Notebook on Equality Britain

Quietly, model Black women are building sisterly bonds


When Black women sing praisesongs to empower communities across the African diaspora we all ought to listen. Especially when the women are high achieving educators, broadcasters, writers, fashion icons, and  policymakers in Britain, and Africa’s First Ladies.

Witness the paeans of affection for Dame Jocelyn Barrow, teacher and civil libertarian, by prominent Black women at her tribute dinner in London, in April.

Among the celebrants were Baroness Scotland, the UK’s attorney general, Baroness Amos, the ex-leader of the House of Lords and first Black woman British cabinet minister, publisher, author and broadcaster Margaret Busby, and Moira Stuart, Britain’s pioneering Black woman news presenter.

They applauded Dame Barrow’s 50-year career. In the 1960’s when many Black educators were keeping their heads down, she helped lead the earliest civil rights group, the Campaign against Racial Discrimination. Without CARD, some, say the Race Relations Act of 1968 would never have passed.

Later, she rose up in the bastions of power; she chaired the Broadcasting Standards Council, and was the first Black woman to be a governor of the BBC, famously described as “all-white middle class and male”.

In her long career, Dame Barrow received Empire awards for her work in education and community relations, and in European social and economic affairs.

Many praise her report ‘Delivering shared heritage’, for the Mayor’s Commission on African and Asian Heritage (MCAAH) 2005, that defended diversity and the contribution of London’s many communities.

The praisesong for empowerment — one of the most widely used poetic forms in Africa — has its bards across the diaspora.

 Super-rich model Naomi Campbell lent her celebrity to the voices of Africa’s first ladies at a health summit held in Los Angeles in April. The two-day summit brought Campbell and the wives of African leaders together with U.S. experts, key political figures and aid organizations to create ongoing partnerships on health, women’s issues and HIV/AIDS.

The first ladies envisioned a new dawn in African development in their countries: Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Swaziland and Zambia.

Significantly, they all agreed: “Empowering Africa’s first ladies is an innovative approach to bettering the lives of millions of Africans.”

Quietly, Black women are laying the foundations of innovative cooperation. Black communities everywhere, hammered by the recession, credit crunch and underemployment, need the high-flyers to represent their cause before hope evaporates and fears thrive.

Hailing Black women in education, broadcasting, politics and public affairs should give them inspiration. Black critics offer words of caution, however: “Do their sentiments foster actions to alleviate the problems of Black people in hostile environments? Joining the ranks of power and privilege is all for naught if leading personalities fail as drum majors for Black achievement.

 If, however, the emerging “sisterhood” can ramp up the levels of shared expertise, resources and skillsets, in Africa and the diaspora, and if this ultimately translates into political influence and social capital, then a chorus of new voices will be heard in the praisesong for Black people.

© Thomas L Blair, Chronicleworld weblog 2009

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