Category Archives: Society and People

The Black Woman in America

The Black Woman in America

“You’ll never recreate her no, hell no” – Beyonce, Don’t Hurt Yourself

13 minutes into Lemonade, Beyonce’s visual accompaniment to her album of black, female empowerment, the voice of Malcolm X is projected over a montage of black American women. He declares that:

“The most disrespected person in America is the black woman.
The most unprotected person in America is the black woman.
The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”

One of the world’s leading icons of black politics, quoted by arguably the world’s most influential black female, generated headlines across the world. It instigated a global discussion about gender and race and the hypocrisy of an ‘America dream’ that promotes freedom but disenfranchises so many minorities. In that moment the question of America’s continued failure to acknowledge the role and power of black women was brought into sharp relief. Was the black woman still disrespected? Was she still unprotected and neglected?

Malcolm X was discussing the role of black women in the 1960’s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Movement. At the time black people didn’t have the right to vote, they were discriminated against in school, work and in public life; meanwhile women of all races faced discrimination in the work place, an old-fashioned and repressive ‘housewife’ stereotype and rampant sexism in all areas of life. Women had been shut out of board rooms, out of political office and out of the elites in nearly every aspect of life.

Much has changed since then. Legislation has altered, attitudes have changed and progressive liberal values have allowed great freedom for all genders, races and sexual orientations. And yet, one of the world’s most influential black figures in the world is raising the issue in 2016, using similar language and highlighting similar issues. This is because, in contemporary America, the black American woman is still disenfranchised.

“She’s stacking money, money everywhere she goes” – Beyonce, 6 Inch

At this point I think it’d be good to point out that I am not a woman, I am not black; I’m not even American. Some could argue that, therefore, I have no real perspective on this issue. I shouldn’t be commenting. But from outside this society I can comment and observe and understand what the various voices say. I can go past these declarative pillars of identity to look at the universality of the issue and the very need to look past these characteristics.

One of the biggest things to understand is what traps the modern black woman in American society. In the 1960’s it was a system of law that repressed black people and a society that prioritised the rights and ambitions of men over women. In 2016 the repression still exists but it is largely an economic and cultural issue.

Black woman can excel in American society, if they’re wealthy. Poverty continues to trap women. Unfortunately, in America, the black community has one of the highest rates of poverty at 26.2% (US Census, 2014). That’s over 15% higher that the poverty rate among white Americans. The rate rises dramatically among single-parent families, standing at 44% within the black community (based on data from 2007). That figure is likely to have increased as it dates from the pre-crash era, prior to 2008, that later plunged millions of Americans into deeper debt and poverty. The figures should shock as they show the continued wealth gap that divides black and white communities in America. This is a form of economic segregation that exists as a hangover from the Civil Rights Movement, a legacy of the disadvantage that was ingrained in the life of black Americans. But what the figures mask is how the burden of poverty and debt is shared; more often than not, the burden falls heaviest on women.

One of the problems facing black women in America is the high rate of single-parent families within the community. It is a stereotype that many black children grow up without father figures, but for many families that is the case. It a reality that is inescapable and unfortunately it puts great pressure on women, now forced into balancing work, family and their own existence, with their own identity the most likely thing to be sacrificed. Poverty and the additional social and economic burdens this causes, have taken away the individuality of black women. Their identity has been subsumed by wider stereotypes, prejudices and media narratives. It has been eroded so much that, for many, identity has been reduced to two pillars; their status as a woman and their status as a black person.

“I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros” – Beyonce, Formation

It is this attack on identity that is at the root of what Beyonce’s Lemonade is trying to challenge. It is the thing that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie surveyed in her award winning novel, Americanah and it is the thing American society needs to confront if it wants to remove the barriers to women. What does it mean to be a black woman in America in the 21st century?

Adichie’s novel explored the modern experience of black women in American society. Ifemelu (her Nigerian protagonist) details an America where the politics of race are bound up in a cultural treatment of black women. Black women, in particular black, African women, are part of a romantic, exotic narrative in which men, and in particular white men, value women for their aesthetic qualities and do not allow themselves to truly see who the person is. At the core of this novel is the necessity to break away from a stereotype; to engage with black women as people; talk about their achievements in the context of American society as a whole, not merely in relation to their belonging to a community of black women.

But this form of cultural abstraction is hard when America, in 2016, is gripped by the phenomenon of a female rising to the highest political office in the country. Despite Hilary Clinton’s years as a lawyer, Senator and Secretary of State much of the election is bound up in her gender and although there is a positive and important argument to be made about the ‘First Female President’ it should never define her. It is just one part of the narrative.

For those that continue to want to define women solely by their gender or their race or their sexuality they are robbing them of their identity; their individual ‘body’ that is so much more than those stereotypes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, the world renowned writer and activist, argues that in a world where black people are robbed of their bodies, “that all are not equally robbed of their bodies, that the bodies of women are set out for pillage in ways I [Coates] could never truly know”. Because of the necessity in American society to define and categorise people we have created a category for black American women that obeys the rules set out by the white ‘American Dream’. In this categorisation we have created a culture where stories of successful black women are stories of exceptionalism, rather than the normality and where violence can occur without the intense scrutiny that surrounds the treatment of white crime; where the burden of proof is higher; where the media focus is less intense; where the massacre of black worshipers in Charleston is called mass violence, but not terrorism.

“I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is” – Beyonce, Sorry

In American society there exists a racial hierarchy, constrained by economic burdens, social practices and a cultural narrative that seeks to put black people into a pre-defined way of studying the world. For black women there is the added constraint imposed by gender. In our 2016 society there is still a bias against women. These biases engrain discrimination and hold women up to a standard and scrutiny that men have never had to experience. They argue that family values must continue to be the priority of a woman, that marriage is an all-consuming aspiration and that expectations should be tempered when compared to those of men. This is world where few women can break through the glass ceiling that many seem to want to keep in place. Let us have a female President, let our cultural icons be female, let us have female athletes whose achievements eclipse that of men, whose pay is equal and whose social importance is recognised (when will Serena Williams, winner of 21 Grand Slam Singles titles and 13 Grand Slam doubles, alongside her equally talented sister Venus, get a globally admired status equal to, or better than, Roger Federer, winner of 17 Grand Slam Singles titles and widely considered to be one of the best players tennis has ever seen).

It spoke volumes that Beyonce’s message of female empowerment received second billing in the media to a single line about “Becky with the good hair…” and the issue of celebrity infidelity. Just as sporting prowess got in the way of domestic violence in the Ray Rice case, where many in the media criticised the handling of the case by the NFL. In all these cases the black female is not the priority or the centre, despite their undeniable centrality to the issue.

Unfortunately, no one is going to give black women the status they deserve in modern American society. It is only going to be achieved when black women take it. When they say that white America will listen. Beyonce, Adichie, Coates, Black Lives Matter, the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Eric Garner, these are the voices that have started a new conversation about black rights; about gender. They are imploring us to listen, to take notice and maybe feel compelled enough to actually engage with what they are saying.

I may not be black, I may not be a woman, I may not be American but there is a universality in the messages these figures are sharing; there is an understanding in people and values; a recognition of the need to be heard and seen and not to be subsumed by a stereotype established by someone else in a different life or a different time. Somewhere, in this universality, there is the key to moving forward a race, a generation, a gender and ensuring that, in the future, Malcolm X’s words no longer ring with a resounding truth.

By Peter Banham

The World of Sicario – Part 2

The World of Sicario – Part 2

In the hit movie, Sicario, the world of Mexican drug cartels is brought into sharp and brutal focus. Moving across the Mexico-US border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico the viewer sees the violence of the cartels, the poverty of those trapped in this violent cycle and the complex geopolitics at work in the region. The world of Sicario is Mexico at its worst, but how close does it come to the reality? Continue Reading

The World of Sicario – Part 1

The World of Sicario – Part 1

In the hit movie, Sicario, the world of Mexican drug cartels is brought into sharp and brutal focus. Moving across the Mexico-US border between El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico the viewer sees the violence of the cartels, the poverty of those trapped in this violent cycle and the complex geopolitics at work in the region. The world of Sicario is Mexico at its worst, but how close does it come to the reality? Continue Reading

Why Does the Confederate Flag Matter?

Why Does the Confederate Flag Matter?

In the aftermath of the Charleston Church shootings, the issue of race in the USA has yet again become the talk of the American media and American politicians. In particular, the controversial image of the Confederate Flag has become a lightning rod for criticism. But, why does the Confederate Flag matter? Although the Confederate Flag, as we… Continue Reading

The Great and Corrupt Game – Why FIFA Matters

The Great and Corrupt Game – Why FIFA Matters

As FIFA descends into an ever growing spiral of corruption, fraud and scandal many are asking why this matters to any of us, regardless of whether you like football or not. Where a single body has such great influence in the ordinary lives of the world’s citizens we must challenge their practices and question their motives. To many people football has a kind of sacred cultural quality and although we may deride this, it matters and it will inspire people to challenge those who threaten it. Continue Reading

Understanding America Means Understanding the Super Bowl

Understanding America Means Understanding the Super Bowl

The Super Bowl XLIX has finished, the scores confirmed, the Patriots declared the winners but amongst the sporting fever and excitement the Super Bowl told us more about the United States of America than any other single event in the country’s calendar. I believe that within five hours of broadcasting if you truly understand the Super Bowl you will begin to understand America. Continue Reading

The Legacy of Magna Carta

The Legacy of Magna Carta

The Magna Carta and the Origins of British Democracy 800 years ago a document was written, signed and reproduced across England. It was a document that changed the very nature of kingship, political authority and the interrelationship between monarchs and the people throughout the British Isles. Forged out of the great dissatisfaction of the English… Continue Reading

‘Je Suis Charlie’ – Our Fight For Freedom

‘Je Suis Charlie’ – Our Fight For Freedom

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo have demostrated the lengths many will go to suppress our right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These values are fundamental to the functioning of our society and if we allow violent intimidation to censor us then there will be little future for a progressive and liberal society. Continue Reading

Why I Agree with Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists

Why I Agree with Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists

In 2014 there has been great discussion on the importance of feminism, but most critically on how feminism is understood. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian author and self-proclaimed feminist, has stood up against this form of cultural discrimination, arguing that in 2014 we need to re-evaluate both the way we understand gender within society and the way we define feminism. Feminism is a movement of equality and one that both genders should be allowed to access and support. As Adichie argues; we should all be feminists. Continue Reading

Why China Won’t Allow Occupy Central To Succeed

Why China Won’t Allow Occupy Central To Succeed

Occupy Central is a powerful movement, who have achieved support from across the world, however, it will have an uphill climb against the authority of the Chinese state. The government will ensure that stability is maintained across its territories and no popular political movements are allowed to undermine the government. Continue Reading

My Country Changed Overnight…

My Country Changed Overnight…

There was one sure thing for the British people on the day of the Scottish Referendum on Independence, 18th Sept, 2014; the nation we know as the United Kingdom would be transformed by this historic vote. Regardless of whether the vote went with the Yes Campaign (supporting Independence) or the Better Together Campaign (supporting a continuation of the Union) when people awoke on Friday morning Britain would be heading down a new political agenda. Continue Reading

How the World Tackles Illness – Disease, Development and ALS

How the World Tackles Illness – Disease, Development and ALS

Across the world there is vast media attention on the viral sensation – The Ice Bucket Challenge. This is an incredible project that has raised millions for charity, an effort that continues to show human compassion for their fellow citizens. For this no-one can criticise, but I wondered, as I was nominated, if I could do more with the time spent tipping a bucket of ice cold water over myself. Continue Reading

Zoroaster, Yazidis and the Modern Middle East

Zoroaster, Yazidis and the Modern Middle East

Before Islam emerged across the Middle East there were ancient religions that dominated Middle Eastern culture. These included Zoroastrianism. This ancient Persian religion follows the teachings on the prophet, Zoroaster, whose notions of duality created a religion that has been deemed heretical over the centuries. In the modern world Zoroastrianism does not have the global reach it once had, but it is still present and still facing the same struggles with Islam that it did over 1000 years ago. On the mountains of Northern Iraq the Yazidis (ideological inheritors of Zoroastrian traditions) are under continual attack from the militants of the Islamic State. Continue Reading

Beyond the Hotel – Trinidad, Paradise and Politics

Beyond the Hotel – Trinidad, Paradise and Politics

behind the ‘paradise’ exterior of Trinidad there is a violent undercurrent of fundamental politics. Nationalism, fundamental Islam, socialism and crime combine in parts of the Caribbean to create a nation that diverges greatly from our perceived notion of these islands. Ultimately the beaches and hotels only part describe the Caribbean and the reality is that the politics of this region reveal the Caribbean, if only we can go beyond the hotel. Continue Reading

UK Urges Global Fight Against Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

UK Urges Global Fight Against Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Antibiotic resistant bacteria have become a major international issue, largely because of the efforts of the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, whose focus on the subject has made it a global concern. .Cameron has asked the world community to take collective responsibility for wiping out the threat of drug resistant bacteria globally. In the recent G7 meeting, held in the month of June this year,he stressed upon world leaders, the importance of medicinal research and quality control, in tackling this issue. Continue Reading