• Coco Majari

"Ain't I A Woman?": Women's History Month in Colour - Ashlee McIntosh

The phrase "Ain't I a Woman" derives from a speech by Sojourner Truth, a Black woman enslaved, which speaks to a history where non-white women were excluded from the hegemonic definitions of womanhood and erased in discourses on women's rights activism. This special #WomensHistoryMonth2021 blog series highlights exceptional #WomenOfColour.

Ashlee McIntosh

Hi. My name is Ashlee McIntosh. I’m a 2020 English literature and Theatre graduate from Royal Holloway University. Upon graduation, I have been keeping busy with dance, studying the subject full-time, and I’m beginning to sell my crafts online!

A not-so-secret fact about me: I love kid-shows and princesses!

Currently, I’m making my way through Waffles and Mochi on Netflix. Michelle Obama plus genuinely interesting food, a diverse cast and a cute, non-verbal Japanese snack shaped puppet as one of the main protagonists equates to great children’s programming. Moreover, the show gives off major 90’s vibes! It truly has its funny moments. In addition, I have to give it major props for being the first pre-school show, that I’ve seen, to discuss topics such as slavery. I strongly recommend you give it a watch.

Proudest Moments/ achievements?

That’s hard! Hmmm, well four come to my mind instantly, so I guess I should go with my gut and talk about these.

In no particular order, my proudest moments are as follows:

1. Getting a first in my degree.

When I saw my mark, I was breathless. I really wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real. I had always been quite tough on myself about grades from an early age so when I didn’t get straight A’s at GCSES and no A’s at A level, I felt pretty disappointed. It’s interesting, when I stopped trying to find my worth in my grades, my ‘end of year’ grade (well in this case) degree grade was a better reflection of what I believed my capability to be.

2. Passing my intermediate ballet exam

It was hard. The exam content was challenging. There were many, many tears. I remember having a massive argument with my mum in the car park. I think I told her I wanted to quit dance all together and start ice-skating instead. She told me “G-wan then, I’m not stopping you.” We both sat in silence, and then I asked her to drop me to ballet training that evening.

Though I wanted her to, my mum didn’t baby me in that moment. I’m glad she didn’t. I took that exam a few months before university started and passed with a merit.

3. Choosing to study dance professionally

It has always been in the back of my mind. After graduating I had to decide what I wanted to go after. With some encouragement from my friends, I went for the thing I’ve always wanted to pursue.

4. Acting properly

I could be quite shy as a kid, so when I chose to act properly at school, I felt nervous.

I’m so glad I embraced the fear and did it anyway!

Considering Your Race and Gender, What Hardships Have You Faced and How Have You Managed to Overcome Them?

Many, and I’m still battling with them. The hardest thing for me is that we aren’t listened to or acknowledged in the same way that other demographics are. It’s one thing to be ignorant of an issue, education can rectify that. It’s another thing entirely when we are highlighting an issue and it’s simply not believed or written off. We are disbelieved, by ‘friends’, authorities and institutions. This is when it becomes an empathy problem, and I’ve learnt I can’t make others truly care about black women- about me- if they just chose not to. It’s been a difficult lesson to learn.

Education has this great ability to pull out empathy from others. Moreover, when one empathizes they tend to do some research. Education and empathy go hand in hand! Over the years, I like to think I have become more open to learn about race relations in the UK from others. Having conservations and reading helps me to get a better gauge on where the

different ideas on race come from. I used to work in nurseries a lot, so would spend time listening to kids talk about skin tones and hear how they relate it to themselves and others. There’s been many eye-opening, truly hilarious and touching moments. I’m always thinking and reading up on ways to explore race with young children, there’s some great Montessori schools in the USA that have been putting anti-racist programs together for years.

I think working with young kids gives me hope, too. They wear their empathy on their sleeves

with a greater humility. Adults can get into the habit of fighting or hiding theirs. This whole “I don’t have a racist bone in my body” claim that adults spew out gets old. If someone is brave enough to highlight the overt or codified racism you have done or said, don’t attack, listen then respond. People are complex, one can believe in equality as an ideal, but not everything they say, think or do may live up to it. Generally, I think kids are more open to this idea, adults not so much. If the kids I teach can take this openness and humility into adulthood, well look out world!

What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

You are a smart, awesome girl. I’m so proud of you!

P.S Give people a piece of your mind once in a while. I know you want to, so just do it. You’ll survive.

What Advice Would You Give to Young Women of Colour Who Are Confronted by Their Race and Gender in Various Areas of Society?

Be proud when you stand up for yourself, and don’t be too critical when you didn’t find the right words today. Unfortunately, there will be other times for you to practice.

Never let others stop you from doing the right thing. Time is always the best judge; some won’t understand your points now but they may in the future.

Where Can We Learn More About You?

@IamashleeMcintosh on insta.

As a black dancer, finding flesh colored, AFFORDABLE dance gear can be a struggle, especially New Yorkers (Broadway heels). They just don’t make it for non-white people in the UK- I’ve checked!

Will this equity issue become a business venture? TBC..