Heidi Mirza: ‘Black British feminism then and now’

Full article here (Media Diversified, March 23, 2014).


‘Matters of working together have been, and continue to be, central to feminist of colour projects. Chitra Nagarajan, a feminist activist and writer has asserted the need for “…working towards a linked liberation, where the achievement of one ‘set of’ rights is conditioned and incomplete without the achievement of all others”. A very basic reality is that the forces of structural racism and sexism are always shifting, creating new forms of ‘othering’. Because of the aliveness of inequality and oppression, black women’s activism will be necessarily contingent. We will always need to forge and renew not only who we work with but how. As the PhD student Nidya Swaby explained at the Girton College conference, “Black feminism has also taught me how to be a better ally, because it insists that if I remain silent on issues that do not directly affect me, I become an accomplice to inequality and injustice.”’


 My researchon the educational activism of black African Caribbean mothers who set up black ‘supplementary schools’ to resist the racism their children met in mainstream state schools, constitutes one such space or ‘quiet riot’. These women-centred initiatives have helped to build resilience within communities, but are rarely recognized in a world that privileges the spectacle of aggressive, masculine forms of social resistance, acted out on the streets or in the public sphere. In their own versions of citizenship struggle, the women that I met, drew upon their resourcefulness and social networks to promote long-term social transformation through their children’s education. Today there are about 50 black supplementary schools in England. The first such school met in a church, showing something of the rich history of the relationships between race, gender and faith in some of the women’s lives, although control of the schools was never given over to religious leaders.’

* Heidi Safia Mirza and Diane Reay (2000) ‘Spaces and Places of Black Educational Desire: Rethinking Black Supplementary Schools as a New Social Movement’, Sociology, 34(3): 521-544.

Abstract: ‘Black supplementary schools, as organic grassroots organisations, are not simply a response to mainstream educational exclusion and poor provision, as they are so often described. They are far more radical and subversive than their quiet conformist exterior, indicating the presence of a covert social movement for educational change. In our small-scale, exploratory study of four black supplementary schools, we attempt to uncover their subjugated knowledges and hidden histories in order to illustrate the ways in which they generate Mueller’s `oppositional meanings’. The narratives of the black women educators consistently decentre assumptions of mainstream schooling, as well as providing evidence of thriving black communities, social capital and complex, contradictory pedagogies within which childcentredness remains an important component. Supplementary schools provide a context in which whiteness is displaced as central and blackness is seen as normative. We conclude by arguing that, through their strategies of reworking notions of both community and blackness, their creation of new `types’ of professional intellectuals and their commitment to social transformation, black supplementary schools represent the genesis of a new gendered social movement.’