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Growing Up Brown In Britain Meant There Were Times My Race Took The Frontline Over My Gender

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Photo credit: socialfixt

I remember the day I learned the word ‘feminism’, sitting at the back of my year eight French class, listening to Emma Watson’s UN speech. I always knew that being a Brown woman meant I had to work twice as hard in life to achieve my dreams, but for twelve-year-old me, my gender was at the forefront of my mind, over my race. It wasn’t until I started sixth form that I began to think critically about how my race affected my experiences as a woman. My belief that the umbrella of ‘womanhood’ united all women together was shattered as the weeds of racism began to grown and expose themselves within my mind. 

Part of my awakening regarding the extent of racism within Britain was down to attending an all-girls school for my A-Levels. In an educational institute where there were no gender differences, my race was now the primary discriminant against me. In Britain, 14.1% of classroom teachers and 7.1% of headteachers are ethnic minorities compared to 30.3% of ethnic minority children. These figures were present in my own school, where the majority of girls were from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to barely a handful of teachers reflecting this racial mix. Microaggressions and unconscious bias mean that white teachers have negative perceptions of POC ingrained, which results in them disciplining us more severely than our white peers. Whilst it is not always intended, racism within education, either from the curriculum (a refusal to acknowledge the full extent of the British empire) or from educators, impacted me during school to the point that I never felt comfortable enough to fully voice my concerns with members of staff; this, in turn, affected my grades.

“BAME is an outdated term, unable to define the experiences of all those living in Britain who are ‘not white’. To me, it feels lazy and often alienating that we have the category ‘white’ and then everyone else clumped together as another.”

The terms BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) and POC (people of colour)  are always used to group everyone who is ‘not white’ together. This is both highly unrepresentative and damaging. The Runnymede report ‘Intersecting Inequalities’ shows a breakdown of ‘the impact of austerity on Black and minority ethnic women in the UK’. Child poverty rates in 2017 were highest in Bangladeshi households at 60%, compared to 27% in Indian households, the second-lowest behind 26% in white households. However, using the grouping of BAME, Asian, or even Brown would not have shown the disparity in wealth between these two similar, yet very different, ethnic groups. Furthermore, employment rates in 2016 were the lowest for Pakistani/Bangladeshi workers at 54%, but 76% and 67% for white and Black workers respectively. BAME is an outdated term, unable to define the experiences of all those living in Britain who are ‘not white’. To me, it feels lazy and often alienating that we have the category ‘white’ and then everyone else clumped together as another. As reflected in these statistics, it would be more helpful for governments and institutions to specify which ethnic group they are referring to in the future. 

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Photo credit: Imaan Asim

Similarly, the use of BAME has been an easy way for the media to fulfill ‘diversity’ quotas. In 2017, 3.4% of all film roles were played by an Asian actor, 9% by Black actors, and 77% by white actors. I can only speak for myself,  but I am yet to see an accurate portrayal of a Brown woman, or even a Muslim woman in mainstream media. Though I recognise not all representation is good representation, and that there are economic factors behind these statistics, I can’t help but feel disappointed with the industry. What we need to collectively do to move forward is see more women, more Brown women, and more Muslim women on screen, sitting in directors chairs, and as screenwriters. As a young creative, I am tired of always explaining why the same white saviour tropes or stereotypical terrorist roles are inadequate. 

“Stories where the lead can be a woman, or Brown or Muslim, and not have the entire plot revolve around their identity.”

I believe we are past the need of having the same conversation, pledging to increase representation, but rather it is imperative we take these ideas into action. We do not require stories where a couple of Brown actors are sprinkled in the background to fill a ‘diversity quota’, we want to carve out our own stories that are not necessarily based on race or religion. Stories where the lead can be a woman, or Brown or Muslim, and not have the entire plot revolve around their identity. 

As I reflect on the unlearning the whole world is going through right now, and the racial experiences in my life that have led me to understand society as it is, it’s never been so important to take the steps within our communities to create a system where people do not feel stigmatised for the colour of their skin. Growing up Brown in Britain meant there were times my race took the frontline over my gender. It means that I am always fighting to prove my worth to people who are not open to listening. Being Brown and British is feeling pride in your heritage, only to have history books completely erase everything. It is knowing that wherever you go in life, people will consistently pit your race against you. But it’s important that I, and women like me, never stop taking up space.

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