Last year we had our first Miss Representation collaboration and we teamed up with the Rhul Afro-Caribbean Society to discuss how women from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds are represented in the media, black female role models and Black Feminism.
The event was a great success and we got a chance to hear the brilliant Reni Eddo-Lodge, Black feminist, former president of Lancaster SU, NUS National executive council member and Guardian columnist speak about her experiences of Black Feminism.
It was also really interesting to able to hear what students at Royal Holloway thought about the representation of black women in the media and the great video that was made for the event really opened many people eyes about the under-representation and misrepresentation of black women in the media. Following this one of our members, Hodan Elmi, also wanted to share her thoughts on Black Feminism, but first, here is the fantastic video that was created for our event :)
Growing up, I've had a strong connection to the subject of women and feminism especially being a young woman with such an interest in history. Not for a moment did I question the demographic of women I had seen within these movements. Maybe I was just used to seeing these faces before me. I couldn't help but wonder, why don't people on television, magazines and even in literature look like me?
No doubt the development of rights and the liberation of women in the first and second wave of feminism were indeed successful. However their conception of women's rights was not extended to women of colour, especially with black women. In the plight of the civil rights movement, many African Americans demanded their basic rights: the right to vote, the right to freedom of movement, the right to an education and overall parity with the white man in America. No doubt the black women experienced a different and more intensified form of sexism due to intersecting issues concerning race and class. Needless to say black women felt left out of a movement that didn't cater to their needs because they were a different type of woman. Audre Lorde said, "I recognize that my power as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my blackness as well as my womaness, and therefore my struggles on both of these fronts are inseparable". Without the eradication of racism, women's liberation is severely limited in who they intend to liberate.
Black feminism does not seek to divide feminism and its goal but, what it does do, is to celebrate our differences and understand them adequately enough in order to promote equality for ALL women, not a select privileged sector.
Black women and black feminism today still have a long way to go. Our fight for representation in the media (don't get me started on politics) is still sidelined. High profile feminists, still receiving praise and admiration for their ideas still have shown a lack of solidarity with the black woman (cough Caitlin Moran cough cough). The advent of the U.S television series Girls is unequivocally, a prime example of this sentiment. Believe it or not I loved Girls. I felt I related to the show, especially with the main character Hannah. It was well written; witty, light-hearted and refreshing. Girls is definitely reminiscent of Sex and the City but instead, the characters aren't overly concerned with the opposite sex in the same way that Carrie Bradshaw and co are. They have yet to figure out themselves and the relationships they embark upon which mean the audience grows just as much with the story as the characters do. Somewhere along the line I realized that Girls was completely white washed, oddly there wasn't even an element of tokenism which puzzled me further. Lena Duhnam's excuse for the lack of representation of Girls was that as a writer she could only write through her perspective: white women. All of this continues to highlight an on-going theme of subtle racism which internally plagues society and the feminist community. As a black woman watching Girls, I'm sure I was not the only woman of colour who related to the series. But it poses the question, why didn't Lena Duhnam have the ability to relate women of colour? This only exemplifies the degree of racism and separatism within this representation and society at large. The white perspective and experience is universal and the stories of the "others" are merely categorized for a limited audience. It would have been befitting for the show to be called White Girls. The main problem and criticism for the lack of representation of women was not because the show mainly consisted of white people (still a problem) but it was the upheaval of praise and recognition that Dunham received as a feminist and advocate of women's liberation despite her failure to represent women of colour. For Lena Duhnam to be praised openly and her work to be perceived as "ground-breaking" without adequate representation is shameful.
Dunham's inability to relate or tell the stories of young black women is reflected by the way white media treats and represents women of colour on the whole. The white experience and the over representation of white people is often taken to be an experience that is applied to everyone and most people of colour who have their five minutes of fame (or who happen to be one of the ten black people in Hollywood) are often stereotyped in the roles they play.
Furthermore, the black woman we see in mass media is overly sexualised, “sassy”, angry and working class. A typical scenario in film starring a black woman would include a loud, aggressive black woman with several children from a husband that had probably left her, even the successful seem to be angry, instead of just headstrong. The overplayed strong, independent black woman “who don't need no man” is angry, but what for? Since when is the lack of reliance on men necessarily a bad thing? The media would have you believe that black women are lonely because of this inability to keep their mouths shut as a result of their subservience to men and to society because of colour. Although most people would be quick to perceive the misrepresentation of women in the media as being just of a hyper-sexualised and objectified form, the issues of understanding racism and sexism collectively together is a discussion long overdue. Society's aversion to the discussion of race- relations in the western world, particularly in Britain and America has definitely left a bad taste. I understand that for many people, particularly some white liberals, it is probably an issue dealt with a great deal of shame and unease. But to make the assumption that racism is a sentiment that has somehow withered away and is no longer a problem is simply not addressing the big elephant in the room. If we are going to move feminism forward, we must all discuss and try to understand intersectionality.
With a more intersectional definition of feminism emerging in the feminist community,the future shows a lot of promise. Let's keep at it!