Black women need more good, not less, media representation

Hi Victoria Coren,

I think I might be one of the black women you are talking about in your article.

I’m a black British Caribbean woman. I’m not overweight, but I do feel confident in my body. However, this is not because women of my ethnicity are seldom represented in magazines, media, public life. I think having some sort of (broad and diverse) representation would help people to make sense of me and stop my having to make all sorts of declarations, and overtures to show and prove things about myself, because it’s so tiring and I don’t particularly want to have to disavow elements of my culture to do that. I wish there was a black girl in the media who liked reggae music and hip hop AND also went to uni and had a professional career afterwards and had white friends. I think the media plays a role in explaining that is possible, but instead I have the responsibility of showing that. Therefore, the media is doing a disservice to us. It creates a void of representation that can be misappropriated and is therefore disempowering. A very recent Guardian piece showed ‘models breaking the mould’. One black woman was featured, for her skin colour. That was it, for her skin colour. The white models could be older, plus size, and feminist. The black model could be black. I would like to see black models who are also older, feminist and plus size. I would like us to be mainstreamed in all of our glory and not constantly marginalised.

I do feel quite confident in my body, but this is despite the lack of discourse that highlights me as being attractive. I feel that lack acutely, actually. There is harm done to black women because of the conspicuous lack of acknowledgement that we are attractive beings. I was born in the 80s, but as a child I felt just as those children did in the 1950s experiments that showed black children of 3 and 4 despising black dolls and complimenting white ones. At aged six I was wishing for other things, too, to look like the girls on the cover of Sugar magazine, to be called Shelley, to have hair that blew in even light wind.

After reading your article Victoria, I felt as though you were pushing the message that white women are the victims and that black women somehow had it good BECAUSE we are marginalised. I find that hard to swallow.

That is always going to be a difficult, and patronising, argument to make. If we must look at things with sanguine specs on, I would say that instead, those particular stats suggest maybe that black women are trying to adjust themselves in incredibly hostile environments and a proportion of them appear, at least on the surface, to be doing this quite well. However, just a cursory look at the country’s mental health service will show you that black women have it so hard that some of us just can’t handle it.

I think this is where the interesting link with some of the other stats you mentioned comes into it. 68% of black women think it is ‘very important’ to have a successful career. I’m not so sure this is very much to do with lack of black models in magazines. I think this is probably a lot to do with the fact that when times get hard – like now – we often find ourselves among the first to be made redundant. Last year, my friend told me how her team of 20, with 7 black women including herself, announced redundancies and 5 black women and 1 white man had to go. My friend, and the PA to the director were the only two black women who stayed. Job instability for black women is a real concern. For example, in local government the majority of fixed term contract workers, as opposed to permanent employees, are ethnic minorities or younger women. According to the Scottish national census in 2001, the employment gap between ethnic minority women and white women was 21%, despite the fact that younger ethnic minority women are more likely to have first degrees. For example, Indian women under 34 were twice as likely as their white counterparts to have a first degree. Black women can’t afford to treat their careers, when they have them, as anything less than ‘very important’.

55% thought it important to have time to pursue other interests…. I’d like to know what these interests are. I’m not sure these are all lunching ladies, or those taking up hobbies as serious leisurely pursuits. ‘Other interests’ could very likely be caring for the elderly, physically and emotionally supporting friends and family who have little recourse to public funds, engaging in long hours of homework to supplement the deficient education their children receive in institutionally racist schools, joining community organisations like Saturday Schools and support groups, or simply getting up to speed on the law so that they can ‘work effectively’ with the police when they pick up their sons. Most of the black women I know spend their time helping others, frankly. As oppressed minorities we need to. I know that this doesn’t make as pretty an article, but I’m concerned at your superficial reading of those stats. I don’t think your article represents black women very well, in your article it sounds like black women are having it good, and that rings alarm bells for me.

You also said 52% of white women think it’s “very important” to be in a romantic relationship, compared with only 44% of black women and somehow that speaks to our ‘liberation’ – what from patriarchy? I really don’t think so. Not rating it as ‘very’ important, does not mean that it is not important at all! Black women, like most human beings, want love and affection and support and all of those things that are possible in relationships (and it would be helpful if we had some healthy black relationships represented in the media, too). While I would fiercely argue against black women ‘needing’ romantic relationships, as I would all women, it’s classic white mainstream feminism solipsism to assume that familial relationships are necessarily bad. The family for black women does not always mean oppression, and restriction. It can also mean supporting networks that are often dearly needed. Also, one could argue that a consuming concern with romance is a luxury!

I don’t think your article is fair to black women. I don’t think your article is fair to white women either, but I’ll let them take up that argument with you elsewhere.

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