Stylist’s Black British Women’s Census: unpicking what really needs to change in the UK

Posted by for Life

Black women are often talked about instead of spoken to. So, to amplify the issues really affecting the community, Stylist asked Black women in the UK to tell us what they think, feel and want right now - this is what you told us. 

Where do you start in better serving the needs, wants and interests of Black women in the UK? It’s no secret that our community is one of the most unprotected groups in society. The depressing reports released in the last year around Covid deaths, maternal mortality and the effects of the recession are testament enough to that. And though we give so much to a culture that the world benefits from, we deserve much more than we’re given.  

So where do you start in changing that? As Stylist guest editor and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Alicia Garza expressed as we prepared for her takeover this week, Black women are often treated like “political footballs”; we are spoken about instead of being spoken to. To work towards changing that, we launched the Black British Women’s census. 

We surveyed more than 600 Black British women (and counting!) to find out what’s really in their hearts and minds, to amplify the diversity of issues that are really affecting the community in a way that puts Black women’s voices up front and centre. It’ll help us start to find the solutions and make changes in ways that Black women actually want. Because how can we hope to build a sincerely better future without acting on the specific needs expressed by the people directly affected? 

The results of the census give an incredible snapshot of what Black women in the UK are thinking in 2020. It gives us – both as individuals and a collective force  – the opportunity to recognise these things properly. Systemic change is, of course, slow, and many of the things that need addressing are painfully overdue. But we’ll get to where we deserve to be much quicker if we collectively address and challenge the things that clearly aren’t right. 

Not so fun fact: 82% of Black British women have to go out of their way to find stories that reflect their experiences. 74% have difficulty finding positive narratives about Black women in the media and just 11% think the British government is doing enough to support Black women.

This is just a snippet of what we learned after launching the Black British Women’s Census. Ahead you’ll read more on what Black women had to say about the state of things now, and what we really hope will change in the future.

What it means to be a Black woman working in the UK right now

“Constantly juggling. Over analysing how you come across to others to ensure you’re not being offensive.”

“Its a blessing and a curse. A blessing to finally begin to see more Black women working than ever before but the blessing means nothing when we look at all the barriers. Black women have to fight to get and stay in positions.”

“Working twice as hard to get anywhere only for people to devalue your achievements or think you somehow got lucky to be where you are.”

“I feel like current issues have made Black women hypervisible but it has made workplaces uncomfortable and in some cases, actions are purely performative.”

“In this moment, BLM is prominent so all companies are trying to be seen to be tackling the issue. But I am not sure we’ve seen any real change yet.”

Why it’s so important to engage in politics as a Black woman

“If we don’t vote or lobby MPs then we’re allowing politicians to make decisions on our behalf without representing our views. It’s important to be politically engaged to hold politicians to account.”

“It impacts every part of life and has the power to swing the Black British experience in either direction.”

“Because it is a privilege that my ancestors worked so hard to get. And also because that is how we ensure our voices are heard.”

“It’s important as a Black woman that I share my thoughts and feelings about the country I live in because it affects me, my family and others.”

On Black representation in the beauty industry

“I do think Rihanna has paved the way for this because she represents Black women of all shades. The rest of the industry is so tokenistic.”

“Most conversations around beauty completely exclude Black women, even the freebies handed out to us would rarely be of use. We are often expected to pay more to be included. When we are included the likelihood is that there is an element of colourism involved. The darkest women have to fight even harder to be part of the conversation.”

“A lot of Black beauty and hair care products are not readily available or advertised”

“It has improved but this improvement has been the result of Black women lobbying for this to happen. If it was that inclusive it shouldn’t take the customers alone to work to fill the gap in inclusivity.”

Where we find positive narratives about Black women

“Black Twitter is a community where most of the Black diaspora are able to come together as a collective community and engage with each other on all aspects of life including political, topical and even humorous topics of discussion. There are podcasts by multiple Black women where I get the same communal experience, and on YouTube.”

“YouTube is probably the only place you can explore all different kinds of Black women. Not the one standard that society deems as acceptable.”

“I feel in the past few years diversity and inclusivity is slightly getting better but there is still more work to be done in the workforce on TV and in magazines.”

“The channels that represent me the most are usually filled with self-created/independent content. Institutional content tends to catch up later and only in response to a positive view of Black women/marginalised groups rather than leading the conversation.”

What a future with true inclusivity looks like

“I would not want my race and cultural differences to be erased but it should not be the only or first thing people see and know about me”

“Being seen at all levels, not just the cleaner or the shop worker but the CEO too. Being able to purchase products for your skin tone/hair type wherever you are in the country. Seeing people who look like you on TV,  in newspapers and magazines and  books etc.”

“Being able to get on with life just like everyone else - not being hyper-aware nor being completely ignored. Just living life and not being made to feel othered all the time.”

“Know me. Accept me, hate me, love me and judge me for what is in my heart but respect what is on my skin”

“Proper Black British history in the curriculum and a Black Prime Minister.”

“No one flinches when they see any Black women either with a headscarf or deemed to be overweight or darker. They just celebrate her.”

“When we live in a society that acknowledges Black women have different personalities and experiences, we are not all a stereotype.”

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