Artwork by Catherine Morton – Abuah
It feels like it hasnâ€™t even been 2020 for five minutes and the racists are back at it again. More recently they came out in droves in response to a tweet posted by London mayor Sadiq Khan which was advertising the â€˜Black Girl Fest Academyâ€™.
The scheme which is aimed at 17- 25-year-old black women, helps them to gain skills needed to run a community event and properly equip them for the world of work. As well as gaining the chance to network, participants are able to receive expert-led training and mentoring; itâ€™s really quite fantastic. It is supported by Today at Apple (the series of tech-based workshops run in Apple stores) and The Mayor of London.
After viewing the tweet for myself I did a quick eye-rolling scroll through the comments. I could see that the negative responses have been because of two main factors. Firstly, because it has received backing from the Mayor, financial support which many of the people in the comments thought could be spent elsewhere. Secondly, because the scheme is only for black women the comments were full of outcries of racism against white people.
In response to the latter part of the criticism; this scheme was started by Black Girl Fest founders, Paula Akpan and Nicole Crentsil – two young black women. Both women met through twitter and originally started the festival in 2017 after seeing a gap in the market. They also created it with the belief that having a cultural space where black women can create a social and professional network of support is important. Each year the festival continues to secure amazing speakers and sell out well in advance.
The academy which launched this month differs slightly from the festival due to its specific age limit. As young black women, it makes perfect sense that they would start a scheme for people like themselves; after all, they only relate too well to the struggles and barriers black women have to face to get a job. But why not make it a general (BAME) women fest academy or have the academy available to black boys too? Good question and perhaps more of these things are needed too. However, the need for these things does not automatically negate the validity and need for more spaces for black women. Black women face specific and unique struggles that hardly get a specialised focus, itâ€™s likely what made this scheme so different hence attracting the backing of the likes of Apple.
Having a cultural space where black women can create a social and professional network of support is important.
I hate to be the one to break out the statistics but they are needed to truly paint a picture here:
- So, according to recent Race report statistics published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, ethnic minorities suffer from the highest unemployment rates in the UK.
- And when we dive in deeper we see that according to government statistics amongst ethnic minorities the black community has the highest rate of unemployment (at 9%).
- Unemployments rates are highest amongst BAME 16-24-year-olds with the highest recorded rates being amongst black people (22%), compared to 10% amongst white 16-24-year-olds. Similarly, BAME women (9%) have a higher unemployment rate than their white counterparts (3.4%)
- Even in roles of employment black people are typically likely to be employed in roles theyâ€™re overqualified for. This is disappointing to discover considering the improvement weâ€™ve seen in black educational attainment. Yet despite better grades and degrees, there seems to be a mismatch since these are not helping black women secure the well-paid jobs they should be getting. I would love to speculate why, but thatâ€™s an article for another day.
Spotting a trend here? It is these obstacles that the black community face that make programs like Black Girl Fest Academy a much-needed thing in the community. Providing such opportunities helps to circumvent unemployment, prevents people from turning to crime and helps many lovely black women get a supportive start/boost to their professional career which they may not have gotten elsewhere.
The way Paula and Nicole have continued to make the Black Girl Fest brand thrive in the face of backlash is a lesson to us all. You canâ€™t please everybody in your endeavours but that doesnâ€™t have to stop you pursuing them and doing them brilliantly. So before you decide to pollute the internet with a racist or negative comment about such initiatives ask yourself; theyâ€™re doing something to help and better their community, what am I doing to help mine?
House of Commons Briefing Paper (no.6385) – Unemployment by ethnic background by Brigid Francis-Devine (18th December 2019)
Joseph Rowntree Foundation: Poverty and Ethnicity within the Labour Market by Debbie Weekes-Bernard (September 2017)