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The Danger of a Single Story

By Emma Tattersall

Illustration by Libby VanderPloeg

This weekend I listened to The Danger of a Single Story – a TedGlobal talk but Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The talk opens with a description of the storybooks of her childhood, filled with characters who “were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out.” Characters that sound very familiar, but that perpetuate an idea of white as the norm. I realise how badly represented black and ethnic minorities were in the literature of my childhood, but also how little I noticed when I was growing up.

I am hugely privileged. I am embarrassed to admit that when I began LWL I probably hadn’t realised quite how fortunate my life as a white, middle class, cis, educated female is. I can tell you for a fact that in 2016 I wouldn’t have described myself using those words. I was ignorant to problems that didn’t affect my own personal life experience.

Receiving a new questionnaire in our inbox is a huge joy and I feel so privileged to read the story someone has decided to share with us. I take the time to sit down and read the words on the page and to try and understand and learn about someone else’s life experience and to find the similarities and differences from my own. When I first began collating stories of incredible women to share on this platform I focused on the women in my world who inspired me first hand. I sent messages on Facebook and LinkedIn to the women in my life who inspired me – who were predominantly white, middle class women like me.

As the platform grew into a larger community I noticed I was being described as a white feminist – a distortion of the label I was so proudly bearing myself. My immediate reaction was to feel defensive, to try and justify why this wasn’t necessarily the case. Like Emma Watson,

When I heard myself being called a “white feminist” I didn’t understand (I suppose I proved their case in point). What was the need to define me — or anyone else for that matter — as a feminist by race? What did this mean? Was I being called racist? Was the feminist movement more fractured than I had understood? I began...panicking.

But in panicking I did exactly what the term was suggesting, I made the experience all about me rather than looking outwards at the wider landscape and the role I play in it. I am so grateful that this was called out. I am so determined to learn from the conversation, to do more.

Since day one, I have actively resisted this platform becoming an outlet for only one single story, of my story, of the white feminist story. But when I look at our incredible Launch Pad, I realise we could be doing a lot more than we currently do.

An analysis conducted by the Guardian and Operation Black Vote in 2017 established that of the 1,049 most powerful people in Britain, just 36 were from ethnic minorities – and only seven of those were women. Statistics like this fill the pages of the brilliant, Slay in Your Lane By Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené and state clearly and eloquently how much our fight for equality must be equality for all. These statistics shocked me, upset me but also in some ways felt removed. I hadn’t thought to look at the number of women on our Launch Pad and what percentage of the wonderful stories we share are from ethnic minorities. At present, BAME women are underrepresented on our platform and we need to ask ourselves why this is.

With each new direction this platform takes,we need to ask ourselves if we are actually empowering all women and bringing about better understanding or whether we are staying in areas that feel comfortable and known. Writing this post is new territory for me. I am trying to confront the ways my race, class and gender distort my perspective and it feels very uncomfortable but very necessary. I need to improve my understanding. We need more diversity as a platform, and need to work hard to amplify the voices of those who speak far more eloquently than I do on this topic.

The feminist story belongs to all women everywhere but that is not the impression you would receive from the mainstream media, where it seems that all feminists are concerned about is a particular type of woman. That woman was invariably white and middle-class.” Lola Okolosie

Lola Okolosie is right. We need to do more to be intersectional and to break away from that stereotype. I want this to be a place where every story matters and where we actively share and champion the stories that are non-binary and wholly different to my own. I don’t want to be a part of what Reni Eddo Lodge describes as the “emotional disconnect that white people display when a person of colour articulates their experience”, I want to feel connected and to listen. I want to learn.

The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

This month is Black History Month - a central point of focus which leads the nationwide celebration of Black History, Arts and Culture throughout the UK. This celebration first took place at a time when the stories of black and Asian peoples throughout history were far less known then they are today. It was created to stimulate new conversations and shine a spotlight on the incredible people who have systematically been placed on the sidelines of history books - founding principles that are at the heart of this platform as well.

Necessary celebrations such as Black History Month have managed to galvanise groups of people to collectively push an educational and uplifting message about black British identity. Following the mistreatment of the Windrush generation and the with rising scaremongering caused by the far right, Black History Month has never been more necessary. Chanté Joseph

We want to use this platform to create conversation and awareness about the huge importance of all stories. We want to do all that we can to highlight the powerful voices around the world who speak much more eloquently than I write on this topic. We all need to get behind celebrations like this, we all need to be aware and we all need to do more to fight for equality for all.

LWL is committed to being proactive about raising awareness of intersectional issues and representing black and ethnic minorities on our platforms, on our blog and at our events. We want to do more and we want to do better. We want to champion every story. We want to be a diverse platform that isn’t afraid to say we got this wrong, we will get it right next time. And if we don’t call us out.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My feminism is not perfect, but my feminism is intersectional. If we do anything as we grow, we must endeavour to be a platform that is too.

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