There is no love left between a black man and a black woman. Take me for instance. I love white women and hate black women. It’s just in me so deep that I don’t even try to get it out of me anymore. I’d jump over ten nigger bitches just to get to one white woman. Ain’t no such thing as an ugly white woman… and just to touch her long, soft, silky hair. There’s softness about a white woman, something delicate and soft inside of her. But a nigger bitch seems to be full of steel, granite-hard and resisting…I mean I can’t analyze it, but I know that the White man made the Black woman the symbol of slavery and the White woman the symbol of freedom. Everytime I’m embracing a Black woman, I’m embracing slavery, and when I put my arms around a White woman, well I’m hugging freedom (Eldridge Cleaver 1968:107).
No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women…. When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women. (hooks, bell:1981).
Here in the UK, the visibility of black women in representations of mainstream Black British culture is such that you might be forgiven for thinking we are an endangered species. The near erasure of Black British women from this terrain, which is in the main dominated by black men and white women, is rarely commented upon, despite its prominence. What is actually going on here? Is this some manifestation of the quite frankly ridiculous Eldridge Cleaver quote above. Or is it something else?
The (ahem) ‘urban’ (we know what they really mean) landscape that provides the basis of so much of Britain’s somewhat depressing representations of mainstream youth culture, borrows heavily from black culture, yet sometimes both seem almost entirely devoid of black women. The characters who populate these worlds are black men and white women. Access may be permitted to the occasional ‘mixed-race’ girl but beyond such tokenism, this is the white woman’s world!
From movies such as Kidulthood to the presenters of the Kiss FM Takeaway show, who typify this phenomenon, the symbols of ‘Urban’ or Black British youth culture are routinely Black men and their white female partners.
This individual apparently saw no irony in the fact that he was saying this to myself -a middle class black woman- while his (blonde) girlfriend is white and working class.
Faced with the contradiction between the reality of the situation and a stereotype, this young man still succumbed to the latter, repeating the tired, black girls = ghetto, white girls = status, prestige, and success, narrative.This story is writ large within British popular culture, in which we can find a wealth of examples that illustrate perceptions of what differently racialised women represent. Wileys Heatwave video is a rich site for analysis. Here, the absence of black models- in preference of white- is stark, yet this is far from an isolated example, rather it is an all too common feature of UK Black British popular culture.
Within the binary thinking that underpins intersecting oppressions, blue-eyed, blond, thin White women could not be considered beautiful without the Other—Black women with African features of dark skin, broad noses, full lips, and kinky hair. Race, gender, and sexuality converge on this issue of evaluating beauty… African-American women experience the pain of never being able to live up to prevailing standards of beauty used by White men, White women, Black men, and, most painfully, one another. Regardless of any individual woman’s subjective reality, this is the system of ideas that she encounters. Because controlling images are hegemonic and taken for granted, they become virtually impossible to escape (Collins, 2000: 89-90).
Although Hill-Collins is taking about the African-American context, her insights are more then pertinent here.
Referring to Britain specifically, Mama informs us that this phenomenon is reflected in black men’s choice of partners.
As young women, many Black girls experienced rejection from Black males as ‘in white dominated situations black and white boys alike tend to conform to the prevailing aesthetic, and fancy white (if not blonde) girls more.” (Weekes 1997 cited in Mirza 1997).
Despite all this, Weekes goes on to outline Black women’s agency in the face such oppression, and notes that rather than passively accepting hegemonic beauty norms many black girls reject white constructions of beauty. However she acknowledges that despite this rejection whiteness is still too often used as the yardstick against which other types of beauty are measured.
Given this a context, it seems remarkable that researchers and journalists alike would disregard such considerations in their interpretation of statistics relating to Britain’s increasing ‘mixed-race’ population, but this is exactly what they do.
Lucinda Platt’s 2009 EHRC Ethnicity and Family Report, generated a volume of media stories, all heralding the rise of ‘mixed-race’ Britain, a beautiful, brave, new brown future in which the scourge of racism has been vanquished. It would appear that post-racial utopia is achievable – all we need is love (if indeed love is defined as sexual relations between black men and white women).
Seemingly oblivious to the dynamics of relationships between men and women within black communities, and apparently unaware of any of the qualitative research carried out by black female researchers on the subject, the findings that at least 48% of African-Caribbean men are in “inter-racial” relationships, (usually with white women), are interpreted as hugely positive, a thermometer of improved societal interethnic relations, indicating a movement to a less racist society.
In the myopic and a-historical style that characterises contemporary discussions of mixedness, the report notes that ‘inter-ethnic relationships’ “have often been seen as indicative of the extent of openness in different societies and of the extent to which identities are adapting and changing over time”. Further ‘inter-ethnic relationships’ can be “taken to be a thermometer of ethnic relations in particular societies”.
I suppose they are correct, if you discount almost every example indicating the contrary. The slave societies of the Caribbean, North, and South America experienced ‘inter-ethnic relationships’ leading to the unprecedented levels of mixedness which characterize their populations to the present day, yet are not noted for their “openness”, nor their progressive achievements of racially harmonious societies. Likewise the Coloureds in South Africa are recognised as having one of the most mixed ancestries in the world but similarly South Africa is not usually upheld as a paragon of racial utopia.
Modern Britain is in large part the nation it is as a result of the slave trade and the subsequent colonial endeavour. These horrific events were the catalyst for the birth of the anti-black racism, unhappily now a feature of life across the globe.
However, with characteristic sleight of hand Britain inverts responsibility. Where there should be castigation there is instead self-congratulation.
Rather then the nation responsible for the savage kidnapping and life long bondage of millions of human beings, Britain reimagines itself as the nation that was central in the abolition. Rather then acknowledging the flourishing of a culture in which black women are routinely written out of existence, disregarded and undervalued, Britain reinterprets the evidence on mixedness to reinvent itself as the epitome of the progressive post-racial nation.
We live in a society in which damaging folk constructions of race, continue to position black women as less desirable then white, and black men as hyper-sexualised studs. This positioning is equally limiting and damaging to black men whom society attempts to force into a space, identified by Fanon, “fixed at the shifting boundaries between barbarism and civility” where the insatiable fear and desire for the Negro reveals itself “Our women are at the mercy of Negroes … God knows how they make love”; This is in many ways the manifestation of a combined enduring fascination with, and a “deep cultural fear of, the Black”, which is “figured in the psychic trembling of Western sexuality” (Fanon, 1986: xxiv). Of course rather then any engagement with such complicated, and potentially uncomfortable, subject matter, sociologists instead inform us
race itself does not provide as meaningful a basis when selecting a partner, compared to other things young people may have in common like education, friends, attitudes and beliefs (Platt, 2009).
Whether such neat conclusions are wilfully ignorant or just naïve, they remain indicative of Britain’s almost pathological inability to engage in an honest discourse about race that might one day engender any real change.
 In Kidulthood, the actresses are in the main white, there is however one ‘mixed -race’ character. I have written elsewhere about how casting directors still seem reticent to commit to featuring darker-skinned black women. A convenient alternative is to employ ‘mixed-race’ individuals who serve the need to represent diversity but are still, less threatening, acceptable faces of blackness.
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Emma Dabiri is an Irish Nigerian writer and commenter. She is currently undertaking her PhD in the sociology. Her doctoral research explores the multiple ways being ‘mixed-race’ has come to be gendered. Her major passions include, African and African Diasporian performative and literary cultures, critical race studies, feminism and folklore. She is regularly invited to contribute to discussions on diverse issues ranging from performance, to race and feminism at various settings including the Africa Writes festival, Film Africa, UK Feminista, WOW Southbank Festival and BBC Radio 4. She blogs as The Diaspora Diva. Follow her on twitter @TheDiasporaDiva
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