Staying Woke & Unpacking Misogynoir: Interrupting The Blissful Sleep of Young Black British & Mixed Race Men

IMAGE ACTIVISM, WORKSHOPS

 

‘Sleep: A condition of body and mind which typically recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness practically suspended.’ -Definition of ‘sleep’ by the Oxford Dictionary

‘To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.’ -James A. Baldwin

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The word was out that someone was on the look out for a “a strong black woman” to be invited to act as a role model and explore topics such as positive relationships with women, managing stereotypes and lead a discussion for an initiative called black on track UK. Despite the tired trope of ‘Strong Black Woman’ it sounded exciting and agreed to do it.

Black on Track UK:

Black on Track UK is a unique cultural group for young Black males at the then South Nottingham College now Central College Nottingham, supported by the School of Education at Nottingham Trent University in 2012.

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Dr Sheine Peart

The launch of the group followed a 15 month research project by Nottingham Trent University’s Sheine Peart, course leader for the Masters in Education at the School of Education, which was carried out at South Nottingham College and the former Broxtowe College.

Along with Dr Sheine Peart, South Nottingham College learner achievement coach, Claudius Dyer and Lecturer Norris Stewart have also been instrumental in establishing the group, with support from its deputy principal, John Gray.

[Read More About Black On Track Here]

Enlightenment, Where to Start?

‘There can be no freedom for black men as long as they advocate the subjugation of black women.’-bell hooks

The topic of the discussion was ‘Black Mens Attitudes Towards Black Women’ as at the South Nottingham College had noticed that Black male students increasingly wanted nothing to do with black women. Though excited by the prospect of possibly being involved in enlightening some young black men with regard to black women and the issues we face. Needless to say I was daunted at the prospect, what would I discuss  with them? Where do I start? Because misogynoir against black women in the UK is particularly tarte and it hasn’t gone unnoticed to me or any other black women I know.

It would be a task for me to eradicate all known misogynoir from the UK but perhaps I could attempt to remove the sleep from a few young black men’s eyes and minds and enlighten them to the fact that black women are not as derogatory a concept as some of young black british males have been hypnotised by western society to believe…. infact #blackgirlmagic is real.

Waking Up To Decolonising Beauty Ideals

The group of young men were made up of 6 black men and 1 mixed race man, all of the students were aged between 16 and 18. They all looked slightly nervous as we introduced ourselves to each other. One of the first things we did to ease us into the topic watch a YouTube vid, A Girl like Me  is a 2005 Award winning short documentary by a then 16-year-old filmmaker Kiri Davis. The 7 min documentary examines such things as the importance of colour, hair and facial features for young African American women.

Most of the students said that they felt bad and angry for the girls in the documentary. The reenactment of the Doll Test from the Brown vs. Board of Education case in Civil Rights era America stood out for them and we also discussed how racism effects black girls and black women in uniquely different ways to black males.

and I googled the words ‘beautiful woman’ and they were shocked at the results…Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 01.52.58

it goes on like this for pages…

Now we scrolled for about 16pages and then we started to see pics of Beyonce and couple images of Oriental women speckled through the results. All the young men looked like they had just a dose of smelling salts in response to the results. We all agreed that it was telling that we had to scroll past hundreds of images of caucasian women who were not famous and the first WoC, black woman to be deemed beautiful enough to show up in the results had to be as famous, successful as a european appearing as Beyonce…in order to be deemed beautiful as a black woman? They began to empathise with black women and see how manipulative the media can be.

Then we discussed what their ideas of beauty were….

I asked them who their top 3 most attractive famous women were…
Names such as Emma Stone, Cheryl Cole, Jennifer Lopez, Megan Fox, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johanssen, Alicia Keys, Emma Watson, Kate Winslet and Kelly Rowland came up… no real surprises. Only one of them singer Kelly Rowland was a black woman all of the rest of the women are white or racially ambigious /mixed race. I pointed out that isn’t it interesting that the people that they found attractive reflected the results of the doll test in the documentary, they agreed.

Being Conscious of Racist Stereotypes Applied to Black Women

By the time we got to this point they were quite comfortable talking to me and each other. I asked them what do you think of White women, Black women, Mixed Race women?….it was my turn to be a little startled…

Black Women: Queens, Dominant, attitude, dont take any shit, facesty, some are too loud, wear weaves alot, they stick up for you, Mothers, they are providers, big lips, they dont like their hair, rude, argumentative, some are sexy, harder to chat up, big bums aka ‘back off’, get high marks.

White Women: Liars, bitches, not to be trusted, easy, agreeable, they do what you say, pretty, nice long hair, dumb, bimbos, easy to trick, they’ve got alot of freedom because their parents let them do whatever they want, flat bums, wild, up for doing new things.

Mixed Race Women: Stuck up, pretty, bit facesty, always got their hair slicked back, confused, curls, light skin, some lean more to their white side and some lean more to their black side, lost, think that they are too nice, more trouble than its worth.

I was startled because the one who said that black women were queens and that white women were ‘liars, bitches and not to be trusted’ was the young Mixed Race man, it made me want to know more about his story? what had happened in his young life that had made him come to such conclusions? We discussed where the stereotypes came from, we talked about the fact that if they all were the female versions of themselves that based on all the women that they said they were attracted to they probably wouldn’t find themselves attractive.

In summary I had learned that those students were open to hearing about black women’s lives. The students said that they enjoyed discussion and thought that it met their needs much better than school. It spoke to their experience more than just the academic side and there is no formal cultural or emotional support for them, an issue which is replicated in Further Education across the country. I’m glad that I could play a part in at least presenting a new perspective that they possibly hadn’t considered in depth before, perhaps ignorance isn’t so blissful afterall..

What No one Tells You About The WOW Festival & The Legendary Activist Angela Davis

IMAGE ACTIVISM
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Illustration by @thehoneyeffect

So the Women of The World Festival 2017 was fast approaching, I had previously led a heady, informative, rather risqué discussion there a couple years ago on the topic of ‘Who Owns Your Body’ I digress… and felt that the time was right to go back. I had all but given up on finding a ticket to see the Legendary Activist Angela Davis speak at the WoW Festival 2017 as the tickets sold out faster than a Sprinter of Jamaican descent… late for work.

I tried to hunt a ticket down before I got my day pass for WOW but no luck. I decided to try one last time and put an open call out on Facebook for any spare tickets and luckily an random Facebook friend Chelsea Black came to my rescue and sold me a front row ticket no less! yaassss!

So I went down to London Saturday, 11 March 2017 on a Sn-ap coach (if you have to do last minute discounted public transport I highly recommend them Notingham to London 6 pounds! bargain). Along the way down to Southbank Centre, in Covent Garden I spotted some beautifully floral collaged protest art by an artist called Sophia Tassew called ‘Mandem Need Feminism’…. how apt.

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‘Mandem’ by Sophia Tassew

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, Hannah Pool in Conversation with Reni Eddo-Lodge

Then I arrived at the heaving box office at Southbank Centre, filled with lots of beautiful women from all over the world of which I should’ve taken a photo of… I guess I was worried about my tickets. Then I went to my first conversation/ discussion of the day, which was titled ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge #titleoftheday who was promoting her book of the same title of which started out as a blog. She spoke about the frustrations, discomfort and social implications of talking about race. She raised topics such as whites fragility, Male fragility, intersectionality and white feminism.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Where as I thought this talk was interesting and Journalist/ Writer Hannah Pool asked cool questions, though I could hear metaphorical eggshells being crushed in the room. I think that this particular was designed for white people (of which probably reflects the point of the book). I say this in part because a small part of the conversation was spent reassuring a white woman who said she was a diversity leader that does everything she can to help PoC’s.

who while asking a question, proceeded to burst into tears whilst devolving into a puddle of the finest white guilt… centering herself of which felt like a misogynoiristic attack. Hannah Pool reassured the white woman and said that we appreciate your vulnerability, I disagreed under my breath…. I’ve witnessed so much fragility in life that I could drown in white tears #crymeariver #Imonfire.

Reni told the woman in a very tactful considered manner that her tears were misplaced and it would be better if she transformed her white guilt into action and helped towards dismantling white privilege and redistributing power (I’m paraphrasing but you get it).
Its super hard to have conversations about race in a room full of middle class white women in the uk and not upset one of them so much that you can almost see your career smashing to smithereens on the ground. It was positive that it happened and I cant wait to read the book.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Crown of Confidence by Rachael Young

Rachael Young performance artist extraordinaire led the next workshop, it was a fun, a much needed rest bite from serious discourse about white feminism, Black feminism and white supremacist patriarchy. Crown of Confidence is a DIY Hair Salon, an intimate social space for practically re-imagining yourself through the art of hairstyling. We spoke of our childhood, heros, gender norms and I sprayed my hair blue and others sprayed their hair pink and exchanged social media with a couple people too! funtimes

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

Open Toolkit For How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be Lauren Laverne in Conversation with Gemma Cairney

TV and radio personality, journalist and teen ambassador Gemma Cairney talked about her new book, OPEN: A Toolkit for How Magic and Messed Up Life Can Be, exploring everything from mental health and families, to first love and technology with broadcaster Lauren Laverne. I found this surprisingly inspiring, I found Gemma’s young, quirky style, fun use of language and summery approach to DIY teen girl empowerment to be unique.

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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@tammyscribbler @kikibaby79 @thehoneyeffect [Photo Credit: Tamara Gausi]

Then…

Jude Kelly In Conversation with the legendary… Angela Davis

Legendary African-American activist Angela Davis talks to Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly CBE about women, race and class in the post-Trump era. This was phenomenal, the grandiosity of the hall was packed with feminists and headwrapped and natural haired womanists of every shade of brown as far as the eye could see. I was talking to countless beautiful black women of all ages some had come down from as far away as Birmingham, Leeds and even North London despite a train delay a woman confessed lol. We talked about the day thus far and the conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to be held after Angela Davis. We talked about how the tickets for this sold out Conversation with Davis were like gold dust and about other activists we’d like to see and would like to have seen such as bell hooks, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston. The atmosphere was set to ignite, anticipation was killing us all softly, you had to be there.

Queenly figure of Angela Davis crowned with golden afro curls arrived on stage to a much deserved rapturous standing ovation. After a couple minutes she gestured the crowd to be seated as if to playfully say stop being silly and the conversation commenced.
Davis dropped gem after gem and spoke of  Womanism, Islamophobia, the abolition of gender policing, White fragility, Audre Lorde,’Evolution Feminism’, ‘Never mind the glass ceiling that white feminism is trying to break through, what about the floor that keeps falling from beneath women of colour?’
‘I’m not a feminist I’m a Black woman’
Intersectionality and much more.
She asked men to stand up and clap for all the women in the crowd, my phone was on 1% and I decided to bask in the moment and let the applause wash over me (Reminded me of that classic hip hop tune by ‘Black Girl’ by Talib Kweli).
The talk had been insightful and powerful but it felt like the the air was pregnant with something as if something explosive was going to happen…

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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[Photo Credit: Honey Williams]

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and then it happened…
She asked if anyone had any questions and I was about to raise my hand but noticed a black woman a seat away desperate to be heard almost standing, raising her hand as high as it would reach… I thought to myself I happened to be sitting a seat away from a Black British Activist Marcia Rigg, Marcia is the sister of Sean Rigg who died in Brixton police station in 2008. Marcia is a mental health activist and runs the Sean Rigg Justice And Change Campaign. Marcia gushed an outpouring of love and respect for Davis by referring to Davis as being her hero and asked a poignant and highly emotional question about black people secretly dying in police custody in the UK and mentioned her loss and activism, plus asked how to cope as a black woman activist. Davis gave her a heartfelt thanks for her question and answered it with grace and tact. Then soon after Marcia Riggs leapt up on stage and gave Angela a big hug! the crowd gave them both a standing ovation, needless to say the whole room got in their feels, not a dry eye in the room.
Needless to say Im thankful I got my last min ticket!
What an exquisitely inspiring day!

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