or they’ll tell you about a colleague. A white person will be happy to tell you about a “Black friend,” but when that same person simply mentions a “friend,” everyone will assume the person is white. Any college course that doesn’t have the word “woman” or “gay” or “minority” in its title is a course about men, heterosexuals, and white people. But we call those courses “literature,” “history” or “political science…This invisibility is political.” ― Michael S. Kimmel, Privilege: A Reader