An experienced publisher told me recently that she wouldn’t have thought that Afro-Brazilian women would be that “conscious” in other words, proud of their “black” cultural heritage. I spend a few minutes rattling off my experiences in Brazil last year I was glad to meet politically conscious Afro-Brazilian women. International Women’s Day can sometimes feels to broad to fully address the full complexity of the female experience. Before I hopped off the plane in Rio de Janeiro, I was thrilled to discover that in 1992, a group of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino women gathered in Santo Domingo the Dominican Republic to establish two actions: a Network of Afro-Latin American and Afro-Caribbean Women and an International Day for Afro-Latin American and Caribbean Women which happens to be today: 25th July!
As this day is not that well-known in the UK, it was my intent to use it as a platform for the celebration of Afro-Caribbean (Caribbean of African descent) and Afro-Latino (from the Latin world of African descent) women in the UK.
As a Black British woman of Caribbean descent (Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana) I do feel marginalised in the sea of diversity porn swimming around this post-Tony Blair world. Afro-Caribbean women in the UK lead different lives and face the intersectional struggle of discrimination based on their race, gender and perceived notions of class.
Our plight, yes I’m gonna call it that, isn’t understood outside of our culture. Although the majority of us technically share similar paper specs to white Brits: same religion, same language, the expressions of these things, along with our culture contrast dramatically to white British culture. Of course we have white friends, hang out, have white partners, some of us receive awards, but I never feel like our story is really being told, both to outsiders and among ourselves.
Be a “strong black woman” I was told.
But to what extent is this an acceptance of the tacit, overt and unwitting discrimination or sneering – still a response to the unfamiliar- in the outwardly liberal Britannia? Please indulge yourself in the profiles of the women in the graphic, which drawn by my friend Pauline Callais.
Apologies for releasing this just now. If you want to support me in my endeavours with this platform (I’ll be starting a crowdfunding campaign soon), or anything else (writing, business, collaboration) please don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I still haven’t become the woman I want to be yet. Don’t ignore Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latino women.
We are not just about grinding or carnival, we speak, we think, we are intelligent and our fierceness is not unbecoming, it is our passion.
Peace and love.
Carolina Maria de Jesus, (Brazil) 1914-1977
Her diary Quarto de Despejo (Child of the Dark) which charts her life in a Sao Paulo favela (shantytown) was published in August 1960, after coming to the attention of a Brazilian journalist. She learned to read and write by continuing to study on her own after only two years of primary school. Her book is the best-selling book in Brazilian publishing history, now translated into 13 different languages. As a result De Jesus became an international celebrity however she had to move back to her favela with her three children when a new Brazilian dictatorship emerged. Fiercely political she spoke up about racism and refused to conform to social norms, saying that she did not want to be married because she did not wish to become dependent on a husband. She said:
“I can take the ups and downs of life. If I can’t store up the courage to live, I’ve resolved to store up the patience.”
Vanessa de Bolosier (French Antilles)
The former model who is half-Martiniquan and half-Guadeloupian moved from France to the UK to pursue a change in career. In 2011, Bolosier founded Carib Gourmet, a company specialising in exclusive Caribbean food and confectionery, winning two Great Taste Awards for her Coco Gourmand coconut sweets. She also runs private cookery classes, culinary tours and a supper club in London. Her book Creole Kitchen was released with Pavilion Books in June this year.
Sharmadean Reid, MBE, UK (Jamaica)
Originally from Wolverhampton, the Central St Martins graduate set up a nail bar, WAH Nails in Dalston, London in 2009, after struggling to find a nail salon that would do a glossy manicure with love. WAH Nails blew up, since 2010 she has had the longest standing pop up in Topshop. Reid, who is of Jamaican origin, has published two books The WAH Nails Book of Downtown Girls and WAH Nails Book of Nail Art. Vogue selected her as one of the top 15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain. In 2014 she released a nail polish with Boots. This year Reid was named in the Queen’s Birthday honours, awarded an MBE for services to the nail and beauty industry. She is currently developing an eco-hotel in Jamaica.
Susana Baca, (Peru)
Susana Baca made history in July 2011 when she became the first black cabinet minister in Peru’s government since the country’s independence from Spain in 1821. The culture minister started off as a singer winning a Latin Grammy for her album Lamento Negro in 2002. From Chorrillos, the Southern part of Lima, Baca gained an international following after featuring on a David-Byrne-produced album The Soul of Black Peru in 1995. She set up the National Observatory for Discrimination and Cultural, Ethnic Exclusion in October 2011 to protect black and indigenous Peruvians. Baca also set up the Centre for Black Continuum dedicated to promoting Afro-Peruvian music and dance.
Claudia Jones, Trinidad (1915 – 1964)
Born in Trinidad, Jones moved to the USA as a child, eventually becoming a member of the Communist Party and editor of several communist newspapers. She fell victim to McCarthyism, an intense campaign against the political left led by Wisconsin Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1948 she was arrested and convicted for “advocating overthrow of Government” in violation of the Smith Act, and was imprisoned at the Alderson Federal Reformatory for Women.The American government deported her to the UK in 1955.In 1958, Jones founded the West Indian Gazette, the first newspaper printed in London for the Black community. It provided a forum for discussion of civil rights as well as reporting news that was overlooked by the mainstream media. Jones helped organise campaigns against the 1962 Immigration Act. This made it harder for non-Whites to migrate to Britain. She also campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela, and spoke out against racism in the workplace. In London, she became a leader in the emerging Black equal rights movement. Jones worked as editor on the paper until her death, encouraging the most talented Black writers of the time to contribute to it.
Images created for Creolita by Pauline Callais