This blog post is a collaboration between Ala Oueslati and V. Mcentee
History has proven that women all over the world have always been subject to discrimination, rejection, marginalization, and perfectly-shown misogynistic attitudes in all aspects of life. Even in the societies that have achieved remarkable progress in human rights and gender equality, women are still not given the same salaries for doing the same jobs as men. They are expected to comply with societal norms and behave in certain ways to avoid any kind of shame, indignity or humiliation. In most countries, they are also expected to do housework, be good at it and behave in a certain “feminine” way. All these examples are proof that women are being objectified and put in a less important category that is subject to judgemental attitudes and is ironically often questioned about productivity, capabilities and loyalty.
This acutely-distressing phenomenon is a reality that many of us still haven’t acknowledged. Not only does it need acknowledgement but also stringent efforts to change it and make it adapt to the necessities of our time. What is more distressing however, is the fact that this reality can be worse. It is worse for black women and women of colour in general. History holds countless examples of how unfair our societies were and still are to black women. Not only have they been enduring gender-based discrimination, but also racism for they are of a dark skin colour that has been the subject of debate, controversy and even people’s pity.
One of the most important causes of the discrimination black women are subject to is external imposition of racial categories. Non-black people often allow themselves to question black women’s identities, competences and even mental capacities. Even when white people may attempt to include black girls and women into the “normal white racial category”, it is never a full inclusion. There will always be an answer such as “because she’s black”. The examples can be even more absurd, as a lot of people deal with this issue as a matter of luck – some women were lucky enough to be born white, but for others, the odds were not in their favour.
People still do not want to understand that there is no such a thing as a pervasive white power. Being the majority does not imply being right or having better chances to lead the world. In fact, black women are a majority in nearly 50 countries, yet, the instances where they have shown racial discrimination towards others are almost non-existent.
What I come to notice when reading upon any women of colour, along with any coloured people in general, is this continuous negativity associated with them. This includes generalisations and stereotypes including black women holding less beauty than other women, being less knowledgeable, less cultured, and with little self-respect, amongst others. All these categorisations of black women being based on reinforced stereotypes and myths are usually preserved in order to deem black women as inferior in personal-status laws and many other aspects of personal and social life in comparison with white women.
What these generalisations then produce is an institutional racist atmosphere, where this rejection is institutionalised and starts to impact women of colour on a regular, even daily, basis. This institutional racism systematically affects darker-skinned women and gives them images full of negativity, hideousness and inferiority in all aspects of life, irrespective of their education or income level.
This systematic racism cannot impact white women, or white people in general, as they haven’t spent centuries under enforced stereotypes, subjection or racial discrimination. They instead have experienced the contrary, the enforcing of white supremacy, leading to institutional racism, which still benefits white groups today.
To further acknowledge the reality of this enforced image, let’s take the example of black women often being associated with drugs, prostitution, or unwanted pregnancy; the black woman with many children is seen as “ghetto”, whereas the white woman is blessed with “little miracles”; or a particularly “trashy” look that would be seen as trendy and cool if a white woman tries it. In the same context, whilst women of colour are also shamed based on their bodily African features, and the following of traditional aspects of their African culture or heritage, from my observation, another struggle black women face daily is the cultural appropriation of their traditional clothing and hairstyles.
Large number of black women across Western nations, who lock or braid their hair, have been persecuted when following their traditional African, or other black, hairstyles. We continuously come across black school girls being told by peers that their locked/cornrowed hair is “distracting” or “inappropriate”, to the extent that they are being punished for their creative and unique traditional hairstyles. This same racist persecution is also showcased within the entertainment industry. African American women locking their hair into a traditional style leads to some white TV personnel describing them with degrading names, whilst simultaneously praising white celebrities with the same hairstyle.
Dark skinned women are relentlessly persecuted based on their hairstyles, outfits and accents as being less classy or less smart, suggesting that beauty and class are two things that cannot be owned by a black woman. White women, however, when appropriating these same aspects of black cultures are allegedly turning them into a “fashion trend”, or are praised for imitating what black women are shamed for on a regular basis. This phenomenon has been aggravated by non-black people to the point where black women are sometimes complimented when their accent “sounds white” and not black, or when they have obtained high positions in education or work. Similarly, non-black people often consider interracial couples to be out of the ordinary, and they express their astonishment pitying the white husband who married a black girl or blaming the black girl for daring to marry a non-black man.
The proof that we live in an unequal world is the fact that we have names for issues that concern women more than men, because women suffer more than men. We are all familiar with notions such as “women’s rights”, “sexism”, “feminism” amongst many others. Another proof is the use of notions such as “racism” and slogans like “Black lives matter”, which perfectly reflect the injustice and inequality we live in. We might have evolved throughout history, but we were not able to achieve one of the most basic human needs: equality.
It is shameful to live in a world where men can afford to be more progressive than women, where white women can afford to be more progressive than black women, and where black women are accustomed to enduring the unimaginable. We live in a world where all people are connected, yet we let this world be ruled by supremacist ideologies, prejudice and hatred making us more disconnected than ever.