Written by Emily Grenade
Illustrated by Emily Nash
It has been an extreme whirlwind of emotions for women in the UK this March. Starting from Monday 8th with International Women’s Day and the Meghan and Harry interview with Oprah Winfrey, then to the 10th with the confirmed death of Sarah Everard who went missing in Clapham, South London on the 3rd, to police violence at the London vigil on the 13th.
Wayne Couzens, a serving London Metropolitan Police officer, is now being charged with the murder of Sarah Everard. Everard’s death sparked protests and vigils across the UK to fight against male violence towards women and police brutality. In response to the protests and vigils, more women have been sharing their experiences in public places with men.
Black women, women of colour and transgender women always face copious amounts of abuse and harassment, but their voices appear to go undetected in the media.
Since Everard’s death, there has been a very visible difference in how injustices are represented in the media between white women and women of colour. The murders of Shukri Abdi, Blessing Olusegun, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and many other women and girls from marginalised communities have received an underwhelming lack of media attention and police investigation.
My university is 4 miles from where Sarah Everard was kidnapped, so my tutor decided it would be a good time to create a safe space to express our thoughts and feelings. During a meeting set up by my university, myself and 9 other students (8 women and 1 man) began discussing our own experiences dealing with generational misogyny, racism and sexual abuse from men.
Every single student had opened up about how at least once in their life, because of a man, they have experienced some form of injustice. There were points that were made that discussed why the media chose to give mass attention to Everard’s case such as: It happened near International Women’s Day, the perpetrator was a police officer, and it was a distraction from the government giving the nurses a 1% pay rise.
A main point that was raised by a student was that the reason why Black women and women of colour do not get the same media coverage is because the UK media is racist. An interesting point was also raised by a student who said: “It is because they do not fit the narrative and the face that the UK media wants”.
This made me think about all of the mass media coverage that other white women and children received over the last 20 years. Madeleine McCann, Milly Dowler, Céline Figard, to name a few, were some of the UK’s biggest cases of missing people and all of them fit the perfect narrative for the British media to use because they all fit the term “Missing White Woman Syndrome”, where the media only focus on white, ‘vulnerable’ and good-looking women and girls.
Western media publishes white women over other minorities because of their appearance, but also in the way they play their roles in society. When Black women and women of colour go missing, the news coverage will highly likely focus on the victim’s personal issues and completely focus on those reasons and not the perpetrator. Meanwhile, the coverage of white women tends to focus on their roles as a girlfriend, sister, hard-worker or mother.
I live on a predominantly white estate in London, and when the media released the news story on Shamima Begum in 2019, it was awful.
Shamima was 15 when she fled the UK to go to Syria to marry her husband. Shamima was born, groomed and radicalised when living in the UK. She was made to stand trial at 19 years old, after her baby had died in a refugee camp, to discuss whether or not she would be allowed to return home. The media chose to mostly portray her as a threat rather than a victim who was groomed and a child bride.
In comparison, the British media presented a white woman, Samantha Lewthwaite, as “mother of all terrorists” and describes her time in IS as a “double life” as she holds her baby.
How can we keep the voices of Black women and women of colour alive through the media?
As a Black woman, I don’t believe that Black women and women of colour will receive the same amount of media coverage as white women do by relying solely on national news.
For years, Black women, transgender women and women of colour have had to suffer at the hands of the people that were meant to keep them safe. It is sad that it took a white woman to be murdered by the police for people to finally believe those marginalised voices.
I also think an important thing to remember is that we are not dismissing the death of Sarah Everard. We are calling for the same media coverage and police investigation that white women receive because it is clear that it is not equal.
We can continue to remember those who are lost by not forgetting their names, remembering who they were and by reading and sharing their stories. Allow yourself to create and be involved in conversations that go against police brutality, racism, misogyny and violence towards all women. Protest in any way you can or feel comfortable that goes against the new policing bill on our human right to protest. We must keep our feminism intersectional so that we can push for change together.
Emily Grenade is a Black British artist from London, studying at Wimbledon College of Arts. Her work includes various forms of written material, embroidery and paintings that engage with subjects such as leftist political ideology, femininity, colour and sexual humour.
Edited by Stephanie Kleanthous