"Diversity surrounds us everyday and yet it’s not something we think that we can benefit from." I heard that being said by a speaker at a university talk I attended. I heard it, processed it, shelved it away and didn't think any more of it. At that time I was almost impervious to how important diversity was/is in today's society but most especially in the British society I am bringing my children up in. Children who are from a minority ethnic background, who although are British nationals will still be considered visitors by some. Children whose ethnic background contributes to the beautiful melting pot that the diverse British society is made up of today. Children who need us the adults of today, to be their leading voices that shout from the rooftops about why diversity is important and more importantly, why it matters.
I had the honour and opportunity to be a part of a panel this past week in which we discussed this very topic. Initially I had reservations about attending, let alone being one of the panellists. I'm going to digress a little here but I feel it is important in this context (as opposed to other times I have done so). I have a very close friend that I sound off ideas to, who provides me with a reality check when needed but most importantly who provides me with the encouragement needed to step out of my comfort zone with confidence and grace (the latter is debatable but I'm on a roll here so let's just stick with it.) This friend of mine reminded me of how as women of colour, we constantly second guess our place in the world especially from a gender and race perspective. We are constantly being made to feel that we aren’t deserving of the opportunity because society has always dictated that our stories are not one that we should be narrating from our voices and most certainly not from our background. We are made to feel that our stories are to be narrated by someone else that is deemed a lot more acceptable by the wider society i.e. if it's white, it's right. Society's way of limiting our opportunities to be heard leads to only a select few being allowed the opportunity to have a seat at the table whilst the rest of us look on hoping that our time will come soon enough. So here we are, already a minority, fighting each other in order to be seen and heard. Time and time again being made to think and feel that the seats are limited when in fact it isn't. Time and time again being made to think and feel that the spaces are exclusive to a certain group only, when again it isn't. In actual fact, the seats and spaces are not only inclusive but also unlimited and our individual lived experiences are the reasons why it is so important that our stories be told in our own voices and not be watered down in order to placate those who are not ready to hear us roar.
I grew up with a lot of privilege, I had a two parent family, I attended a semi-private school, never knew what it was like to go without a meal or any other basic life essentials in any given day of my life. I also never experienced any prejudice in terms of opportunities that I was accorded as a child and a young adult growing up in Fiji. These rose-tinted life experiences made me somewhat oblivious when I moved over here to the UK, to the lack of diversity there is here in the UK in the British blogosphere. It wasn't until I started joining blogging and networking forums that I realised I would either be the only person of colour or if I had to be at an event where there was someone else who looked like me then it had to be an event that was organised specifically for that. It's begun to irk me in ways that makes my left eye twitch uncontrollably. One such event I attended where I felt like I was on the movie set of Get Out was during the York Fashion Week. Bearing in mind that York is home to two universities whose students (I felt could have been asked to be involved) in their respective school of Fashion & Design and Communication are made up of multicultural ethnicities; it is also a city with a diverse cultural local population that sees thousands of international tourist visitors annually and yet all the events for the week were aimed specifically at a white, British audience. There are a number of non-white bloggers who are on the York bloggers scene and yet, not one of us was invited or asked to be involved in any of the events. I only happened to attend the events as I am part of the York Women In Business network, but even then I came away from the events feeling like my attendance was merely an exercise of tokenism to allow the network to tick boxes.
The challenge I face now is how do I change this narrative? How do I start the conversation of inclusivity in forums and networks that I am a member of and not feel like I have to tiptoe around the subject out of fear of offending people... considering, on the flipside no one seems to think to tiptoe around us when the apparent lack of diversity is overlooked? How do I make the small changes that in turn become a butterfly effect that stir up much needed dialogue to include each and every voice that deserves to be represented in British society? In my own way I have begun to question people in positions of leadership, when I feel we are not being represented or if we are, that it be from our perspective and not what is assumed should be. I've also taken on the opportunity you could say, to change the narrative about what life as a woman of colour in the army community and also living in the UK is, rather than allow it to be dictated by the somewhat negatively portrayed army wife blogs that are out there in the blogosphere. It's also made me realise that there needs to be a diversity in the way we think i.e. in terms of breaking out of the barriers imposed by our colonial educators to include those of us who are from former colonised States to be allowed to communicate, to develop and also make our own spaces for conversations on our terms.
So in saying all that, I’ll bring you back to the title of this piece, "Diversity and Why It Matters" - for me as a blogger it matters as it allows me to introduce this conversation on my platform where I challenge the status quo about diversity or the lack thereof, not just because it is the hip thing to do but because the conversation is important. It also creates awareness on educating ourselves and each other on diversity across every section of society, be it gender, race, profession, development & communication and realising that is how we begin the much needed conversations on diversity and why it should matter for all of us.