As black women, privilege is not a word that we often associate with ourselves. Yet, being a black woman or person in London does give us some privilege whether we want to admit it or not. We form sisterhoods and find comfort in pockets of black communities because we find each other at school, in church congregations or other religious settings, at work or through social events. In the last several years more so than ever, as black women in London, we have been wonderfully spoiled by events that put us front and centre. From Black Blossoms’ landmark 2016 art exhibition, to Black Girl Fest, to Black Girls Book Club to Ruth Sutoye’s Bald Black Girls exhibition and of course Black Ballad holding over 25 events in London, it has never been a better time to be a black woman who lives in the Capital.
We dine at places like Chukus and other black owned eateries, create perfect Instagram stories and snaps at brunches that centre black culture, share smiles and brief exchanges at our local Caribbean bakeries and of course, no place has fostered black sisterhood like the black hairdressing salon. Most importantly, in London, we are more likely to be treated by black doctors and have access to black mental health groups and professionals to ensure we have care that understands our medical needs and cultural nuances. Like it or not, there is no denying that London is the hub of all things Black and British.
Even if we push aside the wonderful in person connections we Black Londoners get to make, both mainstream and independent media place the voices of those of us who live in the Capital front and centre. It is the Black London voice that is the loudest and the one that defines what it means to be Black in Britain, no doubt because our entire country unfairly revolves around London life due to being the physical home of our political system.
Being black and in London in no way means we are living in Utopia, but it does mean we are visible and it is time not just to admit that but take action to ensure the voices and experiences of those who don’t live in London are seen, heard and understood. While we may be the hub, Black Londoners must be careful that we don’t become an exclusive club that only acknowledges the challenges and celebratory moments that we experience. Black Londoners (myself included) must do a better job of sharing our platforms with those who live outside our city. I have said it before and it is worth repeating, Black Ballad must be conscious and careful not to repeat mainstream media’s mistakes in having one dominant voice within this demographic.
We know there are wonderful black women and black communities in every part of Britain, from the South of England to Scotland, creating festivals, exhibitions, businesses and facilitating grass roots organisations that centre the black female experience. We should have the desire to be wrapped up in the words of black women from the North West, North East and Wales. We need to hear the stories of black women young and old from the Midlands to the East of England. So Jeni and I decided to stop talking about how Black Ballad could give Black women outside of London the microphone and to take action and begin the Black Women In Britain campaign.
So last year as a team, we weaved out a plan to ensure that Black Ballad could do what it does best, tell the stories of black women on their own terms. We launched the Great Black British Women’s survey to find everything we could from Black women outside of the capital, which saw over 3,500 of you fill it in. We found that 25% of black women in the West and East Midlands have never had access to mental health services. Our survey revealed that 30% of black women living in the East of England are “very religious”, so what does the intersection of their race, gender and religious choice mean for their identity and how they navigate living in that region? We also found that over 40% of Scotland find it hard to find beauty products for their hair and skin tone, so how does that affect their monthly budget and their relationship with beauty?
Starting from tomorrow and over the next three months we will be revealing not just the stories, but the statistics that have powered this project. Most importantly, we are kicking a seachange, a commitment to being more intentional in giving Black women outside London a voice and visibility on our platform.
Over the last three months we have been a team of 13 instead of the usual four. We have employed a black editor per region, who have commissioned and paid black writers to tell these stories. For far too long these women and communities have told their stories to each other and their stories haven’t crossed the geographical borders needed to become national stories and be applauded nationally as important rallying cries of black female unity as they deserve to be.
So I will be making space not just for these stories but for these editors and giving them my newsletter to round up their week of content they have commissioned. I am always proud of what we do, but with the Black Women In Britain survey and content I have never felt prouder of the work we do. While the project isn’t perfect, (we weren’t able to commission an editor from The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland,) I believe that this is what sets Black Ballad apart from everyone else. We tell the stories of black women that no one else will. We don’t wait for trends or certain dates to do this work. We are constantly driven to get better, do better and ensure that every black woman, every black community is lauded with the love and spotlight they deserve.
So as I round off this newsletter, the only thing left to say, something from both Jeni and I, is that we are immensely proud of the editors who have given everything to find, commission and guide writers in their region. We have been touched and overjoyed to see these editors share tips, help each other overcome challenges and be sounding boards to one another. These editors have stretched themselves and us (in the best way possible) to make Black Ballad better. It is these nine editors who have truly popped our London centric bubble and taken this platform in the direction it should be going in- to be the best media company that serves every Black women in Britain. All. Year. Round.