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To Be Black, British and Female: Exploring Diasporic Femininity

Malinda Rhone

Scholars, such as Peter Fryer in Black People in the British Empire, have written on the Black presence in Britain, a history that dates back perhaps as far as early Roman times. However, as Black British MP Dianne Abbot comments, British society and identity rests on a “myth of a pure society” despite Britain’s multi-racial heritage ( In Beyond the Masks (1995), Mama Amina writes on the formation of Black British subjects. She focuses on the Black British subject as a process of construction which is often contradictory despite the long standing historical presence of Blacks in Britain.

Amina argues that, Blacks in Britain continue to struggle for a recognized place in British society and history. With this as a backdrop, this paper will focus on historical representations of Black European women particularly in Britain. It will examine how the category of Black British woman has been constructed historically and contemporarily in various mediums (i.e. the media, heritage narratives, etc.) and how (among other things) this informs this category of identity. It will seek to explore such questions as how do Black British women internalize what it means to be Black and British as a gendered experience? How is the European experience represented for Black British women? How do they internalize and reconcile multiple sources of identity? Is this a process marked by conflict and contestation or does this process mark the emergence of new category of identity? How do Black British women confront the lack of historical representation and the fact of misrepresentation? How do they confront current representations that may or may not speak to their unique positioning within a multiracial/cultural British society? Furthermore, this paper will explore how Black British subjects understand themselves as Black and as part of the larger international community.

Taking the Black British woman’s experience in social-historical context and exploring the connections of Black women within a diasporic universe, this paper will focus on the historical conceptions of black feminine identity forged in the diaspora. The exploration of diasporic identity in relation to Black British women therefore provides an excellent site to study the diasporic creation of subjectivities because their experience marks the coincidence of at least three categories of identity—race, gender, and nation.

Ultimately, this paper will be part of a dissertation that examines and compares the social construction of black feminine identity historically and contemporarily in the diaspora. It will explore the process of black feminine identity. It will be a comparative examination of this process in the US and the UK. Examining how and what ideas about black femininity were exchanged historically and how black women in an increasingly global world continue this process will be the focus. My research interest revolve around how varying notions of black feminine identity emerged out of diasporic movement and interaction. In exploring this topic, the invention of racialized and gender norms will be central in identifying how black women negotiated their feminine identity. In unpacking these relationships, the interpellative process, and the experiences of being ‘raced’, ‘classed’ and ‘gendered’, perhaps we can begin to piece together the similarities and differences in black feminine identity in the diaspora.

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