The Black Lives Matter movement has broken records as one of the largest civil rights movements in history and as such, has drastically impacted and forever changed the way we look at the world around us.
The movement has been fundamental in bringing the stark realities of systemic racism to the front and centre of the world’s media, long overdue in gaining the attention it deserves and the wake-up call we all need.
Though these injustices have been going on for many years, lockdowns around the globe and relentless Covid-19 “Stay at Home”, ‘clap for the NHS’ and ‘look after each other’ messaging from the media in the weeks and months leading up to George Floyd’s death, infused us all with a sense of ‘togetherness’ and of ‘being in the same boat’. This inevitably created a feeling of solidarity among us all that hasn’t been felt, in the UK at least, since World War II.
The result was a collective outcry of pain against the inhumanity we all witnessed together in Floyd’s death, on the 25th of May 2020 – something that got far more airtime and focus than it would have if we were in ‘normal’, fast-paced, too-busy-to-care times, pre-lockdown.
The subsequent and ongoing discussions around racism in the US and the UK and the different ways these issues present themselves in our societies, as well as the realisations that we may have been letting issues slip through the cracks for far too long now, leads the conversation to ideas around intersectional discrimination and intersectional feminism.
You may well have only come across these terms recently and there is no better time than now to drill down into this topic and see how it applies in the fight for racial equality we are all now, finally, a part of.
So, what exactly do we mean by the term ‘intersectional feminism?
Where the more traditional term ‘feminism’ speaks to the fight to achieve equality of women’s rights with men’s, ‘intersectional feminism’ refers to a feminism that takes into consideration the different challenges and amplified struggle people from different ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, appearances, classes and physical abilities experience, compared to their white, Christian, heteronormative, able-bodied counterparts.
The introduction of intersectional feminism by Kimberlé Crenshaw, African-American lawyer and professor, was in reaction to people of colour being largely omitted from early feminist academia. ‘White feminism’ was also later coined to describe the type of feminism and activism void of recognising the disparities present for women of colour.
Understanding intersectionality in feminism is essential to the fight for equality and racial justice.
In the same way those who respond to the BLM movement with “All Lives Matter” ignore the disproportionate discrimination and brutality people of colour experience at the hands of police, so does white-washed feminism fail to take into consideration the systemic racism that underpins amplified struggles of women of colour, predominantly Black, and hold back effective activism to achieve equity for ALL women.
For example, Black women in the UK are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to white women (MBRRACE-UK, University of Oxford 2019).
This may be exemplified in recent news, where we heard about the popular social media influencer and dancer Nicole Thea who unexpectantly died along with her unborn son on July 11th 2020. The 24-year-old mum-to-be was just a few weeks away from her due date when it is said by family members that she suffered chest pains and was struggling to breathe whilst at home with her partner, before later passing away. The cause of death is not yet confirmed, though she is not known to have had any existing medical conditions and was reportedly physically fit.
A recent government petition calls for more research into why these mortality rates are so much higher for women of colour as well as deliberate action to be taken to provide effective protection against the risks associated with this group specifically.
“Between 2015-2017 the chance of death for Black women was 38 out of 100,000 however it was 7 out of 100,000 for white women”, according to the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths and Morbidity.
The good news is that in the government’s response to the petition on June 25th 2020, they outlined how they are deploying a research unit to “study into factors associated with the higher risk of maternal death for Black and South Asian women” and also included the NHS Long Term Plan to implement “an enhanced and targeted continuity of carer model for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women, as well as for women from the most deprived areas.” They aim for 75% of BAME women to receive continuity of care by 2024 throughout pregnancy, birth and postnatal, with additional care where needed.
The petition also received enough signatures to be debated in parliament, the date is currently TBC.
Though this is only one example of the ways in which women of colour are disproportionately suffering compared to their white female counterparts in the UK. Regarding the criminal justice system, the Prison Reform Trust (2017) reports that “Black, Asian and minority ethnic women make up 11.9% of the women’s population in England and Wales, but 18% of the women’s prison population.”
Black women are twice as likely to be arrested than white women, according to the article ‘12 Facts that Prove Black Lives Don’t Matter in Britain’ (bylinetimes.com 2020). They are also statistically more likely to be sole parents, so their imprisonment has larger implications for children and a greater potential to lead to negative future ramifications for their community. There is also less support available for women of colour in these circumstances as there are very few specialist organisations working with these women in the criminal justice system.
“The discrimination and disadvantage that women in the criminal justice system in England and Wales may experience if they are from a minority ethnic background is multi-layered. There is a tendency to consider mainly white women when addressing gender inequality, and mainly black men when addressing racial inequality, but it is the interplay between gender and race inequalities that affects Black, Asian and minority ethnic women.
This ‘intersectional discrimination’ plays out in all aspects of the lives of women from minority ethnic groups. They face additional barriers to accessing support in relation to experiences of violence, are more likely to live in poverty than white people and men from minority ethnic groups, and tend to earn less than these groups. The disadvantages women generally face with the criminal justice system, such as experiencing a greater likelihood of imprisonment than men for first offences and non-violent offences, higher rates of remand and poorer outcomes on release, are compounded.”
(Counted Out: Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in the criminal justice system by the Prison Reform Trust 2017).
Writer Bell Hooks argues that ‘racist stereotypes of the strong, superhuman black woman’ have obscured the extent to which black women are likely to be victimised.
So, what can I do to help around BLM and intersectionality?
Recognise your privilege.
Whether it be white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, pretty privilege, heterosexual privilege, thin privilege, cisgender privilege, able-bodied privilege, just to name a few… It’s time to think about how every.single.thing. you go through and experience in life is filtered by (more than one) of these types of lenses and it’s important to notice how you may have advantages over others that you take for granted or haven’t recognised yet. We can only improve from here.
Follow social media accounts of people from groups that are different to your own to gain a different perspective. If something they share makes you feel attacked or uncomfortable, analyse this reaction in yourself first and consider how your pre-programmed societal conditioning or a yet-to-be-uncovered privilege might be affecting your ability to empathise with their struggle or point of view.
Educate yourself …READ!
Once you have recognised your privilege, the next step is to delve deep into how others view the world, step into their shoes by reading voices outside of your own experience. A few books I recommend (personal favourites) are:
BRIT(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsch
Official petitions can be found on the government website here. Petitions which reach over 10,000 signatures will receive a response from the government, and those with over 100,000 signatures are put forward for debate in parliament. A few I recommend signing are:
Use your voice.
Whether that be via your social media platform or a conversation with a friend, it is important for us all to commit to stand up for groups other than your own. When you see or hear others being discriminated against, make an effort to challenge problematic views – (bearing in mind not everyone will be receptive and you may lose followers/relationships). Try making a small but long-term commitment to include re-sharing educational social media posts or posts around solidarity for other groups on your platforms, you never know who might follow you that you can help affect or influence.
Support Black artistry.
By simply choosing to watch TV series and films created by and starring people of colour, you will not only widen your world view but also help propel an already vibrant industry. Some examples of great ones to watch: Us, Get Out, Black Panther, 13th, When They See Us, Blackkklansman, I May Destroy You, Chewing Gum and Top Boy – to name but a few.
Take part in Black Pound Day.
This means on the first Saturday of every month, putting your money where your mouth is – buying groceries, jewellery, books, art, clothing, services… anything and everything you can, from Black-owned businesses. This will help support the hard work of marginalised people and show the industries they’re in that they are producing high demand. Here is a helpful site where to find Black-owned businesses in a wide range of industries.
The time is now, we must all recognise the individual powers we have to make a change, however small, there is always something we can do.
by Ruth Schwalb