The erasure of black women when it comes to women’s rights in British History.
As I watch the credits roll in the cinema, I’m in awe of this film, I’m overwhelmed by it’s significance and find the experience so compelling that I continue to sit there, out of respect, I sit there and watch as the title cards play out. They list facts about Women’s rights and when the right to vote for women was passed in countries around the world. New Zealand comes up first passing the law in 1893, Australia follows shortly after in 1902, Norway, Russia, Austria, Germany, Poland, the USA, but where is the U.K? I panic a little, I tell myself why it is that the USA passed the right to vote for women before the U.K? In 1928 Britain, women received the same rights as men.
‘Suffragette’ the film caused an eruption of conversation in 2015. I remember coming across an article on the guardian about the ‘Sister’s Uncut’ feminist group, protesting at the Premiere of Suffragette by lying on the red carpet, arms linked together. Their outcry was centred on domestic violence, something about this act, made me look outside myself, what’s missing in this conversation? At 20 years old, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Not to long after the release of Suffragette, more articles surface, one in particular that addressed the erasure of non-white women within the film, I say to myself “I agree”. This question of what being a feminist mean’s to me was a question that began to slowly boil inside of me, I needed answers.
As I scroll through facebook one day, I come across striking images of south Asian women protesting in the early 19th century Britain.
I think to myself, “it doesn’t end here, does it?” My subconcious desire to find out more begins.
I only discover who Olive Morris is due to being approached by a company to aid in developing a short film about her, which I never get to do in the end.
This conversation of intersectionality when it comes to women’s rights began to consume me, but it wasn’t until watching Kimberly Crenshaw’s Ted Talk in 2018 where she addressed the necessity of intersectionality being applied in court when it comes to black cis and trans women’s rights that it hit me, I do not just experience racism, I experience misogynoir.
Fast forward to today with the recent death of Sarah Everad and the online response to the disturbing videos of women being pushed and dragged by police whilst they peacefully mourned the life and death of Sarah Everad lost to the hands of kidnapping and murder by a police officer, Black Twitter quickly mourned with them. But I couldn’t help but question “what about black women?”
Not long after this uproar, the unsolved case of Blessing Olusegun re-emerges who was found dead in East Sussex in 2020. Many comments online confront the painful question of why black women’s outcry aren’t heard at the same volume as white women.
It took me a while for fear of being triggered but after reading an article written poignantly by the brilliant Habiba Katsha that addresses the recent announcement made by Sadiq Khan that misogyny will be officially considered a hate crime within the U.K and interrogates the question of why misogynoir isn’t been considered a hate crime either. I become confused by this. I say to myself, “Isn’t sexism against the law?” But then I quickly answer that myself, sexism and racism are still not considered a combined act of harassment in the U.K, so what makes me think that misogynoir will be? This question brings me back to a haunted conversation with a former friend of mine after an event we attend, she questions one of the panellist’s statements that addressed how the history of Suffragettes were documented erased black women’s contribution in the proccess and this former friend challenges this to be un-true. My heart sinks, but I say to myself, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, until I recently cut them off and I look back at all the red flags where I felt used by her optic politics, that having a black friend suited her as long as I didn’t address intersectionality and how significant black women have been to politics, as long as I looked ‘the part’ so she could ‘show’ me off to her fellow “influential” friends. This thought process brought me here, feeling anger and frustration for Blessing Olusegun, my eyes saw in rage.
There are some white women in the U.K who are comfortable with what happened to The Duchess of Sussex, there are British women who are comfortable seeing black women’s rights be compromised, who are complicit in speaking up for all women and instead president their rights over ours.
Though the women’s right to vote officially passed in the U.K in 1928, what Bridget Minamore so rightly pointed out at that same event I mentioned earlier was that this only applied to women who owned land or a property. When I think of the continuation of black women’s rights being compromised consistently in the U.K, I think of my Mother at aged 24 working in the city in 1990’s Britain, I think of my Grandma who migrated to the U.K with my Grandad in the 60’s and I wonder “was my Grandma considered when the conversations of rights were raised?”.
Even now, growing up in London, attending an ethnically mixed school, facing much adversity in my choice of field, I wonder if white women care enough to speak up? I wonder if they care enough to look back in history and learn about the black women that came before them? I sit here in hope’s that one day a white woman in the U.K won’t just think about Sarah Everard but will mourn the life Blessing Olusegun too.