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...because it's not always black & white
The cliché that won't go away

The other night, I asked some friends how they felt about the trope of the angry Black woman. “Is it actually to do with Black women being angry, though, or is it about misogynoir?” said one, referring to the term—coined by queer, Black feminist Moya Bailey in 2010—that specifically refers to the brand of misogyny weaponised against Black women. To echo a phrase that most people of colour loathe hearing when discussing racial inequality, it’s nuanced—and it speaks to the arsenal of tricks we, knowingly or unknowingly, use to silence Black women. Some of the more frequently-used by media are the ‘sassy’ and 'difficult' depictions—which subliminally tell audiences that she’s risen above her station—but the obvious racial bias runs concurrent with a feminist issue.

Take voting rights. First came white men, then all men, then women and, after that, was Black women. Giving rights to women was not to empower the Black woman—that was a by-product. So, a Black woman who uses her voice becomes an affront to the patriarchy; seemingly-strong Black women—and, to a certain extent, other women of colour—are perceived as ‘uppity’ and ‘ungrateful’.

After Serena Williams was roundly criticised for expressing frustration about a call against her at the US Open two years ago, it was later shown that her reactions to the code violations were no different to other top players—but the fines she received exceeded those usually given. Subsequently, a sketch in Australian newspaper Herald Sun depicted her as a sullen, manly figure with the referee asking her opponent, Naomi Osaka, "Can you just let her win?"

The outcry over Williams’ temerity to highlight that, maybe, the system could do better, was directed—as ever—at her delivery and what she was wearing. The irony is that women are often encouraged to be more assertive and confident (“Be more like a man!”) yet when they do, they’re belittled and berated. This female experience is to keep women silent and humble, which, in turn, makes them seem weak and unfit for leadership—or, if they stand up and project their voice, hostile, angry and aggressive. The next time a woman—particularly a woman of colour—speaks up about something she believes in, perhaps we ought to ask why we feel the need to tone-police or label her as ‘opinionated’.

And, we all recognise the king of trump cards; ‘the race card’—something that instantly puts anyone of colour back in their box. ‘Pulling the race card’ is the one line that shuts down any conversation that could potentially challenge existing structures. It makes the Black woman guilty and the conversation dissipate—because both parties know the ‘angry’ trope exists and that she’d be perpetuating it if she carried on the discussion.  Ultimately, no-one wants to be in that box. It’s degrading, and it robs them of their voice. When ‘the race card’ is used in the context of representation and racial quotas, it makes people of colour feel undeserving of jobs they’ve worked for—and often, makes them think colleagues view them as a diversity hire. “The idea that women of colour have a magical card we can pull out is a fallacy,” says Nneka Ndukwe, a schoolteacher and ex-marketing manager. “Most of the time, when we speak out, it backfires, so most of us are just trying to keep our heads down and survive—knowing we won’t be paid, acknowledged or promoted at the same rate as our white counterparts.”

So, it’s important to recognise the bias. Outdated societal structures give us a flawed idea of a black girl’s personality, before we even know her name, and we have a duty not to perpetuate those stereotypes. Last week, 25-year-old Essex-based barrister Alexandra Wilson was mistaken for a defendant three times in one day. Anyone who thinks her call for anti-racism training in the legal profession is unnecessary really ought to be wondering why there’s so much unconscious bias lurking in Britain’s courtrooms—and how it affects sentencing. Wilson later said that three Black, female QCs contacted her in 24 hours and echoed her experiences.

Similarly, if the circumstances in the recent Breonna Taylor case were reversed—if it was a white woman sleeping in her own bed, while the police arrived in the middle of the night, killed her, and her white partner fired at what he believed were intruders—consider if the coverage and language would have been the same. Would the case have been tried at the time of the murder, and would the police ultimately have been held to account? Malcolm X’s words ring as true today as they did when he spoke them in 1962; the most disrespected, neglected and unprotected person in America (and the world over) is still the Black woman. Frankly, she’s entitled to be angry. But maybe it’s time to ask why.

Shivani and Meera


Writing Tip of the Day

It’s fine to ‘add colour’ to articles, but if they’re spin words, they'll likely do more harm than good.

Are unnecessarily dramatic words, which portray someone in a certain way being used, such as ‘fumed’ or ‘lashed out’—instead of ‘said’? Did someone really ‘concede’ or ‘acknowledge’ a fact, or were they just replying to a question? Was it the ‘latest in a string of scandals', or were those isolated events; perhaps not even connected or even directly linked to that person—and perhaps not even scandals?

No-one wants to read a dry feature, but it’s all too easy to use deceptively ‘colourful’ language that’s overused and loaded in bias,. Especially, when our vocabulary is full of worthy alternatives.

The Sense Check

*compares arms* 
"Ooh, I'm nearly there!"

"Why is saying, 'I’m almost as dark as you' offensive? I’ve often compared tans with my friend (a person of colour) after being in the sun, and she’s never seemed offended. I didn’t mean any harm but am told this might not be OK."

Harsha L'Acqua, founder, CEO of Saira Hospitality

Harsha L'Acqua,
founder and CEO of Saira Hospitality

“As a person of Indian origin, born and raised in London and having lived in Asia, Europe and now, the U.S., a comment like this from a friend is not inherently offensive to me.

Naturally, I can’t speak for all people of colour, though. I can understand why some might take offence, depending on the tone and context, for example, if there’s any implication that being the same shade of skin colour, with a temporary tan, implies a person with white skin can understand the realities for some of living with dark skin in today’s world.

To avoid coming across flippant or insincere, it’s important to be mindful of our intentions. What are we trying to achieve by making this comment? Is this comparison really necessary or can we offer a genuine compliment instead?”

Elizabeth Egbase, obstetrics and gynaecology doctor and medical educator

Elizabeth Egbase, obstetrics & gynaecology doctor and medical educator

“There really is very little I find more annoying and problematic than this; it’s the OG of microaggressions—subtle but violent. You’re emphasising your whiteness while acknowledging my blackness on the most superficial level. This shows ignorance of your white privilege while, ironically, asserting said privilege in a ‘jokey’ way. It begs the question: is my skin colour a joke to you?

What’s worse is, it's
 often the ‘I don’t see colour’ people who are happy to ignore my Black experience as it pertains to social justice, but NEVER when it comes to ‘important’ things like their tan. To me, it’s more evidence that most white people only feel comfortable in conversations about race when they centre themselves in them. While exhausting, it gives me an insight into who that person is—and I’ll know to walk in the opposite direction when I next see them coming.”

Want to ask a question (anonymously)? Send away! Please email us here and we'll try and tackle it in an upcoming newsletter. We also welcome any feedback or comments.

Did You Know?

A freedom fighter, known only as Solitude, has been commemorated by the city of Paris, for her work to liberate slaves on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe—a former French colony. Last week, the city's mayor, Anne Hidalgo, unveiled a public garden in north-east Paris and announced plans to erect a statue of Solitude at the site—which will be the city’s first monument honouring a Black woman.

According to Le Monde, Solitude was born around 1772 to an African slave raped by a white sailor, on the French ship that took her to the Caribbean. Solitude was freed after the French Revolution, but later joined Guadeloupe’s resistance movement after Napoleon reinstated slavery in all French colonies. She was arrested while pregnant, and sentenced to death by hanging the day after she gave birth.

In response to the global Black Lives Matter protests, the French government have stated their intention to design new monuments in memoriam of more diverse, lesser-known historical figures.

Spotlight on...

Today marks the start of Black History Month and the website is a gold mine of information, events, features, interviews, profiles, training, history, news and more. One of our favourites is online exhibition, The Sounds of Croydon: From Samuel Coleridge-Taylor to Stormzy, from today until 31st December.

In light of recent events, the Black Barristers' Network is one you might be hearing from more. They work to promote and support Black practising barristers and pupils, in an effort to improve the working life of ethnic minority legal professionals.

Reading Room
BBC: Alexandra Wilson_credit_Laurie Lewis Black barrister calls out racism in UK courts

"I don’t expect to have to constantly justify my existence at work,” says Alexandra Wilson.

The Atlantic: Michael B Thomas /Getty The Atlantic: "Stop calling Breonna Taylor’s killing a ‘tragedy"

It shifts blame to Black people and undermines the cause of reform, writes Jemele Hill.

The Independent: National Trust "Do not lecture or educate us"

Some National Trust members cancel membership after the organisation discusses links to colonialism and slavery.

Medium The racism of COVID coverage

Thailand managed COVID-19 with public health. So the NYTimes asked if it was something in their blood...

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Maya Angelou

Read the rest of the poem, ‘Still I Rise’ here

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Unpacking Media Bias
United Kingdom

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