‘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
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.
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.
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…
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..