How One Club’s Refusal To Let Black Woman In Says So Much More About Race In 2015…
The Debrief: We might not think we have the same issues with race as America, but in the UK the lives of black women are deemed less valuable than everyone else's. And that needs to change.
You know what it’s like getting ready for a night out. The WhatsApp messages comparing outfits, making sure you’re contoured to perfection and a few pre-drinks to get in the mood to out-dance Drake when the chorus of Hotline Bling drops.
But for four women this year, the opportunity to dance along to their favourite Drake song was lost. Not because they wore Stan Smiths to the club, but because of their race and gender.
In September, it was claimed that London nightclub DSTRKT’s promoters turned away four friends, saying two were: ‘too dark’ and ‘overweight.’ A protest and social media campaign called #DoILookDSTRKT followed, gaining national attention and questioning the standards of beauty that black women are held to.
However, black women aren’t just shut out of nightclubs. In March, a study showed that there had been a 50% rise in long-term unemployment for young ethnic minorities, and it’s known that getting a job is hard enough as a woman, try doing it with a ‘black’ sounding name. Even if you get the job, as Simone Powderly did, you could face an employer saying your hairstyle – braids – isn’t suitable for selling ‘high-end’ products. Despite it being the most efficient way of keeping your hair.
Braids, which can be a lose-lose situation for black women, have become a white fashion trend this year. Just like it took twerking – a dance move originating from Africa, long used by Caribbeans and African Americans – to be co-opted by Miley Cyrus for the world to take notice, black women are often erased from various aspects of pop culture that are heavily influenced by black identity.
Valentino’s SS16 ‘Wild Africa’ show featured mostly white models with cornrows, strolling the catwalk to the sounds of bongo drums. Cornrows on black women have long been portrayed as ghetto, but on white models? They instantly become high couture. The fashion industry has had its problems with racism and this is a classic example of those in power feeling entitled to take what black women create, but refusing to let them be part of it. Same goes for the staunch – white, gay and male - defenders of drag act Shaniqa Jonz, who this month couldn’t understand why performing in blackface to mock a low-income woman should be consigned to history.
For so long, pop culture has granted entry to black music and fashion. Yet the very same institutions have to think twice if black women can join in.
This isn’t just a petty battle of white women versus black women, it’s due to an unchecked discrimination that specifically targets black women, known as misogynoir. Misogynoir can be perpetuated by anyone, including white women and black men. And as a more nuanced form of racism, it takes the angry black woman stereotype to a whole new level, framing black women as animalistic, unruly. This stereotype is then used justify why black women aren’t granted access to such exclusive nightclubs and high-brow industries.
Misogynoir is why Serena Williams, the greatest athlete of our generation, getting trolled as a ‘gorilla’ or derided for her muscles, even in the mainstream press. Or Zendaya, a teenage actress and singer a red carpet critic joke that her dreadlocks smell of ‘patchouli and weed’.
It’s also seen in the frequent attempts to derail claims of discrimination against black women. Sandra Bland expressed her irritation at being pulled over by Brian Encina, a police officer. And his reaction; threatening to ‘yank’ her out of the car, before doing just that, slamming her to the floor and nearly breaking her wrist when arresting her, resulted in an otherwise happy Sandra committing suicide in jail. Former NYPD detective Harry Houck, went on TV to claim her ‘arrogant attitude’ was justification for the police brutality she suffered. The constant victim-blaming doesn’t only shift the attention from the officer’s actions, but condones the stereotype and consequences of misogynoir.
After Sandra’s death, the #SayHerName movement was born to shine a light on the sexual and physical assaults black women were suffering at the hands of the police. #BlackLivesMatter has been important, but like any other fight for civil rights, it needs to include women’s experiences. One person to tweet it was Nicki Minaj, who also raised her voice to criticise racism in the music industry. When Anaconda was snubbed by the VMAs, she wondered: why are white women celebrated for creating pseudo hip-hop videos, but black women can’t even get mentioned when they create the real thing?
But the media treatment of her calling out the VMAs, and Taylor Swift's response, showed even more misogynoir. The media pitted the women against each other, but while Taylor was the victim, looking composed and calm in images next to heroine-like headlines, pictures of Nicki portrayed her as erratic and of course, as the angry black woman. Women’s magazines applauding Taylor for ‘shutting down’ Nicki showed that certain ‘feminism’, fails to understand the complications and consequences race has for black women. Same goes for Miley Cyrus, who thought it was her place to educate Nicki on how to be ‘polite’ about race.
This is a classic example of whitesplaining, and another high profile example was when Justin Bieber defended Kylie Jenner’s right to wear cornrows.
Kylie, who this year revealed she has fillers injected into her lips, can pick and choose the elements of black womanhood she likes best, playing dress up then taking it all out 20 minutes later. As a white woman she’s allowed to wear cornrows free from the ridicule and racial profiling that black women like Sandra Bland typically, and tragically, endure. This is known as cultural appropriation and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg called this out:
But like a knight in white Calvin Kleins, Justin Bieber tried to silence Amandla, saying: ‘lets focus on the bigger picture and instead of fighting over something stupid lets do something about equality.’ Thing is, how does Justin get to determine what is and isn’t racism, especially when it directly affects black women? Clue: he doesn’t.
By recognising misogynoir in all its horrible forms, it becomes apparent that whiteness and maleness is given a premium. It might seem like this is America’s problem, simply touching the UK when it comes to nightclub bans and the UK’s media portrayals of American celebrities. While we don’t have all of America’s problems with police brutality and mass incarceration, we have a lot of shared culture, and with that come exactly the same sort of dangerous stereotypes.
Earlier this year, a black woman from Hampstead in London won damages after five police officers strip-searched her and left her in a prison cell for the night. Her crime? Having her drink spiked and appearing disoriented outside a club. This is a huge story, but it got little media coverage – black women’s problems just aren’t seen as a priority.
In 2016, this needs to change, and more of us need to take our cue from the DSTRKT ladies and use our voices to drag cases of misogynoir into the public consciousness. Regardless of whether black women are racially discriminated against in a police cell or on the steps of a nightclub, it only reinforces the same fact: the lives of black women are deemed less valuable than everyone else’s.
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