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'Where is everyone?'

Meet Liv Little, the force behind gal-dem, the online magazine by women of colour that is shaking up the media. The times they are a-changin’ and Liv is in the vanguard. Look out world, here she comes!

How did you come up with the name ‘gal-dem’?

Gal-dem is a signifier of refreshing, open, chatty conversations. I felt that phrase was representative of my generation of black women growing up in London, saying that you were going to meet your girls or your gal-dem. That fit in with the kind of community I wanted to create.

I’m wondering what shaped your mind so you were able to see a problem – the lack of women of colour in the media – and think ‘I’m going to change this'?

I didn’t view gal-dem as changing the demographic of the media. I viewed it as a lifeline. I’m 24 now. When I launched gal-dem I was 22 and in my final year at Bristol University and I didn’t really fit into that space.

Why was that?

I was surrounded by the elite. I mean I’ve had lots of opportunities that other people haven’t had. I went to private schools and I would notice some disparity in background between me and the people around me. But at Bristol things were different. That was a step-change of rich. These students had parents with banks in their names, they owned restaurant chains, mansions in the country. And then at home in London I was in a city where there were lots of black people around, there were black people at my school.

Were you the only woman of colour in your year at Bristol?

I was the only one in my seminars. And often in lectures it was just me and this other girl. Basically I was alone, or almost, in a sea of white.

I was alone, or almost, in a sea of white

Did you feel comfortable at private school in London?

There were moments where I felt out of line or where my blackness was questioned. But I feel fortunate that my mum gave me the education she wasn’t able to have. I saw the sacrifices she made so I could have the best education.

My mum instilled in me that my voice is just as important as any other. Her message was: 'I want you to challenge those born into a system that tells them they can achieve anything. Whereas the same can’t be said of what society tells black women.'

My mum instilled in me that my voice is just as important as any other

So your mum instilled a belief in your ability to challenge the system?

Yeah. My mother took me to the Iraq War protest when I was eight. My auntie and uncle worked for Amnesty International, and my mother was also in the third sector. I didn’t realise at first that they were instrumental in shaping my mind towards an interest in politics. But they definitely were. And then as I learned more, I realised there were some political issues I cared about more strongly than others, and they tended to be related to women.

And then you went to Bristol to study politics and sociology?

Yeah. And I didn’t discover the community I needed until the end, when I reached out and found all these other women of colour in the city, who had also been feeling ‘where is everyone?’

gal-dem is a signifier of refreshing, open, chatty conversations, a phrase representative of my generation of black women

What were you hoping it would achieve?

Gal-dem is about figuring out which voices are being missed out of the mainstream but should be heard. It started online because the internet is free and now we’re also in print once a year. I would like to use more film now. In terms of shareability, film is one of the most powerful tools. Alongside doing gal-dem I trained in TV and I’m now starting at the BBC as an assistant commissioner.

Would you describe gal-dem as a feminist project?

For myself, I would. But I know other black women who would call themselves a womanist or have some other phrase to describe their stance because feminism has not always been particularly intersectional. My girlfriend, for example, has found feminism to have a white face. A lot of people take scholarship from bell hooks, from Patricia Hill Collins, and Toni Morrison, so I can understand why women of colour might choose different terminologies.

I know other black women who would call themselves a womanist because feminism has not always been particularly intersectional

But if I look at my little sister, who is twelve, she has a T-shirt that says 'this is what a feminist looks like' and she was proud to show it to me. I feel attitudes are changing. I feel like my little sister is much more woke than I was at the age of twelve.

Is that down to the internet?

Yeah I think so. Social media is a powerful tool – we can create our own content and share things in a way that my mum and her generation couldn’t.

Can you define your feminism?

Feminism should prioritise those voices that have been the most marginalised; trans women, black women.

#MeToo was started by a black woman called Tarana Burke, and it was started with specific reasons in mind. But then some of the faces off of these movements become very distant from the people they were intended to protect in the first place.

It’s all very well to talk about how this BBC presenter is getting paid less than this one. But we shouldn’t just be looking at those who are already protected by the system. Let’s talk about the sexism women experience on a daily basis in less glamourous jobs. I’m thinking of waitressing, which I did when I was younger.

Feminism should prioritise those voices that have been most marginalised, trans women, black women

If women in the BBC are standing up for their rights as women, at the same time as waitresses are standing up for their rights as women, isn’t that joined-up feminism?

Yeah but there should be as much media coverage of what women across the board are facing in terms of misognynoir, racism and sexism. These issues shouldn’t just be spotlighted if a woman is deemed to have an important profile.

So at gal-dem we shine a spotlight on those whose stories are given less coverage. And the mainstream media also has a responsibility to give space to a wider range of voices. Look outside of yourself and your experience as much as you can.

Look outside of yourself and your experience as much as you can

What‘s happened since you launched gal-dem?

It has been a very quick upward trajectory. Within a few months we were featured on ASOS and then we did a takeover of the V & A. In August we did a takeover issue of the Guardian Weekend, which was mega.

We are also looking right now at getting financed to make gal-dem more sustainable, and hoping to open up offices in other countries. Our demographic has grown, so yes 60% of our readership is here, but 20% is based in America. Canada is another big readership, also Germany, France. I want to bring those voices in.

Do you feel gal-dem has come along at a time when there is a step change? When things are really opening up for people of colour in Britain?

Politically, no. Here and in America things are regressing. Having said that, my mother says this is the most brilliant time to be a woman of colour in terms of visibility. And this means that the next generation of women see that and can say ‘Ok, so she works in film, so I could do that,’ or ‘OK, there’s Diane Abbott, the first female MP of colour, so I could do that too.’

Visibility is so important in shifting people’s mind-sets. Not just the mind-sets of women of colour, but also of white people. Racism is entrenched within this society. We are dealing with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of entrenched ideas around what black people are and are capable of, whether people are conscious of it or not. There are so many unconscious biases still to be overcome.

Susan Irvine

Susannah Baker-Smith