The news over the past couple of weeks has been dominated by Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Meghan Markle, and the issues raised are particularly poignant ones for women of colour in the UK. As a black woman, I could relate with everything that Meghan was saying about the systemic racism that unfortunately still exists in Britain today. Despite the fact that there has been a lot of progressive change over the past few years, essentially prejudice is, to some extent, ingrained into society. So, we’re left with a problem – to close the equality gap we need to have honest and open conversations about racism, and how can we do this if society is in denial that racism exists?
Tabloid Bullying Reflects the Black Woman’s Experience in the Workplace
Like many other women of colour in the UK, I watched Meghan’s interview with an increasing sense of familiarity as she discussed the racism which she was subjected to by the press, and the questioning of her unborn child’s skin complexion. It was a clear reflection of experiences that women from underrepresented groups regularly have in the workplace (and, indeed, elsewhere), where questions have been asked that imply preferences, and where micro-aggressive behaviour from others has been overlooked or even been actively participated in by white female colleagues who play the gender card when they feel victimised at work, but who fail to acknowledge the prejudice that their black female co-workers face on a daily basis.
Gaslighting? Or Just a Lack of Acceptance?
The debate over Meghan and the Royal Family’s race issues has led to some serious gaslighting of the black community. We’ve all heard white colleagues dismiss Meghan’s experience as nothing to do with racism. In fact, some go even further and suggest that she is actually to blame for the misery that she’s gone through because she’s “tearing the Royal Family apart”. To imply that she was asking for the bullying that she has been subject to simply for having the audacity to marry a white man (and not just any white man, but one who is a member of the Royal Family), is fairly shocking in itself, but let’s dig a little more deeply into the matter.
Is society in the UK deliberately gaslighting the black community in the hope that their inherent racism will be overlooked? Or is it simply that society still fails to see the extent of the problem? There seems to be a widely held belief that racism and prejudice are issues of the past and no longer have a presence in modern Britain. Of course, any non-white person may find that hard to accept since they experience the effects of prejudice on a regular basis, but for those who have never had to live with the consequences of racism, it may be difficult to admit that, although times have changed, there’s still a long way to go to achieve true equality in all aspects of daily life, and it is this inability to see the truth that prejudice still exists and is inherent across society that is preventing us from having the frank conversations that are so badly needed to level the playing field.
Forcing a Conversation about Harassment
Another news story which has hit the headlines over the last couple of weeks is the kidnapping and killing of Sarah Everard. The shocking murder has forced a conversation about harassment of women, and while this is a valuable and important thing, it’s bittersweet for women of colour.
When something terrible happens to a white woman, the country is up in arms. There are endless discussions in the press about what can be done, with protests and vigils held to raise awareness of the issues. Sadly, when a black woman suffers a similar fate, the public response is sadly lacking. Even the feminist movement is depressingly quiet on the subject and the sad truth is because, while white women see themselves reflected in Sarah Everard, they don’t identify with black women like Nicole Smallman or Blessing Olusegun who also suffered at the hands of men, and this sums up the problem in a nutshell. There is still a divide between the white and black communities in the UK, and, while women show solidarity with each other in terms of the gender gap, when race comes into play, the divisions become obvious. The challenge that we’re now facing is to help wider society to wake up to those divisions and to take action to heal them. How can we ever see a way to make British society a single strong entity that not only accepts but embraces all its members, whatever their colour or race, when many of those living within it can’t see the cracks in the first place?
We must all work to raise awareness that racism is still, unfortunately, alive and kicking in the UK today, and to encourage open conversation without the defensive response that those who represent the masses so often come up with when called out on their prejudices. It’s only then, through a willingness to admit that a problem actually exists, that we can work together to overcome it and to create a society with equality for all, where we can all enjoy the same opportunities, the same acceptance and the same even footing regardless of our gender, our skin colour or background.
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