Sometimes it’s easy to forget the struggles of black women around the world when we’re dealing with so many issues here in the United States, but there are some who actually admire the experience of African American women, particularly black Britons.
An article on the tvcollective.org recently hired a previous CNN program discussing black britons’ struggle to be heard and how they’ve looked to black women in the U.S for inspiration. Making up only 3% of the population in the UK, black women there say they struggle with everything from negative representations in the media, stereotyping, and political discrimination to not being able to find appropriate cosmetics or products for their hair, with ethnic beauty products representing just 1% of all new hair care, skin care and makeup launches.
“Minorities aspire and have bought into the American ideal that if you work hard, you can reach the top. But in Britain, it doesn’t always work that way,” says Heidi Mirza, a professor at the University of London and author of Young, Female and Black.
“The British stereotype of black women is that we are the loud ones and we are overly sexualized or eroticized,” says Zena Tuitt, a 37-year-old British Caribbean. “We don’t want to be seen as that, so in Britain we have a tendency to try to fit in and not stand out. In quite a conservative society, in order to get on, you need to fit in and to keep your head down.”
While that phenomenon sounds all too familiar to us, black women in Britain say they admire the way African American women have taken these issues on.
Simone Bresi-Ando, a black British woman of Ghanaian descent, says African-American history has had a strong impact on black British women in helping them realize their own inner strength to join together and fight for racial and gender equality. In 2009, she created the “I’m Possible” group as a platform to help push black British women’s voices into the public eye and highlight achievements for women of colour in Britain—a move she was inspired to take after witnessing two American programs: Oprah’s Legend Luncheon and Black Girls Rock.
“I admire the black experience in the States because of the sense of community and ability to sing together from the same song sheet on important political issues,” Bresi-Ando says. “We lack those networks here, and we don’t know how to connect in a positive way because we don’t want to openly address the issue.”
Kehinde Olarinmoye, who is of Nigerian descent, says she thinks the struggle is similar and different:
“America has experienced racism a lot longer than we have. And (American) women have a platform set for women of colour, and that’s what we are trying to create.
“We’ve had to dig deep in order to find our history, and we’ve had to look up to African-Americans to see what models we can replicate here and give a British identity.”
Using the same argument as many black women in the U.S., Desiree Banugo, a member of “I’m Possible,” says black women are also partially responsible for the images that are portrayed and they need to take ownership of them.
“We have the opportunity to share and educate others about our culture and experience so they can see it for what it really is — rather than from the voices of people who don’t know, or from the media, which distorts what we’re saying, thinking and how we live.
“The important thing in terms of diversity is to engage in the conversation on race. We are a long way off from being in a place where the issues are tackled head on.”
What do you think about the similarities and differences between black women in Britain and in the U.S.? What do you think African American women can learn from their experience?