14 of the most inspirational British women of colour you should know about
By Jasmine Dotiwala | Metro |
Last week I wrote a blog highlighting why I think British black women are not valued by our society, or globally, in the way that they deserve to be.
In order for the stereotypes to cease, we, the media, and society need to champion success stories from diverse communities in the mainstream more.
When the younger generation see themselves reflected positively in society, they too aspire to follow in their predecessors’ footsteps.
The fact that BAME women face struggles with perception every day is draining.
I am often drained in a way my Caucasian friends will never understand or experience.
The insinuations, awkward slips of the tongue, judgements and more.
Life takes on a whole new battle when you are a woman of colour.
Yet, while it is often posed to me in interview questions as a disadvantage or hindrance, my ethnicity has always given me the biggest breaks.
I love being ‘British African Asian/other’.
My peers who are also from various cultural backgrounds are proud, strong and achieving great things in society.
Let me highlight just 14 of hundreds of the UK’s most incredible, underrated leading British women of colour.
Nigerian-born, British singer, songwriter and producer Helen Folasade Adu, gained worldwide fame as the lead vocalist of the English band Sade.
She’s not just one of Britain’s most successful solo artists in history, with hip hop legends such as Missy Elliott and R&B legends Beyonce and Aaliyah all citing Sade as their influence, but she’s totally underrated.
Her peers are lauded regularly.
Where is the love for Sade?
Even the Queen recognises!
She’s been honoured with an OBC and CBE and her acceptance speech included the words, ‘A great gesture to me and all black women in England’.
2. Sharon White
Sharon has worked her way up the British civil servant ladder but is currently the chief executive of the British media regulator Ofcom.
She was the first black person, and the second woman, to become a permanent secretary at the Treasury.
Basically, Sharon is like the chief police official of the media in the UK.
All the broadcast and digital media in the UK.
3. Shirley Thompson
Shirley is an English composer of Jamaican descent.
In 2004, she became the first woman in Europe to have composed and conducted a symphony within the past 40 years.
She was also the first woman to compose and musically direct music for a major drama series at the BBC.
She’s been nominated for and won an array of awards from honourable establishments including the Arts Council and Southbank Centre.
Debunking the myth that black folks only do soul, hip-hop and R&B, she is a groundbreaking classical music leader who walks alone.
4. Shaminder Nahal
Shaminder was deputy editor at the BBC on Newsnight and other shows, before being whisked across to be deputy editor at Channel 4 News.
She has a reputation for heavyweight journalism.
During her time at Channel 4 News, the show won the Royal Television Society award for News Programme of the Year twice, and a BAFTA for its coverage of the Paris terror attacks.
Her colleagues admire her consistent championing of diverse stories and content.
Now she is a now a commissioner at Channel 4.
She was also reportedly partly the inspiration behind Emily Mortimer’s portrayal of a TV news producer in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
Mortimer, who knew Shaminder from her days at Oxford University, described her as: ‘not the ball-breaking type at all; she’s just passionate about what she does… She doesn’t let anyone off the hook – ever.’
In a world where women of colour are rare visible gems in the broadcast industry, she is my hero.
5. Angie Le Mar
Angie is a British comedian, actor, writer, director, presenter and producer – and hilarious funny.
She was the first British black performer to appear at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre and had the first ever sell-out show by a female black comedian in London’s West End.
From stand-up shows, to theatre plays that she’s written, she’s a soldier and not afraid to call out injustices where she see’s them.
Where the mainstream hasn’t invited her, she has created her own unique path, which see’s theatres across the UK sold out for her one-woman shows.
Now that’s ballsy.
6. Jessica Huie
Jessica defined her own future when she couldn’t find greeting cards that reflected the diverse population of the UK and her own family.
So instead of whinging about it, she set up her own company and founded the multicultural greeting-card company, Color blind cards.
It’s the first company to supply mainstream greeting-card retailers in the UK with cards that celebrated racial and ethnic diversity.
You can find it in the UK, South Africa, and the US market.
For BAME communities to see themselves reflected in this way does the world of good for our souls.
7. Gina Yashere
Another comedian that has broken barriers with her many TV appearances, she became the first Briton to perform on Def Comedy Jam in America.
She’s also appeared on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and Live At The Apollo, as well as being a semi-regular on the primetime The Jay Leno Show.
Earlier this year, she became the newest British correspondent for The Daily Show too.
Just another example (Idris Elba, Steve McQueen, Estelle, Aml Ameen etc) of the British industry not recognising what they had on their own doorstep.
Our loss is America’s gain.
8. Taponeswa Mavunga
Taponeswa is the Head of Publicity at Columbia Records UK.
Before this she had moved her whole life from London to South Africa for a couple of years to be the head of talent and music for MTV Africa and BET Africa.
Before that she was a senior publicity manager at Atlantic Records UK overseeing and winning awards for her talent: names such as Ed Sheeran, Jay Z, Sean Paul, Estelle and Rudimental.
As well as that she’s a passionate champion for the Afrobeats movement and a mother.
She began her music career as a receptionist.
9. Paola Lucktung
If you know the UK sports and music industries you know Paola.
From championing music talent and music events with her former brand, adidas, to setting up her own consultancy agency this year, this conduit in the inner circle of fashion, sports and music is known to all the key influencers on both sides of the pond.
She has played an integral part in supporting UK music talent such as Stormzy, Estelle and more.
Juggling artists and their diva-like agendas daily, her co-sign ensures success.
10. Ayesha Hazarika
Ayesha straddles the worlds of politics, comedy and media seamlessly.
Her journey from a Labour special adviser to current commentator and feminist champion means she has an abundance of stories and insights to share.
And she does.
Ayesha is genuinely funny with a sharp, outrageous wit.
She was born and brought up in Lanarkshire, to Indian parents and faced down hecklers in clubs.
Her columns are hilarious and she pops up on at least 200 TV politics shows weekly with her sparkling banter.
An always informed, warrior-woman you want on your side.
11. Anne-Marie Imafidon
Anne-Marie is a British computing, mathematics and language child prodigy.
She is one of those annoying kids that passed all her exams really early.
Like practically still a foetus.
As an adult she founded and became CEO of Stemettes in 2013, a social enterprise promoting women in STEM careers, and was made an MBE last year.
She was BCS (British Computer Society) Young IT professional of the year in 2013.
In a world where young black girls aren’t championed into a science or tech career, she is a pioneer, changing the status quo, so that BAME youth can compete on an equal platform.
That’s super-dope, right?
12. Eunice Olumide
Eunice is one of the first black Scottish models to break through in the fashion industry and has gone from commuting from Edinburgh, and sleeping on friends’ couches, to modeling for the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Mulberry and Alexander McQueen.
She’s also a recipient of an MBE.
Outside of modeling, Eunice is an experienced DJ, has opened her own gallery and is passionate about broadcasting.
She is an incredible role model for young girls who may think they don’t fit in due to racial and regional stereotypes.
Much of her career has been spent fundraising for charities including Children’s Hospice Scotland, Vivienne Westwood’s Climate Revolution, Fuel Poverty Action, The Well Foundation and The Columbus Hospice, as well as working with big brands such as The Body Shop and Vivienne Westwood.
She is currently the ambassador for Zero Waste Scotland and Breakthrough Breast Cancer TLC, joining the ranks of Kate Moss, Edith Bowman, Twiggy, Alan Carr, and Sharon and Kelly Osborne.
13. Annika Allen
Annika is a woman who leads and hosts seminars to empower other women.
She is also the co-founder of The Colour Network, a digital TV network housing short films, web series, interviews and music from the UK.
Her aim is to promote as many actors; filmmakers, writers, musicians, producers and directors as possible.
She says: ‘The future is in colour. Be a part of it!’
Wanting to see more women empowered and celebrated, The Colour Network is hosting The Black Magic Awards in September at Hackney Empire, an awards show that will honour 15 inspirational women of colour.
14. Carla Marie Williams
Carla is a singer who – after years being a part of, and managing, a girl group – chose to make her mark by songwriting.
Her notable songs include Beyoncé’s Freedom, Naughty Boy’s Runnin’ and Britney Spears’ Private Show.
She was nominated for two Grammy Awards for her work on Beyoncé’s Lemonade album and she’s a Brit Award winner.
After being fed up of the male-dominated music industry, Carla founded the Girls I Rate movement to help, empower and support women.