To identify why we need Black Feminism, we must first of all distinguish what it is. The first and most frequent mistake regarding “Black feminism” is the misinterpretation of the term Black. Black refers not to the colour of ones skin, but the person’s heritage and political consciousness. People who self define as Black are mostly of African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean descent. The Black feminist movement seeks for equality for women within these communities.
A young Algerian woman, Malia Bouattia from NUS’s Black Student’s Campaign, touched upon what it means to be a Black woman:
“The issues facing Black women are so much worse, not only being women but as a woman of colour.”
It is important to recognise the struggles that women face outside their communities but also within. Black women face racism from outside their ethnic grouping whilst facing sexism within. It is often describe as double oppression.
Malia recognizes the need for Black women to have spaces to communicate problems such as shadism, stereotypes in the workplace, ideas of beauty and under representation. This led to Malia, Beverly Mettle and others from the NUS Black Students’ Committee to set up the first organised Black women’s conference.
Walking into the University London Union venue, it quickly became clear that spirits were high with workshops and seminars taking place throughout the day. The women participated, giving the opportunity for everyone to learn and share each others experiences. Ideas of how to challenge stereotypes and increase Black women representation within the media were also discussed.
After the conference Malia said: “I think a lot of women were surprised at how many problems they are facing. They took these problems to be the norm. They didn’t realise how much they need a collective unified black women’s movement to feel empowered and invigorated.”
Despite most feminism conferences being exclusive to women, this one had it’s first session open to men. Why? Because men need to understand the pressures Black women face:
“There is no point empowering and recognising problems solely within the female community if you go back to a place where the men are not even willing to let you apply anything, it just wouldn’t work.”
Sadly only a handful of men turned up, less than 5. Evidently there is still a lot of work to be done.
One significant problem Asian women face due to pressures internally within the community is pursuing education after the age of 16. And those young Asian women who do get the opportunity to continue the studies often are faced with the pressure of family who expect them to study Asian-typical subjects such as medicine or law. Then of course problems arise when Asian women actually enjoy such subjects; they are perceived by non-Asian communities are as being oppressed, forced into studying that subject. Sports, performing arts and media related subjects are often seen as no-go areas for some young Asian women. It seems to be a lose-lose situation for young Asian women.
However, there is hope. Salma Bi, 26, from Birmingham has proven herself to be able to embrace the activities she enjoys the most: sports. Amongst Salma’s many achievements, she is the first ever Asian Muslim woman to play for Worcestershire County Cricket Women’s team. She has been playing sport for over 12 years and in that time has managed to become the winner of the British Asian sports award.
When asked how she became involved with sport, Salma said: “It’s something I’ve picked up from home with the influence of my dad. I’ve grown up in a sporty family; my dad is definitely a bigger pusher for sports.”
On the 10th March, Salma organised a record breaking 10 hour futsal marathon raising over £1,000 for the National Autistic Society. The team she was captaining consisted of Asian women representing the culture. They are the first female Asian team to ever compete in the fustal league in Birmingham. Futsal is similar to football but played indoors with a heavier football and 5 players on each team.
“We’ve got girls who wear the full hijab and they want to be covered up, we get a ladies only environment if we want to play and that’s brilliant, there’s good respect from other teams as well, they understand our religious needs and beliefs. It’s home to us.”
Things haven’t always been so easy for Salma. She touched upon the fact that her father, though a lover of sport, at one point did not see why she would spend her free days playing cricket. Salma who is also a dialysis nurse said “as I got older I had a lot more independence, when I graduated, I proved it my parents, I’ve got an education and I’m still playing sports.” Salma mentioned that her sister too is involved in sport. Salma said her father “is really proud of what we do and he just wants to make sure that we’re on the right track and we’re doing something ourselves.”
Though lucky to have such a supportive family, Salma said “The public response has been mixed. Sometimes they can easily slap criticism on you and say what you’re doing is a waste of time or asking where sport is going get you in life.” Despite this, Salma continues to coach sport and inspires young Asian women to get involved.
Unfortunately she has encountered young girls facing pressure from home. “I’ve had situations where I’ve seen talented girls when I coach in schools, it’s a shame when I want them to get involved with a tournament or a club and parents are not supporting them. I’ve had to go to parents houses… I say to them “come along and see for yourselves, see how many windows of opportunity can open for them”. It’s just something you have to tackle over time.”
Sport is not the only subject Asian women have trouble engaging in. Media and film are also not popular within Asian communities. Institutional racism and sexism also does not favour Asian women. There is a serious lack of representation of Asian women with these industries. When a Black woman is successful in the media, she is often denied their identity as a Black woman. Examples of this are Beyonce and Oprah of who many do not regard as Black women.
Priya Sudra, 19, is currently doing a degree in film studies and London Metropolitan University. She appears to be comfortable in on her course and does not seem to be facing any real problems.
Her parents back home in Essex are very supportive of her:
“My parents were cool with it. My dad would’ve preferred me to go on to a subject more academic based but he wanted me to go on to something I enjoyed so he was happy for me to go on to media and film.”
As to whether or not Priya will face problems in the future is unknown but there is a evidently remains massive levels of under representation of Black females in the media and film industry.
Black women face massive stereotyping. Women are seen as either being loud, noisy and always shouting. Or they are seen as being trapped in an oppressive culture which in reality is beautiful and Black women are proud to be part of. Because these stereotypes are played out over and over again, Black Women find it increasingly difficult to express themselves as the individuals that they are.
The truth is all the Black feminism movement want is for people to recognize that Black women, like everyone else, are unique. Each has their own characteristics and interests. It simply seeks for these women freedom which appears to be locked away in cages due to stereotypes. It takes time but with empowering networking conferences like that set up by Malia combined with inspiration from women such as Salma and Priya who pursue their individual dreams whilst embracing their culture, the problems facing Black women will soon begin to fade away.