Over the last few weeks, I have hidden in the corners of this complex online world, watching narratives unfold and listening tentatively to voices that have waited far too long to be heard. Instagram has been bubbling with rich, informative yet somewhat uncomfortable discussions that have raised important questions about the distinct lack of representation for people of colour and more specifically, women of colour. These exchanges have brought it to the forefront of our attention and unpicked exactly why inclusivity really matters. I have been quietly overwhelmed with the outpouring of several marginalised voices as they have shared their truth, told their stories and highlighted the level of ignorance that sadly still exists.
I will admit I have sat on the sidelines, very much paying attention but confused about where I fit into all of this and what part (if any) I should play. I have wanted to comment but questioned whether it is my place to do so. I’ve been conscious of not appearing that I am ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ and expressing an opinion simply because it’s the thing to do. I have silently joined my sisters in solidarity behind the scenes, respecting their courage, their fight and passion but considered how I can reflect and unpick this more tangibly for my day to day life in the ‘real’ world.
I find myself in an unusual place as a White British Muslim, whereby I cannot deny the white privilege I have been born into, I know that I have been extremely fortunate and have had access and opened doors where others may not. However, I’m also aware that (now) I am judged as ‘other’ choosing to visibly present myself in the world as a Muslim woman. I am both privileged and discriminated against simultaneously. I have found myself, for the most part, accepted within Muslim communities albeit it with intrigue and endless questions and by equal measure, I am a source of fascination by my non Muslim counterparts. For me, this raises constant questions about the juxtaposition of my faith and my identity and how I should navigate and express this as I grow as a person. However, rarely do I scroll through the internet or flick through a glossy magazine and see ‘women like me.’
The beautiful Rabya from She Flourished said so poignantly in her blog post that we are constantly faced with opportunities to identify where we are in our learning about representation and inclusivity but what is important is to consider what we can do within our own realms to bring about change?
This led me to think about the conversations I’ve had with my daughter (I recently shared some of them on my Instagram Stories) about Race and equality. One of her favourite books is ‘I am Martin Luthar King Jr.’ and this always provokes an array of innocent questions. I may not be a huge influencer or have a platform strong enough to challenge ad campaigns or open closed minds but I am a mother and with that comes a responsibility, to carefully and consciously raise my children with an understanding of the impact that they can have in this world. I really adore the simplicity of children but to think that they don’t see colour or that we shouldn’t speak about it with them is hugely naive. Teaching children that we are or should all be equal is just as problematic as not addressing race at all, we need to equip them with the realities of approaching racism and inclusion. We must address the differences with our children in order to provide them with the tools and the language to navigate those differences with respect and compassion. But inspiring our children to be more inclusive as whole and balanced people is so much more than the words we teach them to say. It comes from the heart, it comes from how you show up within your own communities, how you engage and build relationships with people who may not look or sound like you.
The social environments in which we raise our children provide real, tangible, lived experiences of how we could and should interact with others. For me, establishing family life in the depths of London has come with many challenges, however, one of the great advantages is the exposure my children have to many different people from a beautiful array of cultural backgrounds. Yet, I would go a step further and say that simple ‘exposure’ is still not enough, we are not bystanders we are sharing space with all people. Whether that space be on social media platforms, a platform on the central line, the coffee shop down the road or the local library we share this space and that requires integration or at the very least, appreciation of anyone different to ourselves.
As well-intentioned and loving parents, we may say that we want diversity in our children’s lives, we may want them to be open and accepting and embrace all people of colour but do our actions, both inside and outside of our homes add up? What kind of places are you taking your children to? Which kind of activities are they signed up for? Do you take them to the theatre, to art galleries, to places that will teach them to question what it is that they see, to unpick it, challenge it and stand up against it if they must. Do you inspire them to look beyond the images they are surrounded by and interrogate the hidden meaning? Do you engage with them in activism or share in culturally specific celebrations? What stories are they being told to cultivate the context they need and what does representation look like in the books on our children’s shelves? Are their toys reflective of the world in which they live, are they open to imaginative, creative and diverse play? Much more than this we need to consider how we use our own language, how we respond to news events or simply retell the affairs of our day as we share a family meal. They listen, they hear, they notice.
Speaking our truth, exposing our vulnerabilities and sharing those lived experiences of discrimination in any form is a gift we can also give to our children. By unpicking these layers together we show them that people can be hurt by the actions of others and it’s ok to not be ok. The foundations for the development of their emotional intelligence are laid when we trust them with these big conversations regardless of how old they are. No matter how much we try to offer our children a rich and diverse upbringing, the world in which they grow is still full of subtle racist messages and if we don’t talk to them and support them in developing their own identity how can we expect them to openly embrace the identities of others. There is always work to be done.
I am so grateful to the women who opened these much-needed discussions. They have all pushed me to better my own engagement on these issues and through my discomfort in tackling the complexity, I’ve been driven to further consider the power I have as a mother. Together, I hope that we can inspire a generation that will grow to be more mindful, conscious human beings and when asked about representation, diversity, and inclusion, our children will know exactly why it matters.
If you would like to refer to any of the articles that have inspired my thinking for this post they can be found via the following links.
Rabya at She Flourished: Representation Matters And Other Thoughts
Huma at Our Story Time: Why simple living and minimalist lifestyles need to be more inclusive
Huma at Our Story Time: Reflections on Inclusivity
Atia at The Bright Blooms: About Being Inclusive