An Honest Chat About Racial Identity
So the reason why this post about race and how it relates to blogging has taken a while, is because I’ve been learning and growing. Deep eh? You’d think that it was easy to write about a lived experience but every day I’ll discover another article with a different perspective or nuance that makes me rethink everything all over again. It’s probably happened at least ten times this week.
I’m always being asked about my experience being a black blogger in the UK and it’s intensified in the past year or so. When I was first asked around 6 years ago, I freaked out a little bit and it’s only now I can really deconstruct why I felt that way. I felt like I was being singled out and that it wasn’t really a big deal. Nothing was wrong and it didn’t affect me. At the time I was still studying and in a sort of bubble. There wasn’t the constant discourse on social media that we have now and my issues were deadlines, interviews and trying to get my relaxed hair to grow.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve become a lot more open over the past few years and if you were ‘asleep’ before 2016, you’re probably going through a kind of insomnia now. Although I feel like the broader topic of racial diversity within blogging is more of a thesis, I’m going to share my experiences growing up and touch upon some of the themes that might provide a bit of context. It’s by no means definitive but I just need to get it out of my head once and for all.
Where are all the black people?
‘Why did I not tell people that what they were doing was offensive or making me uncomfortable? Simply because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I didn’t want to flag up the fact that their actions or words were the cause of my discomfort. I hadn’t developed the tools to articulate just why it made me feel the way I did. I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.’ Mica Antony
So first things first, I’ve never really explained my background in detail. I’m 2nd generation Jamaican, born and bred in London (both sets of my grandparents came over to the UK in the late fifties, early 60s). I refer to myself to British or Jamaican depending on the context, Black Caribbean on census forms and I’m an NW45 when I’m in MAC. You see when people ask ‘Where are you from?’, you never really know whether they’re asking about your place of birth, where you currently live, where you work or your heritage.
Whilst my childhood was by no means traumatic, it was peppered with microaggressions that added to the usual teenage girl problems. To be succinct, my race was something I didn’t want to draw too much attention to. I was the queen of bottling things up and just wanted to be seen as the same as everyone else, tricky at a predominantly white girls school. This introduced me to people from very different backgrounds and I developed extreme levels of tolerance but wouldn’t necessarily get the same in return. I relaxed my hair since I never saw anyone with the alternative, I was always on edge during certain lessons (reading Of Mice & Men was an experience) and I internalised the messages sent out by mainstream society. Just like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I’d write my own stories but all of my characters were white.
The Early Years
- Going to a friend’s birthday party, freaking out that their chicken wasn’t seasoned and telling my Mum when I got in.
- Seeing Destiny’s Child at Notting Hill Carnival back in 1999 and experiencing #BlackGirlMagic before it was even a ‘thing’.
- Sitting on the floor whilst my Mum would canerow my hair before school every morning.
- Whipping my headscarf out at the last possible moment during a sleepover. ‘Yes I…uh…need to sleep with this on my head ‘cos…uh…I don’t actually know.’
- Feeling happy because there’s Jamaican food at a work experience party, then a bit sick when your white friend is annoyed and says ‘There aren’t any white people here.’
Creating my own platform
“I didn’t want to make a general statement about Black women — I just wanted to show what I’ve seen in my own life. One of the downsides of being a lone female voice is that people are going to look to me to either dispel all stereotypes or feed into them, and that’s unfair. We’re telling a story, and that shouldn’t be perceived to be every truth for a Black woman. I’m not aspiring to be anybody’s voice.” Issa Rae
When it comes to blogging, I’ve always alluded to the issues that have affected me when it comes to race. I knew that I wasn’t a makeup expert, but I did have an opinion on personal style, fashion design and just life in general. I’d always created things for myself (I’ll stop going on about my first website at the age of 13 soon) and IWYTK was the next logical step. I quickly discovered an online community that was as obsessed with fashion as I was and they welcomed me with open arms.
Like most situations, the fact that I rarely saw anyone who looked like me at events wasn’t initially an issue. I was used to being ‘the only one’. I’d navigated my school years with one black science teacher and if I didn’t have a particular role model for something, I’d just create my own (usually a mixture of Oprah, Naomi Campbell and Serena Williams).
I discovered Shirley when I looked through my analytics and saw that I was mentioned on a thread about black British bloggers. Cue me going through every one of her posts, leaving fangirly comments and buying all the hair products she’d mentioned, even though our textures were very different. It was so meaningful to discover someone I could relate to on a deeper level and I discovered Ngoni, Natasha, Sade and Patricia soon after. No doubt I probably spent many evenings scrolling instead of sorting my life out.
In retrospect, I realise that I was so used to not seeing myself represented in the media, I’d come to expect it. The everyday experience of being a black woman isn’t often shown by the mainstream and to see these girls just living their lives, posting about shoes and sharing advice was amazing. It builds your self-esteem. This led me on a bit of a six year journey, finding natural hair blogs, platforms like Black Ballad and other outlets encompassing the many elements of the black British experience.
Why does representation matter?
‘I kept that issue for four years. It was one of the few times I had seen a mainstream magazine include women like me in their beauty pages, and I never forgot it. For a brief moment, I was the default, not required to adapt the look to fit. I have been required to see myself in others – to relate – all my life. And in reading the comments beneath my post I was forced to ask: Is anyone asking any of these people to do the same?’ Bim Adewunmi
As much as I’ve deliberated writing this, I wanted to add my voice to the conversation as every day brings continued frustrations, whether it’s related to blogging, fashion, media or politics. Like Anita Bhagwandas states, ‘Change is not only due but imperative, as beauty mirrors the current dialogue in society with attitudes to race.’ Although the world of blogging is a bit of a microcosm, every non-diverse list, every campaign featuring girls who look exactly the same has important, emotionally-charged repercussions. It’s not quite the same as being told ‘My Dad says I can’t play with anyone darker than me’ as a child, but still gets added to the list nonetheless.
When I see people wonder why blogging isn’t diverse, the problem is not blogging itself, but the society that it exists within. It is impossible to give a succinct conclusion. All I can say is that understanding racial identity and inequality is like learning a language. There is nuance, endless dialects and made up slang. The media tells us what is ‘normal’ and sends a clear message to those of us who look nothing like it, yet it can also appropriate and misrepresent within those same pages.
There are so many black content creators, speaking about anything from fashion, to travel, to lifestyle, to beauty and hair (I’m starting to collate some here), plus all of the other topics that make us human. The ease of starting a blog and YouTube channel allows a diverse mix of people to get involved, but whenever most things are commercialised, we end up going back to square one. There are a few glimmers of hope and thanks to social media, there is a constant discourse. We’re in a cycle of calling brands out and seeing others trying to make amends. However I don’t want ‘diversity’ and authentic representation just to be a passing trend, but necessary groundwork to tackle the situations that have arisen around the world.
The Present Day
- Meeting black women at events and having several deep conversations within 5 minutes.
- Feeling an immense sense of pride when I figure out another piece of the puzzle and realise the sacrifices my family have made.
- Getting messages on dating sites such as ‘If I go black will I go back?’ and ‘Nice wig.’
- Asking the PR from a much-loved beauty brand to confirm whether the darker shades of foundation were still being discontinued and not receiving a reply.
- Watching Serena Williams win ALL THE THINGS.
I’ve been honest about some of the struggles I’ve faced doing this hustle and I hope that by sharing my experiences and normality, that it can make a speck of difference. I don’t want people to feel put off from blogging because they don’t see themselves represented and my content will reflect this. There’ll be interviews, resources and topics highlighting the intersectionality (via this tag) as well as musings weaved into my fashion, travel and lifestyle posts.
I’d love to hear your experiences growing up black or any other minority especially in the UK, as I know we all have a different perspective. I had my own personal reasons for not addressing it before but it’s so important to keep this conversation going and it’s always welcome here.
I’d also love it if you could share and like this post on Bloglovin. Let’s diversify their popular page!
Suggested reading and listening: