“When you look in the mirror; Do you see yourself; Do you see yourself; On the T.V. screen; Do you see yourself in the magazine” Poly Styrene
By Lara Ratnaraja
So I am an ethnic- minority, BME, BAME, Asian other or whichever tick box you would like me to use.
Actually I am a Sri Lankan Tamil Catholic Brahmin British Citizen. In Birmingham that pretty much made me a minority of 5. Oh and I was born in Germany. Which made me a minority of two with my brother. Oh and we grew up in Solihull in the 1970s. Which pretty much made me a talking point in the neighbourhood.
So we grew up as exotic, rather than different, in a town where what othered you was if you only had the one car or didn’t have a pony.
I didn’t see myself on the TV screen and I never saw myself in magazines. But I read. Constantly. The Women’s Press was my library, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath my Northern Stars; Toni Morrison, Margaret Attwood, Frantz Fanon, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Alan Hollinghurst, Oscar Moore.. the list is endless..and in between these pages I found my community.. one that was intersectional, challenging, interesting and questioning.
But in the mainstream world this representation was minimal.. I was different, was othered, and othered myself.. I celebrated this. I lived in my own little intersectional world without understanding what that meant.
But over time it felt like things were changing. The doors were creaking open. Same-sex marriage, reproductive rights and the legal protection of people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society through the 2010 Equality Act made the world feel inclusive.
Then along came Brexit. And the refugee crisis. And Trump. And the rise of the polarised and endemic racism. And the world exploded.. the anger that came this time seemed to come from all sides. The world became black and white. Binary views were held front and centre and the underlying hetero-normative structures were revealed to be very much in place, just obfuscated by a veneer of legislation and acceptance. Inclusion turned out to be built on permissions and invitations in.
But this time there was a difference. There was a plurality of voices of debate, dissent and democratic activism. The cultural hegemony had been disrupted. By people online forming new communities and allies, creating a narrative on inclusion which is not predicated on permission or an invitation but on collaboration, equality of discourse and equity of diverse cultural value to allow for a fluidity and intersectional cultural ecology.
In a binary world, the non-binary came to the fore; reclaiming notions of diversity and equality where self-identification is respected and valued, and in turn subverting a narrative that doesn’t represent those who live within a global community.
Now I see myself on the (computer) screen and in magazines. I see myself online and increasingly in the physical world. Self-identification fractures the concept of othering. It doesn’t require you to approve or condemn. It’s not asking for permission.
Huge love to Andrew Jackson, Helga Henry and Shekayla Maragh for being my Northern Stars the last 18 months.
This piece is dedicated to Ted Ratnaraja