I am an individual that labels myself as Black, British, queer and a woman, a multifaceted individual living in a Heteronormative society. Growing up in North London and socialised into a traditional West African household, I can confidently say that there was a strong presence of being African and understanding what it means to be a Black woman living in Britain.
I was constantly reminded that education was the key to success which was one of the prominent reasons why my parents decided to migrate to Britain. They wanted to ensure that their future children would have a ‘better education’, which in their minds meant going to a British university. Every time my mum was contacted by my teachers explaining that I was not working to my full potential, I was reminded of the importance of education and if I was not going to take school seriously and be the class clown, then there was a space waiting for me in a boarding school in Kumasi, Ghana.
I remember being in primary school and questioning what queer meant. (During the early 2000s the term ‘gay’ was used more frequently to describe anyone who wasn’t straight). My mother’s view reflected the traditional views on homosexuality within the West African community which meant being gay was a lifestyle choice that had been introduced to Africans by the white man (whatever that means). I had two options, I could either question my sexuality further and face the consequences or I could be passive and go along with what my parents wanted.
My mum sent me to an all-girls Catholic school because she wanted me to focus and not be distracted by boys. Great decision mum! I was surrounded by various communities that expressed their cultural identities. The West African girls debating about which Jollof rice tastes better, the Caribbean girls listening to the latest dancehall song on their phones (that could only record one song at that time). The English girls who all seemed to live on Essex Road, coming into school with their latest designer clothes to the Asian girls, mostly consisting of Filipinos, chilling and always speaking about the Philippines and how amazing it is there: definitely on the bucket list!
As much as we came together as a community, when we spoke in our groups regarding our sexuality, there were derogatory names used to label an individual who was not deemed to be straight especially amongst the Black girls. I remember when one of our peers came out as a lesbian which resulted in her being bullied. I am not proud to say this however my internal homophobia had come to the surface, as I was socialised to believe that being queer was wrong. It was a new world to me that I wanted to be a part of, however, I did not know how to.
After secondary school, I did what was expected of me by my parents which was to attend a British university and get a degree. I remember seeing my lecturers who were all male and white, no representation of queerness let alone a person of colour. I decided to venture and look for representation within the academic field. Along that journey, I came across Audre Lorde and her work automatically resonated with me.
Lorde’s work allowed me to think deeply about the inequality that exists, the very notion that there is a lack of clear representation for Black Queer women within the education system. I couldn’t find a British Audre Lorde to explain the hierarchy of oppression from a Black British queer female perspective. We live in a multicultural society, we interact with various cultures every day, yet this is not representative of the literature that we read and teach within schools. I have to go searching to understand who I am. Enough is enough, and I want to make a difference.
I decided to become a teacher and become a clear representation of a Black British queer academic. Within this, I have been able to shape, mould and influence young people’s opinions on what needs to happen in order to strive for equality. As a sociology teacher, I have ensured that young people are educated about ways to decolonise the curriculum so they can learn from a curriculum that represents them. The representation of Black British queer women within the education system is non-existent and creates a false narrative that we do not exist or play a crucial role in Britain culture.
Being a teacher allowed me to educate those within the school community however, it was not enough for me. I decided to complete my MA dissertation on the representation of Black British Queer women within the British Education system. The first-ever academic paper on this topic in Britain!
This paper was completed to ensure that we do not have young people believing that Black British Queer women do not exist within education. The participants that decided to join the focus group discussion expressed the importance of representation within schools, empowering one another, creating networks and building the community to highlight the distinctive representation that should and will be celebrated.
My overall goal is to ensure that we have clear representation within British education by having a diverse range of resources and voices to educate young people. By enabling this, we will be able to dismantle the ignorance, racism and prejudiced views that some of our young people have. The more space that is created, the louder and more powerful our voices will become in ensuring that we are heard and we are seen. I want to say that although my research and what I represent focuses on Black British Queer women, it can also be visualised as a supportive piece to anyone who feels like an outsider within education. Let us come together to ensure our voices are heard!