Judicial Review Hearing for Aderonke Apata: A Nigerian Lesbian and LGBT Activist

By Sam

The Judicial Review Hearing for Aderonke Apata’s asylum claim to remain in the UK, is at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday 3rd March 2015.

Aderonke A

Image: Aderonke Apata

Since our first interview with Aderonke a year ago, she has continued to campaign tirelessly for her cause, amassing over 33,ooo petition signatures and hundreds of supporters. She has supported others’ campaigns and was awarded the Positive Role Model for LGBT National Diversity Awards 2014.

“Your support over this period of my campaigning to remain safe in the UK has been enormous and unflinching. Sadly, there’s still a hurdle to cross.” Aderonke

Now is the time to collectively support Aderonke. Stand in solidarity with her as she fights for her right to be safe and not be sent back to her birth country Nigeria which will not provide safety for people from the LGBT communities. To reject institutional and structural racism and homophobia.

Come out and support Aderonke on the day:  Meet at the main court arches on the Strand, by the zebra crossing (https://goo.gl/maps/Lhljl). At the Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, WC2A 2LL.

Send messages of solidarity 

For further information join the Facebook event.

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Ancient spaceships and other anachronisms… Dangerous myths in the Global South

By Sonia Soans

India has been sold very effectively as the land of spirituality and history by Indians and this helps maintain a façade. Despite evidence to the contrary the image has stuck. Yet there seems to be a dearth of both history and spirituality. Mihir Bose talks about this lack of historical writing and how in recent years any writing on this matter has been accompanied by violence and protests. This brings me to the heart of the problem – how we tell our histories. If you have followed the news in India you might have seen reports of Dinanath Batra and his talk of how great India was and returning to Indian culture. Batra a retired school teacher has made a claim that we in ancient India had aircrafts, automobiles and various anachronistic technologies. He then goes on to tell people they need to celebrate their birthdays in an Indian way minus the cake (western invention) by feeding cows and the needy. I do agree with feeding animals and the needy however the cake bit is a bit silly as is the talk about aircrafts. I don’t agree with the bit about birthday celebrations because culture is constantly evolving and assimilating besides as a democratic nation we are free to choose how we celebrate things. I know a lot of people who have laughed about the aircrafts theory but there are a lot who actually believe it. These ideas touch on a deep-seated sense of inferiority and are overcompensated for.

We have spoken too long about British oppression (without qualifying what this means) in India which has led us to create myths all postcolonial nations tell of their ancient greatness stolen away by foreign powers. Colonialism was a complex phenomena and not morally easy to categorise. There were those who benefited by the system and those who did not. The idea of foreign rulers coming into the country is not a new one it dates back to our earliest rulers who have been invading for centuries. Indians have benefited and from all these rulers in terms of the culture of the ruling class being adopted by society at large.  Colonialism has left an indelible mark on Indian society vestiges of which have been absorbed into society and refuse to be removed.

The lack of academic history being a part of everyday life has given rise to emotive narratives of the past- India was great in the past with no fault whatsoever then our great land was invaded and we lost advanced knowledge which has only been recently discovered in the west. I have heard the same being said in different African nations, of Africans living happily as one big technologically advanced continent, a social utopia till the colonisers came and took it all away. India was the same utopia depending on who tells the tale we never had wars or problems in the way women were treated and everyone was happy. All this is silly sounding of course except it is being taken seriously. What is forgotten is how India in its present form is very different spatially from the India of the past, borders have been drawn several times on this nation state.

Growing nationalism and xenophobia in postcolonial nations is not a laughing matter anymore. Growing up in India I was always told how great my history was, this was never substantiated with examples in history. Sentiment and adjectives were seen as sufficient when talking about history. It was a similar situation when it came to films or television, historical accuracy wasn’t of great concern as evidenced by haphazardly created costumes and sets. Yet our great and glorious history was mentioned over and over. It was more sentimental than factual. The love of all things past surpassed the knowledge of the past. It was in short an emotive history which told the tale of good and evil all too easily with a convenient happy ending. In this environment is it any surprise these narratives of ancient greatness emerged? These narratives are almost always tied to nationalism and are always dangerous as they position certain groups of people as bad for the nation. History is employed to alienate and demonise a group of people and it does so effectively. The narratives used to tell this history are constantly changing by people on either side of the argument.

History alone is not enough to frame laws in any nation; however history is very cleverly used to tell oppression and liberation myths of a nation. History must be studied without the trappings of an emotional drama and as a narrative that has neither good nor bad actors.

Sonia Soans @SoniaSoansPsy is a PhD researcher living in Manchester. Her research involves looking at how the phenomena of alcohol and drug consumption is gendered and also (mis)represented in Indian cinema. Her interests lie in examining how nationalism is used to create divisions in society.

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(Part II) Fear and Loathing in the Studio

By Marcia X

“I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside
herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose
face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
-Audre Lorde

I am no stranger to racism. It is indeed a part of my everyday life. Malcolm X recalls in
his autobiography how he spent much of his youth in heavy white populated areas. For
example he was the only black child in his school. This was an informative experience
that was not the first and nor the last in understanding what it means to be a ‘minority’
in white spaces. I, too, have spent much of my childhood and adulthood in 90% white
neighborhoods and schools. It comes with a psychological price if your spirit does not
stand strong.

My practice is a tool I use for my feminism, an outlet I can utilize for educating others
and being politically active. I had hoped I would be able to work alongside and create
with other feminists, women who were aware of the struggle and willing to push
themselves and their art for social progression in our communities. Instead, I found
myself facing the worst racist micro-aggressions from these self-identified feminists.
At times, we as members of marginalized groups allow the victimization to go to our
heads, and instead of understanding and accepting one another, we take what’s
political and use it as a weapon in a personal way.

“Black people won’t be free until women are free.”

I have attempted to engage with these feminists and share my research on Black
feminist thought, womanist theory and intersectional feminism with them. I have
presented cases of misogynoir and other forms of racialized misogyny on various
women of color, and was met with apathy, blank stares and resistance to my approach
on feminist discourse. I was told that my race was not an issue I could take up in
feminism because it has nothing to do with being a woman. At first, I assumed these
young women just had not experienced life outside their respective counties and if I
shared more of my experience and research with them, they would see that as a
woman of color, I have issues that should be addressed within feminist discourse. As
time progressed throughout my second year, I was beginning to understand I would
not be successful.

Color-blind is a term that suggests there are those in our western society who don’t see
the color of another’s skin, thereby the person who is color-blind cannot possibly be
racist. It is not true. We all see color. We all notice the very physical attributes of
others. Assuming that as an individual white person you are color-blind and don’t need
to acknowledge the reality of a black persons skin, you render their physical being
mute by assuming it is like your white existence. Being “color-blind” negates the
presence of cultural values, norms and life experience of people of color. As an
individual, one may be able to ignore the color of a person’s skin, but society does not.
Being color-blind allows for the white person to ignore they are white, thus having
white privilege and never having to worry about harassment from police, lack of
positive representation in media, or representation in anything period. I speak about
this specific term because when I spoke about racism within the feminist movement,
white feminists in studio were uncomfortable, and to silence me said “But I’m colorblind
and I think it’s a good thing.” bell hooks knows better, as evident in the following
statement:

All white women in this nation know that their status is different from that of black women/women of color. They know this from the time they are little girls watching television and seeing only their images. They know that the only reason nonwhites are absent/invisible is because they are not white. All white women in this nation know that whiteness is a privileged category. The fact that white females may choose to repress or deny this knowledge does not mean they are #ignorant: it means they are in denial.
(Boyd, 2002)

“I saw a bag at River Island that reminded me of trashy black girls and I thought of
you.”

After hearing this statement from said color-blind feminist, I knew that my
cause was lost, and my quest for finding a feminist artistic community that was willing
to be in solidarity with me would not be easy as I had initially hoped. I am well aware
my art work will not speak to the issues ALL women face, but I believe that as students
we are able to transcend the physical aesthetics of a piece of work so we can reach a
level of understanding and compassion.

“Your paintings are nice, but I will never understand them because they are about
people of a different color.”

“Perhaps if you made work about feminism and not about black women it will be better
understood.”

This statement is reminiscent of the collective narcissism Charmaine A. Nelson in her
book Representing the Black Female Nude in Western Art speaks about concerning
how whites view art works either created by or centered on black women and men.
The inability to see the subjects in the work as real people, with real narratives is not
just a lack of apathy on white audience’s part, but a very real need to see themselves in
everything they come across. Due to the fact she is white and the subject of her work,
this feminist student artist believes that her message is universal to all women (Even
though her actions dictate that she is not interested in the narratives of all women). I
am not an ‘other’ to myself; I am Othered by audiences and those in my community.
Adrian Piper states that focusing on the otherness of an artist instead of the meaning
of the work they produce falsely presupposes a background of Euro-ethnic
homogeneity against which the artist can be identified as Other. “This perpetuates the
ideological myth of minority status on which racists rely to exercise their strategies of
disempowerment.”(Piper, 60) It is here in these statements where I believe there is
sufficient evidence to warrant an assessment of the curriculum in universities so there
are more lessons concerning the works by Blacks, women and gay creators.

My tutor told me that feminism has always been inclusive to women of color across all
classes. If this is the case, and if we are students, where is this information? Why are
there feminist artists in my course creating work centered on the white experience
that at the same time completely cuts the throat of women of color in their
communities? How is it possible that a white, feminist student is writing a dissertation
that ONLY focuses on white western girls, yet the dissertation and the work she
creates criticizes an African American singer? I am receiving a BA in Fine Art from a
top rated university in 2014, and yet I have to fight for equality from not only my
fellow feminist artists but the institution’s council so students of color can have control
and access to a focus group centered on their experience. The fight is very real.

Conclusion

“Black History Month isn’t my thing is it? Plus I have better shit to do.”

How does an artist such as myself respond to this situation without being casted as the
oh so typical Angry Black Woman trope? Although, don’t I have a right to be angry? I
have paid good money to work and learn in a safe environment. Free to be as Afro-
Latin, artistic and creative as I want to be.

I respond to history and those I must endure by creating work that empowers me and
respects those ancestors of mine who went thru the unspeakable. I had a white man
photograph me in a similar pose to the unnamed sitter in Portrait d’une Negresse. My
hair, hidden from sight, was wrapped up high, because I like so many other women
with Afro-Caribbean hair, view our head wraps not as signs of domestic labor but as a
reclaimed crown. My choice of clothing is insignificant, but what is important is that I
chose to wear them. I posed in front of my other works, I looked into the distance, into
the future, because I wanted to. This photograph was a means for me to reclaim the
typical representation of Black women/women of color in art. Not only to take ‘it’ back,
but to create with full autonomy, agency and pride.

x 1

Experiments with this photograph left me satisfied. I cut out, in the shape of an X, the
unnamed sitter’s face, and placed her over my own. I wanted this woman to be in a
position of power since history has her marginalized as just a figure for a cause that
brought her what I can only assume was zero freedom. This cutting and pasting was a
political act only her spirit and I will share. I have been able to identify myself within
this contemporary art space without feeling as if I have to Uncle Tom myself as an
artist in order to connect with an audience.

x 2

“It’s as if our lives have no meaning without the white gaze.” -Toni Morrison

Reflecting upon the work and life of Jean Michel Basquiat, I was reminded about the
significance of ensuring Afro-Latino’s space in the legacy of contemporary art.
Basquiat’s work spoke a vernacular his white audiences didn’t understand unless they
framed his work to the likes of Warhol, de Kooning, Pollock and Rauschenberg. The
white Euro-centric gaze refused to connect his works with any traditions in African or
Puerto Rican culture or artistic tropes. Although he is often placed stylistically within
a white male art club which has a propensity to close its doors to those outside of those
categories, the content embedded in the canvas speaks specifically to those outside of
the club. This assessment of Basquiat’s work inspired me to appropriate one of his best
known symbols: the crown, the crown so often denied to us as people of color.
Basquiat’s crown is very distinct like most of the symbols he painted. In order to be a
driving force in widening the artistic vernacular in contemporary art, across both
Black and mainstream categories, I incorporated his symbol into the work. In a group
crit with my peers at university, I found that my theory as to whether or not this
symbolic appropriation would work was successful.

“I don’t know too much about Basquiat’s work, but I know that he was making work
like, in the 80’s, when there was a lot of racism happening and that he was about black
empowerment. So I guess, that works if you paint it on top of the portrait. It’s like
graffiti. As if someone thought this person was deserving of a crown.” T Davies

Marcia XMarcia X was born and raised in Chicago IL to immigrant parents in 1985. Inspired by her early travels to the Caribbean and US history and politics, she predominantly works in themes relating to the experience of the Diaspora, history, feminism, politics and socioeconomic issues. As a multidisciplinary artist, her mediums vary from print to installation, and currently is exploring minimalist abstract painting. She has her BA in Fine Art and is furthering her studies to attain an MA in Political, Social and International Theory. She lives and works in the Diaspora.

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Exploring Black Female Sexuality & Spirituality

By Tonya Bolton

A major issue still facing Black women today is sexuality. Throughout history, Black & Asian women are often seen in opposing sexual terms, either as completely non-sexual or perpetually sexually available. But we need to dismantle these stereotypical notions and reclaim women’s sexuality.

Tonya Bolton

As well as being an accomplished actress, author and playwright, I also run a not for profit organisation called ICU Transformational Arts Limited. As founder of ICU, I specialise in working with a wide variety of people, particularly vulnerable young people & women as well those who are affected by sexual exploitation & self harm.

Through my work, I address questions that many women have, but have been discouraged from asking due to tradition, socialisation, and cultural norms. This silence is doing a disservice to our communities, and ourselves. We need to change the dialogue. We need to keep it real and tell it like it is!

I wrote Holy & Horny to address my shocking discovery that an alarming number of Black and Asian & ethnic minority women are not reporting sexual and domestic violence or accessing sexual health services. Although most sexual & domestic abuse incidents in these communities go unreported, it is far more widespread than openly acknowledged.

Having overcome many personal challenges in my life such as experiencing bullying, homelessness, domestic violence and sexual abuse, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to stand up and speak my truth. In doing so I found a strength I never knew I had.

Holy & Horny is an extraordinary, thought-provoking, deeply moving & powerful one-woman show that celebrates women’s spirituality and sensuality. Although these sensitive subjects are handled with great care and consideration, I utilise various artforms such as comedy, mime, physical theatre, song and poetry as well as drama.

I chose to use the medium of a one woman show for Holy & Horny because for me it is the richest and most empowering form of theatre. My one person play enabled me to connect so deeply with diverse audiences in ways conventional theatre doesn’t come close to achieving.

This groundbreaking show crosses cultural boundaries and explores topical issues rarely discussed within society, such as sexual abuse, domestic violence and mental health. It explores how culture, race & gender impacts on our identities as women of colour and examines the links between abuse and the misuse of power.

It also highlights that women shouldn’t ignore their sexuality or sexual health regardless of their cultural or religious background. These subjects are rarely discussed within our communities and as a result many Black women often suffer in silence.

According to statistics violence against women and girls is a worldwide pandemic – approximately one out of every three women worldwide will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. And one in four girls will be sexually abused before they turn 18.

From the extensive audience feedback we received following the regional tour, we know that as a result of watching the play, numerous women in the audiences reported their own rapes to police, received counselling, accessed support services and began to recover from the trauma of sexual and domestic abuse.

Writing & performing Holy & Horny is without a doubt one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever encountered. It has already had phenomenal success in the UK including breaking box office records and is literally changing lives. Not only did I discover my voice for the first time, but speaking my truth encouraged others to do the same. It was the greatest gift I could have given myself and my community.

Ultimately Holy & Horny is a play that transcends race, culture or gender and speaks to the human condition inherent in us all.

Supported by Arts Council Funding, Women’s aid, Rape crisis centres and The Brook, Tonya is now embarking on an 11 venue tour across the UK and is bringing Holy & Horny to The Z-Arts theatre on 10th October at 7.30pm in partnership with Sustained Theatre Up North. For further information visit www.holyandhorny.com  
Watch the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYvX2X3FazM&feature=youtu.be

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The Institution is Decadent and Depraved – Gonzo Journalism: The Studio is Ground-zero (Part I)

By Marcia X

                                                              Introduction

As most young, aspiring feminists of color do, I looked to Audre Lorde and bell hooks to
contextualize my life appropriately, since so many of us immediately feel a sense of
isolation or omission from popular mainstream feminist literature. In those pages I
learned within the feminist movement in the 60’s and 70’s, racism was prevalent. In
2014, it is still prevalent.

Adjusting curriculums to ensure accurate information to children of color and white
children on the various manifestations of white supremacy through out history and
culture is not what is to be discussed at length here, but I do ask: Why are art students
who are feminists silencing women of color in 2014? Am I naïve in thinking art studio
would be the last place I expected to experience a silencing of my feminist brown
voice?

There is a need for discussing the totality of our artistic and national histories as I will
prove in this essay with brief historical context of white feminist work and by
examining isolated relationships between artists and feminists who are of color and
white. This assessment will simultaneously explore studio practice and its relationship
with the political as the personal.

Part I

“I fear, I have integrated my people into a burning house.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

The first time I encountered the painting Portrait d’une Negresse by Marie G. Benoist, I
was researching contemporary events under the context of misogynoir in media. The
Spanish magazine Fuera de Serie published an issue with the face of First Lady
Michelle Obama imposed on the original painting by Benoist. Reactions flooded in as
expected with those in the black and brown communities making note of the racist
implications of the photoshopped image. During a term in my undergraduate studies, I
conducted a series of lectures on Black Art, Women’s Studies and Queer Theory. During
the first session, Black Art, I shared the image with my fellow students, I was
challenged by a white woman who identifies as a feminist. “I don’t think it’s racist at all. What makes that racist?”

magazine
Mrs. Obama’s ‘entry’ to the United States, like many African Americans, is as writer
James Baldwin said the product of a bill of sale. Although she is the premier Black
First Lady, her ancestors were Africans captured and sold into slavery within the
United States. To impose her face over the portrait of a black servant from the 19th
century, and have the American flag draped over the chair on which she sits implies
that Mrs. Obama and all African American women are still second class citizens within
their country of forced nationhood. The message the European magazine sent to their
European white audience was that progression of these women does not and will never
exist, and they are bodies deserving to be mistreated by the general populace. If Mrs.
Obama’s official White House bare arms portrait could cause a rukus amongst the
people in the US for being, how shall I say it….TACKY then surely this image would
have warranted outrage. It didn’t. EuroAmericans are desensitized to the Black female
body, a naked display on the block for serious economic gain. When the human being
has agency over her own body it is inappropriate, when it references the painting of a
slave in colonial times, then it is acceptable.

Historically, Portrait d’une Negresse is noted to be one of the first paintings with a
feminist message. Completed in 1800, when European women still had no access to
voting and other activities to which men had full privilege, Benoist took herself to task,
painting an image that would shake upper-class society. Since upper-class women were
allowed to paint, but only pretty feminine things, she challenged her male peers
willfully. Feminism was not a coined term yet, but this work was “feminist” in spirit
nonetheless. By painting a Black woman, Benoist provoked discussion as to what
subjects were proper and worthy of representation but also what was appropriate for a
white aristocratic woman to paint.

Like contemporary singer Lilly Allen, Benoist wanted to create a piece of work that
empowered herself whilst simultaneously challenging the status quo, and like Allen,
Benoist used the Black female body as allegory. These two artists are like many white
feminists, in that they see Black women not as individuals but as categories and
general archetypes which are created in the white imagination and used freely like a
stock image. White privilege and narcissism allowed these distinctly different women
and artists believe they can only reach affirmation of themselves through the degradation of Black women. White femininity and womanhood, which has been
discussed at length by writers and intellectuals, has been the definition of beauty and
idealism with Black womanhood as the antithesis. Self-empowerment of Black women
often offends and threatens their peers, because it contests what they subconsciously
believe to be true: black women and women of color will never be beautiful because
they are not white. It shatters their cultural ego. As Maria del Guadalupe Davidson
says these constructed archetypes and stereotypical images “render black female
existence entirely transparent to white society, thereby making it possible for white
men and women to claim full knowledge of the black female experience” (Davidson,
194) and erasing the very real aspects and narratives of our lives in this world.

Lilly Allen released a music video that was meant to satirize the male orientated
representation of all women in music and pop culture by having her mostly Black
dancers act and move sexually, wearing very provocative clothes and engaging in
sexual innuendos such as pouring champagne over their breasts, bending over cars
and dancing on their hands and knees. Allen’s music video, like Portrait d’une
Negresse, is much more about their creators and less about the general populace of
women. “…it is a typical colonialist picture in that the artist who created it made use of
the racialized Other to define and empower the colonizing Self. That is, the portrait
constitutes a visual record of white woman’s construction and affirmation of self
through the racial and cultural Other.” (Smalls, pg 2)

lily-allen-hard-out-here-twerking-video-still

The exposed breast of the nameless sitter could be said to represent freedom within its
Neoclassical context, yet it functions in a more degrading manner. Naked Black men
and women on auction blocks was standard practice when purchasing Black bodies.
Inspection of their teeth, muscles, and fondling their genitals was a part of the process
to ensure a good buy. Also, stripping the bodies of clothing, beatings, whippings and
public lynchings were all signs of white power, superiority and ownership. These acts
kept the Black populace in fear for their safety at all times, and these realities have
been passed down in the cultural consciousness of Blacks across the Diaspora.

It is not known what Benoist’s specific views were on black people, but due to the
naturalization of racist ideologies and white superiority of the time there is little doubt she was a firm believer in the hierarchy of classes and races. The woman in Benoist’s
portrait does not have agency over her life or her representation. She is more than
likely a servant in Benoist’s household. She does not appear to have been physically
scarred due to abuse but her facial expression reads psychological damage as an
immediate result of her life of servitude. This narrow line of thinking does not end with
the abolition of slavery. The portrait, like Allen’s Hard Out Here video, does not serve
as a feminist message of empowerment for all women. These acts of ‘art’ send the
wrong sort of message; feminism is for white middle to upper-class women who are
disenfranchised simply because of their gender.

White feminists safely assume their experience is the base experience for us all.
Whatever they say will be universal, and due to their refusal to acknowledge how a
history of class and race affects all women, they create a space within feminist
discourse that is ethnocentric, there by rendering the practice and theory of feminism
mute. Benoist’s Portrait d’une Negresse has not aged well in my eyes, and solidarity
amongst Black and White women will not happen easily, even in 2014. It is not that
Black women have a natural desire to separate themselves, instead, they are being told
their lives do not count and I am not reading between the lines, I am reading them as
written. “…feminism is, and to an extent always has been, a white, middle class
movement…If class or race, and not merely gender, is what is preventing you from
becoming Director General of the BBC, or Prime Minister, or the editor of the
Telegraph, then equal rights for women in isolation of these factors are going to make
sod-all difference…” (www.thenewstatesman.com, 2012)

I ask, invoking the words of Sojourner Truth, ‘Ain’t I a woman?’

Marcia XMarcia X was born and raised in Chicago IL to immigrant parents in 1985. Inspired by her early travels to the Caribbean and US history and politics, she predominantly works in themes relating to the experience of the Diaspora, history, feminism, politics and socioeconomic issues. As a multidisciplinary artist, her mediums vary from print to installation, and currently is exploring minimalist abstract painting. She has her BA in Fine Art and is furthering her studies to attain an MA in Political, Social and International Theory. She lives and works in the Diaspora.

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Response Track: ‘The Myth of Light-skin Privilege.’

By Janine Francois

Intro

Dear Kilby, (and all my light-skinned / mixed-race feminist and non-feminists women)

I write this feeling hurt but equally hopeful, that this can be reclaimed as a safe space for darker-skinned black women.

Verse 1:

Oppressed people can internalise white patriarchal supremacy.

Kilby, your piece reminded me of all the conversations I have had with black men and white women about black women’s issues, yet only for them to dismiss and silence me; this is how privilege works. So when I read your opening sentence, “It has occurred to me that there is a need to address this long standing animosity between those who identify as being black and those who identify as mixed race…” I thought, does this “animosity” have any connection to darker-skinned black women calling out lighter-skinned / mixed-raced women in how they are complicit in their oppression.  The type of complicity, where a group of girlfriends go out for the night to have a black or white man totally disrespect their friend and not saying anything or worse she disrespect her in front of them? Or even the kind of complicity where lighter-skinned / mixed-race children are treated better than their darker-skinned siblings by the adult members in their family.  The type of “animosity” where no one says anything and manifest as a patched up oozing wound in our community, with the potential destruction to black women’s self-esteem? Does skin bleaching come to anyone’s mind?

Anyway, I digress. I felt very angry when you did not offer any solutions to the issues you raised. I accept that colourism is neither your creation nor your fault. By choosing to ignore it or hoping it will magically disappear one day is you exerting your privilege, “…we are all aware that colourism is by no means a new phenomenon… does its extensive history not make our involvement in its perpetuation even more ridiculous?… then why is it that we indulge in petty disputes which in the end could only work to serve a patriarchal agenda?” It is possible that I missed this memo, so whilst I catch up, I would like to highlight the “pettiness” of darker-skinned black women serving longer sentences than their lighter-skinned counterparts.

Bridge:

There are some mixed-raced / lighter-skinned black women (and men) who can and do “pass” for white, in fact there is a whole herstory of this. I get it, it’s a survival tactic under white supremacy, they are playing the rules of the game that people-of-colour did not create. If being able to “pass” means access to better job opportunities, education, housing, respect and not getting shot by the police; I certainly can not and will not blame anyone for choosing to play that card.  It is a no brainer. But dark-skinned women will never get a chance to play that card.

Chorus:

During slavery (whilst I was not there) I would imagine that mixed-raced / light skinned people received little rejection from black community, and this legacy is present today. Black folks do not hospitalise each other for having a mixed-race grandchild. What often happen are black families accommodating this child (in particularly mixed-raced children) especially when it comes to hair care needs. As an aunty of a mixed-race baby niece and a teenage nephew, for the latter who had to teach him about his hair texture; and without fail every Sunday my brother brings his daughter so, my mum, sister or I can do her hair.  Black women in such family dynamics are expected by their black male relatives to perform such duties and this is how black patriarchy works (my mother has put an embargo on this, as we’ve all had enough). I have never heard of this happening to white female relatives.

Verse 2:

Kilby, you are a mixed-race woman and I am a brown-skinned black woman, our images are everywhere. It is easier for us to find positive images of women who look like us along with the many negative ones too; we are the acceptable face of blackness. I set you the challenge to name 10 dark-skinned Black British female personalities. I apologise for setting you up to fail. It is a dangerous game when what is constituted as ugly is not read in how white supremacy permeates our interpersonal contexts, “Some heterosexual black women may feel that some men stating a preference for mixed race women is a denigration of their beauty,” sometimes I truly wished I lived in a vacuum. The kind of place where a black man feels no-shame in telling me, “the lighter you go the easier it is to deal with,” (yes those words of poetry were spoken to me). Or when statistics tell us that as a collective black men are dating outside their race with particular interest in white women; and when Zoe Saldana has been cast as Nina Simone and she sees absolutely nothing wrong in that decision. Reality sinks in and I succumb to how these interpersonal and systematic experiences all meet at the crossroads, congregating under the signs that reads: “black women you be ugly, if you blacker you be uglier.”

Chorus:

I don’t appreciate being told by white men, black men, white women and now you, “once you unpick these issues there really isn’t much ‘privilege’ at all.” It is dismissive and avoids responsibility this is what privilege is.

Outro

Suggestions on challenging colourism;

  1. Dispelling stereotypes like, dark-skinned women hate themselves, are desperate or have an attitude problem.
  2. Listen, reflect, then some more listening and reflection, BUT do not interrupt when speaking (it is bad manners).
  3. Hold White and Black patriarchy for accountable for colourism and invisibility of darker-skinned black women especially in cultural production.  Kilby please hold these institutions accountable and not darker-skinned black women.
  4. Call it out, put whoever needs putting in their place, one time.
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The Myth of Light-skin Privilege

By Kelby Williams

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It has occurred to me that there is a need to address this long standing animosity between those who identify as being black and those who identify as mixed race (for the sake of continuity and my personal preference let’s settle on this term). Now, we’re all aware that colourism is by no means a new phenomenon amongst any race but, if anything, does its extensive history not make our involvement in its perpetuation even more ridiculous? If we’re to assume – and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to do so – that we share, as a collective, the goal of unapologetic, uncompromising female liberation, then why is it that we indulge in petty disputes which in the end could only work to serve a patriarchal agenda?

The prejudiced views held by some black women against mixed race women , and even other black women with lighter skin, are based largely on a perceived privilege enjoyed by said women. So if this is the foundation of the intolerance, let’s analyse the reality of these ‘privileges’ and to what extent our experiences actually differ. The first privilege enjoyed by us lighter folk; a free pass with some racists who say we’re not ‘one of them’. Now, let me point out that while some racists choose to accept us by focusing on a fraction of our heritage, most don’t make any differentiation. As has been stated by many in the past ‘we’re all niggers to them’ which is to say that these people inflict the same abuses on both mixed race and black people. This isn’t however to say that this so-called privilege doesn’t exist. I have experienced this and know that it does. However, what is it that is so fortunate about others feeling it is OK to be racist around us? Why should I feel privileged when someone says to me ‘I hate niggers’ and I’m supposed to be passive in my response or even agree because ‘it’s OK, I’m not one of them.’?

When people are racist around mixed race people, expecting them to accept it, it is a clear demonstration of a societal view that our racial identity is somehow illegitimate. It is an assumption made by these people that we have chosen a ‘side’ as it were – and naturally their superiority complex means that it would of course be ‘their’ side. So this acceptance from some racists is predicated on the assumption that we have rejected the influence of our black heritage on our identity, and those of us who choose not to are considered to be black and subject to their hatred. This leaves mixed race people rejected by both societal groups which make up their heritage. What is it about that, that we should feel so grateful for?

The second major source of friction between black and mixed race women – which I believe isn’t discussed for fear of appearing arrogant – is a perceived preference by some (particularly black) males, for mixed race females. Some heterosexual black women may feel that some men stating a preference for mixed race women is a denigration of their beauty. And with the vast underrepresentation of black women and the unending cultural appropriation from white media outlets it would appear that mixed race and otherwise lighter-skinned women have managed to go unhindered. However when we look at these particular racially orientated males who claim to ‘love’ mixed race women, we see how in fact that’s not the face value compliment you may think. I for one don’t enjoy being objectified and fetishised for something that is beyond my control. These men view the fact that a woman is mixed race above all other characteristics as a ‘trophy’, dehumanising and devaluing us, reducing us to the intersection of a Venn diagram.

These are just two of the issues I believe to be contributing factors to tension between lighter and darker skinned women, but as we’ve seen once you unpick these issues there really isn’t much ‘privilege’ at all.

 

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Neoliberalism and the extinction of the feminist movement

 By Sonia Soans

Over the last few years India has seen a growth in the economy which has had an effect on our lifestyles. This newfound wealth is not equally distributed which is a matter of contention however this article will not look at that those conflicts. I am interested in way neoliberalism has been absorbed into the feminist movement and presented in the language of ‘choice’ ‘freedom’ and ‘empowerment’. Open the cover of any popular women’s magazine and it conflates lifestyle choices with feminism. Taking a bath with a new soap is presented as an act of revolution, buying clothes from a certain brand are reflective not only of personality but thought to make a profound social statement.

Choice has become a deciding factor in one’s decisions. This unhistorical, asocial idea of the individual presents itself as liberation, freeing people from past oppressions. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way neoliberal language is used to talk about women’s issues. Contentious issues have been replaced with the notion of choice. Women’s choice is thought to be the deciding factor in their lives. They are presented as autonomous and in sole control of making decisions. While absolute autonomy would be ideal at the moment it does not exist and cannot exist. Indian women’s choices largely are dictated by their families, social, cultural and national norms. Some of these norms are oppressive some of them necessary in a civil society. The oppressive exist with the mundane but the mundane have subsumed the oppressive making them seem non-existent. For some women in India living a free life without answering to patriarchal power is a reality, sadly they are a minority.

FeminismChoice has the effect of producing neutrality, a false sense of it at least. Making normal anything that can be contentious into an issue of taste acquired in a free market economy. Modern neoliberal feminism does exactly that it tells women their decisions are a matter of choice with no ethical or political entanglements. Enhancing one’s body aesthetically is presented as a purely personal indulgent being both narcissistic and in denial of the male gaze at the same time. Narcissistic because it is inward looking, self obsessed. In denial of the male gaze because even though these modifications are presented as there is a sense of being seen as attractive, creating presentations of pure femininity to an ever present male gaze. Cosmetic surgery is now no longer taboo it is normalised as being an economic and personal choice. Yes women can have their bodies enhanced cosmetically but it is a pseudo argument of choice undermines the larger question of why do women have to look a certain way. Interestingly the cosmetic norm is dependent on elitist women, fair skin, slender bodies perfect in shape and size. High caste women, white women, women who have had adequate health care are the norms. Further investigations into these choices reveals they are connected to more than one kind of oppression, class caste, race and even disability.

The hyper aesthetic nature of this new feminism makes it seem less credible and elitist. For most women in India the grim reality of looking fairer with blemish free skin is not a choice but a form of oppression. Their bodies becoming a source of voyeuristic interest. This trend is reflected in films and the way Bollywood film stars have become brand ambassadors  of social causes. Promoting skin lightening cream alongside supporting education of the girl child, obvious contradictions.

What is presented as choice for the new economically privileged classes is not a choice for those who work to produce these ‘choices’ for them. Women who work in garment factories did not have a choice. These material acts of empowerment and choice come at a price and are only a mask to hide exploitation using the language of liberation. The issue is not so much that women have a choice in wearing make up or dressing in a certain way but that the power is still in the hands of the oppressors and women are now willing participants in this oppression. Some of these choices have been available to women for a long time, however now they are treated as personal expressions without consequences. Morality and debate have been treated as dirty words as if the personal was only personal. Even the feminist slogan of the personal as political has been usurped while the personal is indeed political every choice is not worthy of being politicised. The effect of these new freedoms instead of producing equality has polarised groups who see themselves as being usurped by an all neutralising economy. Women in cities and villages are presented as opposites with different interests.

In short one must be suspicious of any movement that speaks the language of those in power. Words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘empowerment’ mean nothing on their own but in conjunction with other things become powerful. Feminism is needed now as much as it was before. Women’s bodies are not playing fields of economic elitist powers.

 

Sonia Soans – is currently pursuing a PhD in Psychology in Manchester (UK). Her work focuses on the intersections of mental illness, gender, sexuality and culture and how they produce narratives which are tied to nationalism. Twitter id -@SoniaSoanspsy

 

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#SHUTDOWNYARLSWOOD

 

Yarl’s Wood is a detention centre in Bedfordshire where women fleeing for their lives from oppressive governments and authorities around the world can be detained indefinitely despite committing no crime. Detainees have reported alleged psychological, physical and sexual abuse by Yarl’s Wood staff.

Shutdown Yarl’s Wood campaigners at the first demonstration held in Manchester Piccadilly Gardens on 21st June 2014, told Black Feminists Manchester why they came out to support the campaign.

Aderonke Apata of MiSol and WAST said she was here‘… to demonstrate against Yarl’s Wood, we want to get Yarl’s Wood shut down because it’s not fit for purpose. That’s why Safety for Sisters, WAST and MISOL have rallied around and put together this amazing demonstration, in support of women who have been to Yarl’s Wood before, who are in Yarl’s Wood now and who UKBA are thinking and planning to take into Yarl’s Wood – we want Yarl’s Wood shutdown.’

Aderonke Apata at the Shut Down Yarl's Wood Demo Manchester. Photo courtesy of Kat MiSol

Aderonke Apata at the Shut Down Yarl’s Wood Demo Manchester.
Photo courtesy of Kat (MiSol)

Aderonke has been a driving force in this campaign, you can read more about her experience as an asylum seeker, detainee of Yarl’s Wood and campaigner in her interview for Black Feminists Manchester.

Photo courtesy of Kat (MiSol)

Photo courtesy of Kat (MiSol)

Rossella of Manchester Feminist Network spoke in solidarity to the 200 strong crowd of supporters, she later told us she is protesting against Yarl’s Wood…’because as a woman and a feminist I find it unacceptable that women are suffering all sorts of violence and are not helped and supported.’

Vicky Marsh - Safety for Sisters North West Photo courtesy of Kat (MiSol)

Vicky Marsh – Safety for Sisters North West  Photo courtesy of Kat (MiSol)

 

Vicky Marsh of Safety for Sisters Northwest told us she was here ‘…with WAST and MISOL in solidarity protesting about Yarl’s Wood. S4S was set up to try and get some proper services for women fleeing domestic abuse , that had immigration issues or were European and couldn’t get housing benefit and they had been denied access because of their status, so refuges were turning them away and they couldn’t get support.

We decided we need to be here to represent S4S because what’s happening is these very same women that are very vulnerable and open to further exploitation are now actually being locked up like criminals. But not only that, they are facing abuse and further sexual violence actually in the prison. We think that this is unacceptable as when they are free in Manchester and being refused services, it’s the extreme end, so it was important for S4S to have a presence here and recognize how brave it has been for the WAST women to come out and talk about Yarl’s Wood. We are right behind them. Those women who have talked about Yarl’s Wood when they are in the prison, some of them have been deported because of doing so, some have been sent to women’s prisons and some of them are here today with us.

It’s really important to help them have a voice because the next thing the government want to do is stop them getting civil legal aid so they can’t tackle the government about unlawful detention, about sexual abuse that’s going on and about the police not investigating it properly, which has been happening. We have a woman who is in WAST, who has successfully sued SERCO for the abuse, successfully sued the Home Office for wrongful detention and is also suing the police for not investigating the abuse she reported while she was in there. Now these voices are going to get silenced, so it’s important lots of women’s groups get together and fight to get Yarl’s Wood shutdown as soon as possible and all the other detention centres that are doing the same.’

Kat of MiSol stated she was ‘… not just here as an organiser but as someone who wholeheartedly supports the women who have been through Yarl’s Wood been through any detention centre, the women that are in there right now and any other people that are in a detention centre, because it really is a rotten system and Yarl’s Wood is the tip of the iceberg.

I think it’s worse because it’s violence against women and also children are in there. So I’m here out of complete disgust at what the government think is acceptable and how people keep telling us about it and I think it’s really good to have this kind of event to raise awareness, because if people really knew what happens in Yarl’s Wood, how people treat asylum seekers in general, as not part of the community but something less than, they should get angry and close Yarl’s Wood down.’

Throughout the demonstration, organisers from various activist groups joined on stage in solidarity and spoke about the need to end the unfair treatment of asylum seekers and to shut down Yarl’s Wood.  Aderonke told us, this was the first of many demonstrations to come, she urges people to support the campaign and keep raising awareness until Yarl’s Wood is finally shut down.

 

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The Death of Stuart Hall – Why Blackness is Best When it is Dead

By Sonia Soans

The recent death of Stuart Hall was promptly met with furious social media activity. It was a sad event. However it’s ironic how we mourn the death of well known black academic and forget racism is still alive and kicking in British society. We all know the statistics we know we still bear the brunt of white supremacy. Black men are likely to end up in jail we know this all too well.

Where is the racism you might ask Britain is an ‘equal opportunities’ nation, on paper- yes. The no dogs no blacks signs are gone, no one has ever called me rude names in public. Racism is still around. Week after week my British –Asian flatmate returns home from lectures about race and post colonialism taught by white men and women. Now there is nothing wrong with white men and women many of whom have worked hard to get to that position but where are the people of colour in academia? Why aren’t we the ones teaching people about our  issues around race and culture? The same university my flatmate goes to has lots of Asian students in the business school very few in the social sciences out of that number very few are ones in charge of teaching. So things are not bad we are not intentionally excluded or are they?

Things have changed since the days of Stuart Hall the ‘blacks not allowed’ signs have been taken down invisible signs exist in these places.  There are unwritten rules about race segregation, a city like Manchester is still divided into ghettos. The nicer areas tend to be all white and we have a politically correct word for it – gentrification. The word has come to be associated with white affluent classes. Walk outside and university students seem to divide themselves into convenient racially segregated groups. It seems to be an unwritten rule move in your racial, ethnic, national circle. Diversity bubbles burst soon and everyone seems to sink into automatic segregation.

The same thing happens in class the few undergraduate classes I have been to I have felt what it means to be brown. These were not the subtle comments but blatant ‘what is she saying? I can’t understand you.’ No one has ever complained of that before. I manage to make myself understood everywhere else except in university. I am lucky to work with people who are older than the average undergraduate I never seem to face that problem there.

Our absence in academia is obvious, we are spoken about with a sense of nostalgia as if we are abstract things not people. Often I feel like my opinion in these matters is not needed, when I correct people and present facts I am whitewashed or over thinking. There seems to be a discomfort when it comes to discussing issues that matter. The Delhi Gang Rape Case of 2012 made international headlines most of my friends expressed their grief after that died down there were calls not to talk about the perpetrators nationality or not to bring up the condition under which they committed the crime. While I can see why this is an issue what about the victim? This was about her why did it turn to an issue of race? I have been to events where when black men challenge stereotypes they are shouted down or worse still silence follows. It’s the silence which is the most disturbing, because it seems deliberate and yet it is polite.

The subtle racism that exists in society seems harder to fight because it benign and takes us up our concerns, but flips them around in a nasty way. Take for example films and television. We now see black people on screen but we all know the black guy dies first. He is expendable almost like we are. While we are represented on screen we are represented badly on the margins, making quick appearances. Stuart Hall seems to fit into the same category he is dead now and glorified, we can now make him big in death and forget what he stood for. While some of people who mourned did so for genuine reasons most of us did it in the heat of the moment.

Stuart Hall is dead may he rest in peace. His work taught us a lot but the battle is not over our society needs to keep the debates alive, slip into complacency and our hard fought achievements might be lost. Now more than ever we need to address racism not in the language of a generation before us. Their oppressions were different from ours but they are oppression nonetheless.

Sonia Soans is a PhD scholar at MMU. An adopted Mancunian she is an Indian psychologist who has only just discovered her brand of feminism is coloured.  Her work focuses on how nationality and addiction intersect to produce discourses of women who transgress these boundaries. Twitter @SoniaSoanspsy

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