It’s been big in the news recently, trending all over social media: Munroe Bergdorf was sacked from L’Oreal’s diversity campaign (oh the irony) for calling all white people racist. I am not going to lie, when I first read the headlines, I felt so offended by it that I did not even click onto the article to read it in full. I don’t differentiate people or judge them by the colour of their skin. I used to, for sure. Not consciously, mind. After a black husband, a diverse group of friends and a black business partner (/best friend) I just don’t anymore though. With all my failings, I don’t consider myself racist. No Sor-ry. That one line “ALL White People are Racist” upset me because I’d like to think that “my people” and I are better than that. At least most of us are.

However…

I can always rely on Jannette to put my head straight when white privilege and resulting ignorance rear their ugly heads. I have had countless conversations with Jannette about race and white privilege. These conversations usually get heated and I go away thinking “Gawd, she’s so unreasonable” only to sleep over it and realise that “aaah, I have done that thing again”. You know, that thing where you feel strongly about something because facing the actual truth would be really quite uncomfortable?

Take the Women’s Marches after the US Presidential Election. Black women were mostly absent from the marches. I didn’t get that. Surely this was about all women and the perfect opportunity to highlight that black women have been raising these issues for years. BUT the marches were not a case of us finally hearing them. It was a case of now that it affected us, we’d do something about it.

Which brings me to the matter of representation. I have never been very interested in politics, Like, at all… In fact nothing makes my eyes glaze over as quickly as someone talking about politics. Until I started listening to The Guilty Feminist Podcast that is. Listening to them discuss politics, I was initially surprised that I was so interested in what they had to say about it. Then one of Jannette’s points FINALLY made sense to me – I was feeling represented in the conversation. It was women talking about politics in a way that was RELEVANT to me as a woman.

Representation is something women of colour are distinctly lacking. Especially positive representation. How many times do you see a strong black female lead on the TV? Unless it is a movie or show specifically aimed at the black community, that is. But even when they are and hence feature black women, those of lighter pigmentation are more likely to take the lead. The darker you get, the more marginalised you become and the more likely you are to take the role of a criminal or ugly friend. Even children are conditioned, from a very young age, to associate blackness with all things bad and ugly and whiteness with beauty and all things good. (This heartbreaking video of the Doll Test makes me cry every single time!)

We might see a strong black MALE lead in mainstream TV. But his female sidekick or lover tends to be white. As if it is a symbol of status: “Look at him, he’s so great, he pulled himself a white woman.” Where are all those stunningly beautiful black women? I don’t care what Psychologist Magazine wrote about black women being the least attractive. They clearly have not met Rachael, Rudo or Jannette from our #ITalkSex campaign.

I have gone off on a tangent. Are all white people racist? I suppose in a way we are. As Katherine Craig points out in her brilliant article My fellow white people: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, I, too, benefit from an inherently racist system.

Sure, I’d like to think I’d stand up in the face of injustice if I witnessed a racist encounter, just like I’d step up for a woman facing a sexist encounter. But the ugly truth is that I am more likely to see the sexist encounter than the racist one. Because I am STILL largely unaware of many of the issues black women face every day. I cannot erase social programming over night. But I can make an effort to be open, to learn, to become more aware and help others to do the same. The starting point for that is as uncomfortable as it is necessary: Facing the truth of my own ignorance.

Do you want to learn more about the issues black women in the UK face today? Join me at our Talk of the Town “Black History Month – Black Beauty vs a Colourist Society” on Tuesday 3 October.

Photo credit: encounteringwhiteness.wordpress.com

Sarah Beilfuss
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Sarah Beilfuss

Co-Founder of Scarlet Ladies, featured in Glamour Magazine for my campaign #strongforgirls, raising money for Rosa, UK charitable fund for women and girls. On a mission to empower women, end rape culture and build a better world for everyone.
Sarah Beilfuss
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