For the first post on Culture Focus, I chose to talk about the concept of black female identity within the UK because let’s face it, there’s a gap. That isn’t to say there’s a lack of depth in the Black British identity itself, we’ve seen the rise of British film stars like Idris Elba, Skins Daniel Kaluuya, we’ve witnessed mainstream media accept UK Grime artist Stormzy with open arms (finally), and hearing Afro-beats when turning on Capital FM’s definitely become the norm. There’s even been a recent BBC documentary based on the experiences of young black men growing up and living in England, Black and British.
But the sphere of a Black British woman is much more obscure, and sure there’s Naomi Cambpell, Thandie Newton, Naomie Harris and many other talented Black British women living in comfort overseas, but the real experiences of black women here in London and the rest of the UK has been seriously overlooked. The extent of the struggle is real when you look at the facts; over 12% of Black British women are unemployed, nearly 3,000 out of 100,000 accessed mental health services from 2015-2016 (double the rate of the white population), and black women in the UK also make up for 11.6% of female prisoners across the country. The contrasting figures alone shows the difference in the lives of black females compared to any other ethnic group in England.
But why? Rather than go by reports, my own experiences as a young black woman in the UK has shown me why. From a young age, I was subjected to racial abuse both in my area and at school, pressured into straightening my hair and adhering to western ideals of beauty from around 11, not uncommon experiences for most black girls. Then, as I got older it changed, the fear of being a stereotype was pressured onto me subconsciously and I developed anxiety, the idea of being labelled ‘ghetto’ or ‘rude’ making me feel conscious of how I acted around other racial groups in public. I smiling constantly, laughing at unfunny jokes, acting quiet or shy, anything really to assure people that I wasn’t the ‘typical’ loud-mouth black girl, that I could fit in, and so it’s no wonder that other black girls are facing mental issues, surviving in a predominately white patriarchal society which in my opinion is one of the biggest factors.
And I think that’s what it boils down to when I mentioned the ‘Black British female identity’, from our parents and grandparents who first arrived, to the second and third generations of today, conflict in cultures, in our heritage and spirit has always been something we’ve had to work hard at, even more so being women. But, in the face of these statistics, stereotypes and assumptions we are somehow paving a way for a new contemporary identity that isn’t just limited to millennial generations.
When I say ‘paving a way’ I mean the success that other women achieve significantly more easily. Not solely limited to finances, it also includes education, stronger communities, in fashion and the arts, and more importantly the success of rejecting the pressure of the western ‘beauty’ of today. More often than not, when I go into Central London, or even the City Centre of my hometown Birmingham I see black girls embracing themselves and their beauty, creating their own sense of style that reflects not only their African/Caribbean heritage by also their British roots, giving a firm stance that cultures (and identities) can blend.
From 30-year-old Patricia Bright, one of the many leading black UK YouTuber with over a million subscribers, to 46-year-old Pat McGrath one of the world’s leading makeup artists for backstage with her own new makeup line, and to the younger generations such as Jay and Tri who run CURLture UK, a salon/blog-running duo who embrace and encourage other girls to go natural, the Black British female identity is most definitely growing in 2017, and fast.
A Few Links:
13 Black British Women Doing Amazing Things http://trueafrica.co/lists/13-different-black-british-women-amazing-things/
The Lowest Of The Stack: why black women are struggling with mental health https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/08/black-women-mental-health-high-rates-depression-anxiety
100 Greatest Black Britons http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-207670/100-Greatest-Black-Britons.html
Black women in Britain – from the Romans to the Windrush https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/06/black-women-in-britain-from-the-romans-to-the-windrush