(black) People or Plastic?
It began so innocently. Recently after having an offer to work with a brand of pantyliners it inspired me to use instagram stories to ask if women wore a pantyliner everyday. Not that anyone should care but I do and I was shocked to find that over 80% of women do not but that data is not the point of this post. What came up a few times was how wasteful pantyliners were and how much damage they were doing to the earth. On a normal day I wouldn’t even get into a back and forth over sustainability and the environment, but that particular day, I was feeling tested. This tense feeling I had in my chest was primarily because on this sticky summers afternoon I had just finished recording a Women’s Hour Special which was all about trying to get to the bottom of why Black British Women were five times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. If you’ve engaged with anything I do online you will know that it’s a question I’ve tried to keep at the forefront of peoples minds for a while. So on this particular day, the effect pantyliners were having on the planet fell very low on my list of priorities and I couldn’t help but wonder aloud;
‘How is it that pantyliners seems to evoke a more spirited response than when I talk about things such as Black British women being five times more likely to die in childbirth?’
Admittedly the responses weren’t as abundant. And I completely understand that many feel affronted when you hold up a mirror to their privilege. But there were a few responses which helped confirm what I already knew.
‘I don’t know why but sustainability and the environment are just easier to get behind.’
‘You need to understand that us fighting for a better environment is for everybody and those most likely to suffer from pollution related illnesses are the BAME community, so that’s how I do my bit.’
‘To be honest I wouldn’t know where to start with campaigning about all of that stuff.’
‘It just feels like it’s not my place.’
And there we had it. I am very shortsighted. So poor is my eyesight that my glasses must be the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I remove at night but what is clear to see is that black bodies, primarily those whom unfortunately happen to have a vagina attached, fall very far down anyone’s list of priorities. From those within the NHS who have remained silent about those disgusting figures to the people who claim to be ‘powerless’ but find time in their day to repost memes about seals having plastic straws stuck in their noses, all of them seem to have a disregard for the public violence against black bodies in common.
I’ll be honest, I’m doing my bit. I’ve stopped using plastic straws. I keep a tote bag in my handbag just to remind me not to buy a plastic one at a nearby supermarket. I recycle and I try my best to encourage others around me to do so. But I don’t have the privilege of this being something I campaign for or hold at the forefront of my mind.
Oh the ease of only having to denounce people for their plastic use because should I fall pregnant I don’t have to worry about dying due of the colour of my skin (now is not the time but don’t let healthcare professionals mislead you into thinking that black women only die at higher rate than their white counterparts because they come to the maternal playing field with more health complications. Take it from a black woman who had her first child at 26, with a then healthy BMI and no prior health worries at all, in fact I was the fittest I had ever been. I almost died because no one wanted to believe my pain, period.)
Oh the joy at having the ability to choose what cause you’d like to advocate for.
Oh the merriment at perhaps deciding that you would rather be more vocal about plastic than people.
I’ve had this conversation with my black friends numerous times. We painfully giggle at how much safer and well equipped our lives would be if white people marched for us the way they do for endangered animals. But then the giggles dissolve as we remember that we are classed than less than any animal roaming this earth so holding our breaths will perhaps get a few of them to their desired end quicker.
Now don’t misconstrue my thoughts, I need people to care about the planet, really I do. But I just wish there was an ability to keep that same energy when it came to supporting and uplifting the lives of those that already inhabit the planet (and have a hard time living to their best potential) that most privileged people are working so damn hard to save. Imagine what a difference it would make to have more social media support in regards to getting better maternal health care for Black British women. As of writing this, I know of only three white women who have used their platforms, no matter their size to raise awareness about this.
And yet like a good friend mentioned yesterday;
“In 24hours some of you have managed to get a NATIONAL broadsheet (respectable) newspapers to comment on a supermarket’s choice of toys material.’
And yet the fact that black women die at the rate they do in the UK has been public knowledge since November 2018 and has yet to get the majority backing of women of all races really does upset me.
More to the point I personally get enraged when anyone dares to question my plastic use. Sis, I am perpetually preoccupied by living in unremovable cloak of black skin in a world which doesn’t rate it. With all I’ve got going on, is this really what you want me to go back and fourth about?
Once again, the privilege must be nice.
And yes there are those who will perhaps sit there and say, ‘Well I don’t know where to start.’
Miss me with the excuses babes.
Start exactly where you did when you first ever saw a picture of a seal stuck in a plastic bag. Take that anger and apply it to the lives of women you perhaps share workspaces with and maybe even call friends. If you cannot take the hurt you feel when you think about the irreversible damage being done to the planet and apply it to the irreversible damage being done to black women’s lives, then perhaps there is no conversation to be had at all. But if you really want to get stuck in and educate. Yourself in regards to the current human horrors happening in your won backyards and not ‘developing countries’ then be sure to listen to this episode of Women’s Hour which goes live on July 15th 2019.
For those who continue to, in some warped way, perpetuate the idea that trying to save the environment will do more for the lives of black women than actively campaigning that the NHS take a deeper look into why such an alarmingly high number of them enter the hospital through the maternity doors and exit via the morgue, are very blinkered dare I say it, foolish people.
And then there are the very few who will do their best to campaign for both.
‘Why does it have to be either, or?’ One woman responded.
It doesn’t. If you think that you can KTSE ( Keep The Same Energy) for turtles tangled in plastic beer can holders as you can the downtrodden lives of the most disrespected people on the planet; do your thing. And do it well because all of these movements need you.
But as for me, I’ll go on record with this. These movements, campaigns, fights whatever you want to title them, they aren’t built equally. There is no room for competition in my mind. The bulk of my energy and resources will always go towards trying to make the lives of black people better no matter how grand or petite the effort. Some could say that’s inconsiderate or racist within itself. I don’t care. If it came down to a fight between saving people or reducing plastic. I’m always going to choose the people.
Especially if they’re black.