It's strange to think that something such as black hair can been so political. This issue arose and there was great debate around if it was ok to have a blonde weave. Beyonce came up for the first but not the last time that evening. Natural hair is seen as a statement, it is also sometimes seen as an obstacle. Does it look unprofessional? Does a slick weave look better at a job interview? Beyonce has leaned towards a Western ascetic of beauty, blonde hair, light skin but growing up in America and working in an industry that is geared towards this, I question how much of a conscious choice it has been. It may be she just likes her hair like that? That was the other side of the argument, why shouldn't you be able to wear your hair the way you want?
Choice is freedom. I realised the other day when I was lamenting over my badly cut bob, how much I hate having long hair. I have always described my hair as European; it's soft and straight be it for three corkscrew curls at the front that have a tendency to fall out after a few hours. I want my hair short because my curls stay in and I feel they represent a part of me that I don't want to be misinterpreted.
It falls upon this one character to represent all black women. It's impossible.
It reminded me of my own awareness of this 'mixed-race' idolization that exists. While people thought she
fell short for her hair being too black, if fell short because my hair was too white. Or I'd be told how beautiful Iâd look with green or blue eyes, like I'd missed out in the quirky gene pool giveaway. I am very aware of how dated the term mixed-race is, it is void of any meaning so hearing Emma speak of herself in such a straight forward and unambiguous way definitely made it clearer to me that this arbitrary definitions have no purpose.
In contrast the Chair, Brenna Bhandar explained Black has been taken as a political word, it encompasses not only people of African descent but Asians and other people of colour. This works because of the need to destroy the concept of otherness around these groups and also tackle issues like shadism and negative associations of what it is to be black.
One of the audience members recalled a period of time when there were sitcoms which featured almost all black casts. During the 80s and the 90s this was at its peak. You had the mainstream success of The Cosby Show that focuses on the lives of the upper-middle class African-American Huxtable family. The spin off A Different World set at Hillman College was another sitcom I watched as well as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
British offerings such as Desmond's set in a Peckham barbers with a Black British Guyanese cast and the sketch show The Real McCoy that had Black and Asian comedians meant there was a host of shows that represented more than one face of the UK. I have also argued that Eastenders in not a depiction of East London but a microcosm of England on a whole, it is certainly not representative of the East London, East Londoners live in.
My friend Amina also added that the Asian and Black characters are heavily used for the comedy storylines, it's all quite one-dimensional. One of the panel members was not pro the former programmes, as she wanted to see any actor no matter their colour be able to play a role. I agree with this too, especially when writers seem so narrow minded to only perceive a white man in their leads, but the brilliant thing about these programmes are that they stopped black people being a token gesture and having one character representing a huge number people. Showing black families and friends shows people of ethnicity in a more real context.
In contrast to this, there were white characters on these shows, this time they were in the minority. This inversion of the norm was an eye-opener to how frequently this is done in mainstream culture. TV show Scandal split the audience and the panel. Some people could not stand the character, although she was in a position of power she was shown to be stealing a man from another woman perpetuating the idea of black woman being first and foremost sexual.
Others loved the show and as it was written by a black female it was coming from a positive perspective. I think the issue is, this is the first time a big American show has had African-American woman as the protagonist. Once again she is one character. It falls upon this one character to represent all black women. It's impossible.
One of the audience members used the word "multiplicity". This seems key. Black woman can be strong, they can do this without being masculine, they have different hair and guess what? Different interests too! Orange Is the New Black came up in discussion, more than one representation of woman in general. A well rounded depiction of black women including a transgender female. See? It can be done!
It occurred to me when looking for black female role models I have always looked to my family, whilst there may be films and programmes out there; they are not in the mainstream and I have not found them. While Beyonce may be expressing her interpretation of feminism in new videos as one of the panel members said, having her husband speak of Ike and Anna-Mae in her Drunk in Love single, the association with an intense loving or sexual relationship with violence is a negative portrayal of a relationship between two black people.
Journalist, Ife Adedeji discussed the representation of black men and how they are associated with macho and strength, they can be athletes and rappers but nothing else. While this may be simplifying it, there is no doubt these associations of black with masculine in turn influences the way black women are perceived and depicted by the media.
Black woman don't want to be defined in contrast to black men or white women and this is why their voice
needs to be heard for itself. It was great to go to this discussion and hear some of these many voices.