Lovelies, may I introduce you to Summer Queen, an embroidery pattern for beginners celebrating black beauty and the florals of summer, which you can now buy in my Etsy shop…
Just like Power of Love, Summer Queen has been in my psyche for a while, years in fact. I first sketched a lady with an afro about 5 years ago, using the profile of my oldest daughter’s face. She has been with me ever since, waiting so patiently for my mind, my voice and my self belief to catch up with my heart. Just like with Power of Love she has evolved. Her face looks a little different and she now exists in thread with a summer flower afro! Hollyhocks, daisies and roses are featured and are a pleasure to stitch I must say. Just 5 basic embroidery stitches will complete this design.
She reminds me and was perhaps even subconsciously inspired by Wambui (pronounced Wam-boo-ee), a close Kenyan friend of my parents’, who I remember visiting us when I was a child. She was a tall, elegant woman, with beautiful, smooth, dark brown skin (to rival my father’s) and a large, stunning afro!
Whilst we still lived in London when I was a child, my parents had wonderful gatherings, where our friends from North London and Dad’s Kenyan friends would laugh, eat and dance the night away together to an eclectic range of music. Still to this day when I hear a Bob Marley track, it takes me back to those days and I am filled with nostalgia. If we were lucky my Dad would let us balance on his feet, with our arms around his waist and he would dance with us. I know that the Kenyan women, like Wambui, who were around in those early years of my life, have influenced me and helped me to identify with and be proud of the colour of my skin and my African heritage.
The thing is, although my life and upbringing have luckily always been multicultural and our parties were a wonderful reflection of that, the wider world outside our walls was not the same. The beautiful African women who visited us would not have been treated as the queens they were in wider society. In addition to racism, which is far from an isolated experience for black people, rather a continuous part of life both explicit and insidious, they and I wouldn’t very often have seen faces like ours on the tv, in advertisements, in magazines, newspapers, in books etc and certainly not in a positive light anyway.
Of course, there were and are exceptions, however to illustrate here is just one example. When I was little and it was mine or my brother’s birthday, my mother would hunt for greeting cards that were representative. She would scour the shops but to no avail and so she would resort to colouring in the card so that the little girl or boy became brown. She thought it was important for us to see ourselves. It became a bit of a joke in our family, but in fact when my eldest turned 17 this year and my husband was unable to find a birthday card in our supermarket with the image of a brown person on it, we did the same. We may have laughed as my husband changed the colour of the skin of the woman on the Quentin Blake illustrated card to brown, but really it isn’t funny, fair or equal.
This may seem like a silly example, but it is just one example of just one industry that does not see fit to widely feature and promote black and brown people. Now multiply that by all the industries where human beings are overtly featured (advertising, film, tv, print media, literature, theatre) and you have widespread inequality and a lack of representation. In fact what you actually have is systemic and structural racism. When the view is that using someone who is black or brown to appear on a product, in a tv show, as a presenter etc, will negatively affect the sale or viewing of that product, you not only have racism (and cowardice I would add) within the organisation but it is also a reflection of the racism in society. There are people who do not want to see a black person reading the news. The effects of the lack of representation are negative both for black people and society as a whole. This inequality tells us that we are not worthy, clever, competent, enough or beautiful. And if we believe it, it becomes internalised.
For centuries black people have been told and shown through the acts of slavery, colonialism, structural racsim and white supremacy which underpins them all, that they are not beautiful, they are not enough, they are less than. In fact the dehumanisation of black people which still continues to this day has been used to justify these practices and systems. Notably, scientists during slavery (and in an effort to prevent the abolition of slavery) wrote reports picking apart the features and ‘traits’ of black people, stating the ways in which they were scientifically inferior. These attitudes are still with us today and are held by many people. Just think how the Prime Minister here in the UK described black people.
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder has been fed an idea of beauty that isn’t the black body, the black face or the black woman. The beholder has been taught to recognise and therefore be comfortable with a particular type of beauty, white beauty. White beauty is still to such a large extent the acceptable, mainstream form of beauty that is promoted, seen as superior and held up as the ideal to aspire to. I am hopeful that things are changing, but I am watching closely to see whether the recent statements of support for racial equality and inclusivity by well known and lesser known brands, are backed up by action. Of course we can continue to hold them to account and ask questions about the lack of representation.
My efforts to raise awareness of racial inequality through my creative endeavours and stories are small but they are important. Love and positivity, rather than hate and anger, as always are at the core of what I do. So even though what I have written about here in this post makes me angry and upset, love wins. And I am full to overflowing with love for the beautiful queens of my past and those of my present (I hope you know who you are), who have and continue to inspire and influence me to rise up, to find my voice and to be proud of who I am. I dedicate Summer Queen to them. I stitched my Summer Queen to stand for beauty and equality and I stitched her to represent. She has sisters waiting in the wings for their time to shine too.
BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL.
With love, warmth and light always,