When Suzanne Dhaliwal wrote this response to my concerns over mental health stigma in the workplace, I began to wonder how many times I had met other women of colour within the activist networks who had recited the same story: the same feeling of not belonging, not quite knowing where they could be placed within this so-called “alternative” society, and why they felt ostracised while so many others found it so easy to participate.
This is also my story, where I have been called out for using the racism card, ignored for challenging ethnocentric analyses, and been criticised for placing some importance to my family. That is why for the past couple of years, I’ve bowed out of activism, choosing instead to try and find somewhere else my skills would be valued. What I learned, however, was that they were certainly not to be found within the workplace or in mainstream political parties – at least not when meshed with my moral and political values.
The problem with all these places, and specifically activism, is that people think it is simply acceptable to “add-colour-and-stir” without actually changing anything about the way in which they behave and organise, let alone think. Underlying this is a seemingly rigid set of (unspoken) beliefs that, if challenged, leave you out of this ‘alternative’ society, or simply branded as not having the ‘right politics’.
For example, I have found that within my grandparents’ generation of Asian society, there is a huge onus on owning your own home. My grandfather’s pride in being ‘uncolonised’ comes from the fact that he can afford to live in a non-ghettoised area, and decide what he wants to do with that land rather than have it decided for him. Is that capitalist? Perhaps, but it is also a sense of liberation from imperialism and racism. Similar stories come out of Eastern Europe, where the use of ‘comrade’ and other Soviet-era discourse is highly related to tales of disadvantage and dictatorship, not the friendly left-wing banter many link it to.
If activists in the UK really desire diversity, which I sometimes question anyway, they need to be able to make radical changes to the way they organise. They need to be much more open and welcoming, acknowledging privilege and also making sure that those silenced voices now speaking are actually listened to. And that this is converted into change. Flexibility as well as reflexivity is essential here, with efforts made to really challenge and open up ‘radicalism’ into the actual radical.
As Suzanne says, this is the only way we are going to change the world – by being able to converse and bring in everyone, not retain this endless homogeneity by thinking that we are somewhat in the right (above all others).
That is why I propose that any woman (in the broadest possible sense) of colour, or anyone who is feeling ostracised for being ‘different’ should join hands with others, and that we fight this battle together rather than alone. Supporting each other, we can find spaces which are more inclusive, and perhaps through that show what real radicalism looks like.
If you are interested in organising this, please leave a comment below, and I will email you on anything we do follow through with.