Our Voices

Diversifying the History curriculum at school?Busting Myths

By Fariha Munim

During my third year of university, I took the carefully debated decision to enter into a career I had originally put off. This was because I grew a strongly held belief that teaching History at secondary school involved molding my students to believe stories only about British greatness.

When I began university and took one of my first modules on the British Empire, my eyes were opened to the ‘darker’, and what seemed like, unexplored archives of the past. This was the legacy of Britain’s empire, where the existence of our present today was literally built on the bones of a brutal past, which stemmed from Britain’s control of 1/4 of the world. I was outraged that none of these stories were explored, or even mentioned to me at school. Why was it that I was never taught about the Amritsar Massacre? Why was it that I was never taught about Britain’s supposed Gulag’s in Kenya? Why was it that I was not taught about the reason why Hitler’s racial theory came into existence in the first place? It angered me,that the educational system that I had succeeded in was partly through weaving my way through what seemed to be a lie told to me by the educational establishment.

I blamed the lack of diversity in the history curriculum and vowed that I could never go into such a career like teaching History and tell these ‘lies’.

Fast forward three years later, and I am currently completing the TeachFirst programme, teaching History at a mixed secondary school in North London. My original motivation to enter teaching during my third year of university was for a range of reasons but curriculum-wise, I wanted to investigate the History curriculum, and the rationale behind why History at school is constructed the way it is for many as a story of the greats, with less room for the stories of the marginalised voices who form the majority of classrooms in London.

I was surprised to find that my assumptions gained from University about the history curriculum, had little resemblance to the actual reality of History teaching as a discipline in school.

One of my first assumptions about teaching History was that it was a subject heavily politicised by the current government in power. People shivered at talk about Gove’s reforms on education, myself included. I assumed that the state of political ignorance throughout the country was to blame on the governments, past and present, for failing to talk about the nuances of Britain’s recent past starting with the British Empire.

I was wrong.

Myth 1: The government controls everything to do with History education in the country.

Historical education is complex. There is a process that has to be followed, if children are to make sense of the past in their brains. There must be coherency within the History curriculum for children. If the past doesn’t make sense for students chronologically, the entire discipline of History fails. By the time a student reaches university to study History, they have made sense of History a lot throughout their entire school career. A student is ready for progression in History- which means they are ready to advance onto the next, higher level stage which is degree level thinking. Here, it is time for students to critically think about History and its many nuances.

History in school is about deconstructing that level of knowledge, which has been gained at degree level so that an 11 year old can make that same path of progression in history education that, an 18 year old leaves school with. To do that, historical educators must be able to slowly introduce students to concepts. Some historical concepts are more suited for a child’s cognitive abilities at one stage than another.

Some historical topics are built with so much nuance that it is cognitively too much for a child to process this information, without getting the basics of a historical skill correct. For example, introducing topics such as genocide and war, or famine and war, to children in Y7 or Y8 will overload students existing understandings of history at that stage. These students do not know what it means to understand what a ‘change’ is in history properly, so it makes no sense to even branch out into anything more complex without a set route to get them there.

Other topics present a better opportunity to chronologically make sense of the past first, in order to understand the present. A commonly taught topic to Y7’s across the country is on the Norman conquest of England. After the Norman conquest, these students then chronologically progress to the next stage of historical thinking built off the knowledge they have gained with the Norman conquest. A common example could be the topic of life in the Middle Ages, followed by looking at the Tudors and so on. In each of these topics, there is an underlying historical skill that teachers are required to get students to master in order for their understanding of what ‘history’ is to increase. These skills are specific skills that are designed to help students eventually reach the level of criticality and nuance a student will begin university level history with at the end of their education.

This is not understood enough in POC (people of colour) activism circles when there are talks about diversifying the curriculum. The curriculum needs to be diversified, but at the correct time and place within school. Students can not cognitively understand without having the basics of a skill set in stone first. Without historical skills being mastered, students will not be equipped with the tools to understand the nuances diversifying a curriculum brings.

Myth 2: Children aren’t taught properly about the British Empire because it’s still as story of white men saving the day.

A common sore point for many when it comes to diversifying the curriculum are related to questions children are asked on topics such as the British Empire. From university level eyes, we look at the question of ‘Was the British Empire good or bad?’ as sometimes illegitimate. This is because for us, the question seems invalid to even ask because of our knowledge. However, if we are to just teach students beliefs that hinge on the negative of Empire (which do outweigh the positives for many), then we do a disservice to our students as teachers. This is because we have already mastered the skill of weighing up evidence as history students, and that was learnt at school. Our students though, have not. This is why such questions open up their minds to being able to debate evidence (and the other skills needed for progression). Instead of being condemned as illegitimate questions, such questions are opportunities to progress in historical thinking so our students arrive at the same level of criticality we entered university with. If that is taken away from them, then the skill of being critical in history is being taken away too.

Myth 3: History at school is always a story of white men saving the world to make things better.

The other idea of ‘progression’ in historical education has been attacked a lot, and rightly so. Why is it that at school, children are taught that things inevitably get better when the reality as we learn at university is much more jaded and complex? The answer to this is similarly, displaying a sense of ‘progression’ in history, rests on working with the existing knowledge and skills students have when they enter secondary school. Learning takes place in chunks for it to be successful. Focusing on the ‘bigger pictures’ thematically such as the Romans, Saxons, Tudors, Empire, War, Cold War and Civil Rights presents coherency for our students cognitive abilities at this stage. If there is no visible progression- we have no opportunity to challenge it at a later stage. This is all dependent on building historical skill up first.

Myth 4: Why was my curriculum at school so white?

Lastly, one thing I absolutely stood by was of the notion of how curriculums always seemed to be a story of white, middle class men saving the rest of the world. I assumed that schools were forced to teach this. I was wrong.

The history curriculum in the UK is one of the most flexible in the world when it comes to teaching. Apart from a few mandatory periods which must be taught (such as the Holocaust, a period of British history and Empire), teachers have autonomy over their departments as long as students master the historical skills they deserve to do well in their GCSES, A levels and progress onto history at university.

The question then that we should perhaps ask ourselves is not ‘why is my curriculum white?’, and blame the establishment but the question of ‘why are there not more teachers who want to make the curriculum diverse?’.

Alternative structures are present to the ones many schools use for their historical curriculums. It is more than possible to paint a sense of coherency for students with looking at the topic of migration, slavery, civil rights, interpretations of the empire, WW1 and WW2, the Cold War and then choosing GCSE options that build on this with topics on migration, empires and Civil Rights. It is not up to the establishment to decide if that is taught- its is up to departments in schools.

The need for diversity in school history can come from those who chose to enter the field, where the opportunities to teach what you wanted to be taught at school are present, but are not taken advantage of because of the lack of representation from POC in schools. A recent report by Royal Historical Society said only 11% of History students at university come from BME backgrounds. This makes the face of historical education in schools also look bleak if we are to talk about truly diversifying our historical curriculum.

I want to ask the question of if we are to truly diversify History, then should we start with diversifying those in a profession which has been stereotyped as the playing field of someone much more male, white and middle class?

POETRY – Home through Frosted Lips

By Syed Riza Qadri

But, of course, Kashmir always wakes up as its own self every morning.

I’m in class but I steal two seconds to smuggle a look out the window. I caper through groaning wintery clouds, through the creaks of frosted bones. I blow my breath over the Chinar and marvel at the ripple of its copper leaves. Ever so plenty, ever so beautiful. I smile at red noses and hands rubbed together. I smile at the sweaters, the mufflers, the boots, and the crunch of gravel beneath them. I travel a thousand miles, yet it is always away. The tree with arms of leafless branches that it holds aloft with pride.

It seems to break down, though, before the One. And the arms are up in remembrance.The birds chirp to its murmurs of prayers as it heaves a sigh of cold gusts, and there appear shards of ice, swords of snow, hugging its very form. The tree is a thing of misery and majesty. It is in pain and it is so far away.

But, of course, it will be here tomorrow. And I’ll be, too.

(I came back today, but it was through a different path that I never chose. I saw upturned firepots and admonishing mothers, and then I saw scraps of papers being adorned with colour. Crisp leaves spiralled off the dusky ground to greet me, to meet me. ‘As-salāmu ʿalaykum.’ ‘Wa ʿalaykumu s-salām!” By the time I reached I had wings of dead leaves and a lost heart.

The tree was not a tree anymore. It was nothing. As though it had never prayed, never sighed, never lived. Never bled.)

Why young British Bangladeshis should also care about Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election

By Fariha Munim.

Growing up, Bangladeshi politics was a constant discussion point in our household as they were in many Bangladeshi homes throughout Britain. Two women, each adorned with simple or elegant saris, looking like they would drop dead any moment had fascinated the minds of uncles, aunts, fathers, and mothers over tea and biscuits in the evening for over 20 years.

What a wonderful blend of British and Bangladeshi.

(Yet, don’t let their dress detract you from the impressive fact that politics in a largely patriarchal society was dominated by not one, but two females from opposing sides in their bid to lead one of the world’s largest ‘democracies’ by population.)

As a History graduate today, I can’t say that I was never interested in those political debates waged at home, because I always was. However, I grew severely pessimistic about what was going on in Bangladesh as I got older. Politically, the country seemed like a lost cause and I was simply content to go on and spend holidays in luxury there over the summer like I had done since I was a child. Politics was and still seems like a lost cause in Bangladesh. The causes to exactly why, are still up for debate. Did I grow apathetic? Yes. Was I happy about my apathy? No.

From an outsider lens, Bangladeshi politics is close, and also so distant from me. This is a take into why, someone who can not even vote in Bangladesh still takes an interest into Bangladeshi politics in 2018 and a message to why younger British Bangladeshis should also be aware of the situation.

Today, millions have tried to vote in Bangladesh’s 2018 General Election. Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world with over 170 million people inside its borders. This is the first time in its history that the same party could be “re-elected” into power. However, as part of election practice almost in Bangladesh, fair elections are not being waged.

Today, on the 30th December 2018, ballots have been stuffed with fake votes in the port of Chittagong minutes before the election opened to the general public.

People have been coerced to vote in ways that do not meet the standards of democratic voting behavior. The link attached here in translated English talks about how a young woman was followed inside a voting booth, is coerced to vote for the ruling Awami League which is defined by a symbol known as a ‘nouka’ (boat). The follower eventually moves aside but can see what party the woman voted for, and publicly then proceeds to tell her in front of other public voters that she did not do the right thing by voting for another party. This is a micro-aggression that has happened in bouts up and down the country. Yet, the effects of such undermining only serve to create a sense of oppression.

Communications inside the country surrounding election related covering have been banned until after the vote in the hopes to stop the spread of ‘fake news’.

Many views from British Bangladeshis are that Bangladesh works on a system of corruption that is suited to Bangladesh. Yet, for the educated middle and upper classes, this is becoming increasingly challenged as a way of governance. In Bangladesh, these are the groups that have traditionally led the way for active change in the past and have been shunned for it. Shunning these groups was used as a colonial tactic by Pakistani military authorities during the 1971 War of independence where student groups, doctors, professors, teachers and journalists were murdered on the grounds of Dhaka University.

People are not settling for anything less than democracy as a result of being educated more and more on the values of democracy preached in Bangladesh’s constitution and held up in the curriculum as a reference point of good governance.

The least I can do, from my privileged position as someone who can sit in the comfort of her own home without fear of prosecution or arrest, is to speak freely about the situation of a country so many people my age want to see change for.

1/3 of Bangladesh’s population is of between 18–35, with 18 being the voting age. Bangladesh has achieved a youth literacy rate for the ages of 15–25 of just over 87% which means that the language of democracy is well within bounds to be understood. This is a major reason as to why we are seeing such outrage as democratic expectations are not being held yet believed by so many as an achievable end Bangladesh can achieve.

People are being arrested for what they post online. Freedom of speech has been tampered with on severe scales. People are being coerced mentally to vote in specific ways. The violence on streets has not been explored here, because this is a common occurrence in Bangladesh but should really take us all with shock like if it happened in Britain. Younger Bangladeshis want change, and as an ally, the least we can do is support them achieve their goals.

Had I been born and raised in Bangladesh, I would not be writing this with such boldness that I am now. This right to speak freely should never be seen as a privilege but as a right. People are being denied this, despite believing in its inherent worth — they are wanting the world to see, so the least I can do?

Give Bangladesh the attention that I have the voice to give. So can you.

Finding My Voice

Every year, on the 31st of December, I feel like it’s important to just take a few moments to reflect back on the year and take note of some of the few notable lessons we have all learned. So, this is my attempt to do just that and I have tried my hardest to narrow it down to five.

  • January to December, I transitioned from my second year at university to my final year and one thing any maturing adult will tell you is that your opinions and thoughts will constantly evolve and I can vouch for this- my stances on certain topics and my passions have expanded more than I can describe and the way I think now is completely different and this will undoubtedly continue to adapt as I grow. It’s altogether a confusing and sometimes scary but wonderful experience so enjoy the process.
  • Friends are one of the few treasures that have constantly come into my life and every year I make new ones who bring me something that I never knew was absent from my life. This year was no different and I am always grateful for those friendships that are soul-fulfilling and spiritually nurturing. I have met people who are probably capable of losing more compassion that many of us can ever hope to obtain in our lifetime and I hope everyone can experience a friendship that is so rewarding.
  • Not knowing what the future holds is okay. My faith and trust in Allah has strengthened and I am starting to not only believe but also understand that what is meant for me will always be. Be kind to yourself.
  • Books will always be my retreat- having struggled to keep up with regular reading (at least, with literature that wasn’t on a module reading list) I’m glad my summer consisted of catching up on this neglected hobby. My book-buying habit, on the other hand, maybe that’s something I’ll consider sorting out for next year.
  • I am also starting to find my voice and not only can I hear it, but I can also confidently stand up and defend it- a skill, albeit not 100% mastered yet and one that has taken years to materialise, I’m glad is beginning to find its feet.

Women breaking the barriers in 2018

Our list of women of exceptional talent, resilience, and courage – all defining 2018.

Nadia Murad

You may have heard of Nadia Murad over the past couple of years, a Yazidi human rights activist who in 2014, was captured and tortured (including being burned by cigerettes and raped) by ISIS in her hometown Kocho, Sinjar in northern Iraq.

Ever since gaining her freedom, she has resiliently advocated for the cause of the members of the Yazidi community, a minority group who reside in northern Iraq – who ISIS has targeted and systematically abuse. This year, her selfless efforts were recognised by being jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Credits: Jason Schmidt

We are incredibly moved and inspired by Nadia’s story and activism.

Congress Women

Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – one of the first Muslim women elected to US Congress this year.

We have covered the incredible achievements of these women in our piece Making History.

Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive

In June this year, women in Saudi Arabia were finally (finally!) allowed to drive. This reform in Saudi Arabian society was a long time coming – particularly after the arrests of Saudi women who were jailed for defying the law banning women to drive. One of the prime advocates for this cause is Manal Al-Sharif, who in 2011 was arrested for driving in the country, and subsequently started to campaign for women’s rights in the region.

Manal Al – Sharif, credits: Abduljalil Al-Nasser

Another notable figure is Loujain al-Hathloul, who is still under arrest for campaigning for women’s rights in the country. More damningly, there are reports from Amnesty about alleged torture of Saudi women who campaign for the right of women to drive.

Olivette Otele

Credits: Bath Spa University

In 2018, Olivette Otele, a historian of French and British colonialism, became the first black female professor in the UK at Bath Spa University. Not only this is an incredible achievement, particularly for black women but also sheds light on the grave lack of diversity within higher levels of academia.

This year, a study undertaken by the Royal Historical Society, named Race, Ethnicity and Equality found that only 0.5% of historians working in UK universities are black. Further to this, only 20 professors in the UK are black. She hopes that her appointment to professorship will “open the door for many hard-working women, especially black women in academia”.

All of these women collectively demonstrate one thing – exceptional resilience and courage. Breaking barriers and paving way for other women of colour to take similar steps. And finally ,to never be afraid to disrupt the system, no matter how many scream back at you.

2018 Reflections – growth is not linear.

By Kolchuma Begum

What did I learn from 2018? I learnt that …

Growth is not linear.

What I mean by this is that we tend to measure our growth on a timeline, when we aren’t making the progress we want, we tend to think of ourselves as failures because the time of growth is no longer as fast as it was previously. Personal growth can happen at a monumental size at some points, yet in other times, it can feel quite slow. Thus, it is unhealthy for us to frequently compare or measure our growth with that of others or from another phase in our lives.

Reading novels for fun.

I forgot how enjoyable it is to pick up a book and become immersed in its pages. For those of us who are doing humanities at university tend to have a large amount of readings to do every week and hence it is so important to not lose the hobby of reading in the midst of all those assignments. Instead of scrolling through social media, try picking up a book instead and you will see how much more rewarding and fruitful it is for your soul and mind.

Education is not solely confined to institutions of higher education.

Life is more interesting and enjoyable if we learn something new each day. This world is full of wonder and it would be a shame if we do not take it upon ourselves to learn more about it.

Self-help is not only to solely focus on ideas such as bubble baths tend to be thrown around when it comes to the discussion of self-help.

Instead, helping others is a form of self-help. There is a specific type of gratification that arises from knowing that you were able to help someone else and that gratification cannot be found elsewhere other than being at service to others.

Feeling like a fraud – what is the imposter syndrome all about?

By Kolchuma Begum

This week I attended the event on the mental health of BAME people hosted by the KCL Bangladesh society. This event was so valuable and impressive that I had to share what I personally found most interesting and that is learning about the imposter syndrome. I did not hear of this syndrome before but as I sat there learning about what it was, I felt a sense of relief in that it was not something that I alone felt.

So, what is the imposter syndrome? The imposter syndrome could be defined as ‘a psychological phenomenon that causes sufferers to attribute their successes and accomplishments to external factors such as luck, timing (.. .) rather than to personal merit, hard work or ability’[1].I feel like this syndrome is prevalent amongst young people, especially students in higher education who may feel the pressure to exceed and meet certain expectations when preparing to enter the world of work. Whilst students can exceed and meet the expectations, they still may feel that they are not good enough or that the position they have, should have been given to someone else. This then can lead to growing fears and a constant paranoia that someone will find out that your credentials are not worthy enough or that you as a person are not worthy enough for the job.

The growing pressures on students to exceed and thrive to meet certain expectations can lead some to experience this imposter syndromeand hence why I am sharing this information with you all. Whenever you are feeling like somewhat of a fraud even though rationally all your achievements were through your own work – ask yourself, you worked hard for your achievements so why should you feel like you are not worthy of an achievement or a position in acompany of your dreams?

We need to allow ourselves room to develop yet not be so harsh on ourselves. Whenever you have that thought of paranoia creeping into your mind, remind yourself that where you are is because of your hard work and not because of sheer luck. To finish this off, I would like you to share knowledge of this imposter syndrome with your friends and classmates because you may be surprised to find out how many people experience and struggle with this at one point or more in their lives.

[1] Rouse,Margaret, ‘Imposter Syndrome’, 2017 <https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/impostor-syndrome&gt; [accessed 13th December 2018]

Racism in Britain? That’s not breaking news

By Rahma Hussein

A week ago, an article published by the Guardian showcased a new study into the widespread extent of racism in Britain today. The findings of the study are hardly surprising, and certainly does not reveal anything that we did not know already. People of colour have always been raising issues about racism and its huge prevalence, but what is the most common response that we receive? “Racism doesn’t exist anymore!”, “You can’t always speak about race”, “I love all kinds of people, both black and white”, “I am colour-blind, I don’t see colour!”

These responses are incredibly problematic to say the least – mostly for the reason that it completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of racism. Racism is now apparently a thing of ‘the past’, and there is no way that people are discriminated against due to the colour of their skin in the twenty-first century. Lived experiences of non-white people are completely erased to make perpetrators feel comfortable and to  avoid responsibility to a problem they are the prime contributors of.

According to the report,

43% of those from a minority ethnic background had been overlooked for a work promotion in a way that felt unfair in the last five years – more than twice the proportion of white people (18%) who reported the same experience.

You can read the article here.

38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared with 14% of white people, with black people and women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected.

Publishing statistics on a well known problem does not in any way make this an “exclusive” discovery. We all know that racism exists in British society in all corners of life – from work, education, communities and even within families. This has always existed. Much more perplexing is the level of intellectual dishonesty surrounding discourses regarding racism – attempts at erasing British colonial histories, immigration policies and attitudes which are undoubtedly racist. Measures such as “stop and search” taken by those in significant positions of authority, such as the Metropolitan Police, which disproportionately targets Black men more than any other demographic, do so under the guise of ensuring “safer streets”. We all know this is racist. Another example of racism practiced under the guise of “safety” and “counter-extremist” within both society and academic spaces is the government sanctioned PREVENT strategy – disproportionately targeting Muslim students who deemed too opinionated or outspoken, therefore dangerous and threatening, even possibly hinting at possibilities of becoming ‘influenced’ by extremist tendencies. But hey – it’s totally ok to invite fascists onto campus because free speech and we should encourage healthy debate at whatever costs, even if it compromises the safety and wellbeing of minority and marginalised students (KCL, I’m looking at you here).   

I. am. so. done. with this ridiculous double-standard. Next time we speak about racism, don’t dismiss us. Don’t tell us that we are sensitive, and shouldn’t ‘see’ things in the context of race. Don’t tell us to stop playing the ‘race card’. Racism is alive and kicking – and it is about time that your pride (yes, you non-poc folks) is placed aside and create meaningful solutions to problems which has characterised British society throughout its history.

Cover photo credits: Washington Post photo illustrations/ UPI photo

BrAsians: Looking Beyond Culture Clash

By Aisha Mazhar.

The history of South Asian migration to Britain begins during the colonial period when India was a British colony; a trickle of South Asian students, sailors, governesses and housemaids settled in Britain. The most significant waves of South Asian migration were following the Second World War when Britain was faced with labour shortages; the partition of India and the expulsion of South Asians from Uganda. Today the South Asian diaspora inBritain represents over 3.9% of the population, amounting to just over 2.3million people according to the 2001 census.[1] Despite the historical lineage of the South Asian presence in Britain, the South Asian experience has often largely been overlooked or confined to the periphery of Britain’s national narrative. If the South Asian diaspora has been the subject of interest, it has been analysed through tropes such as ‘culture clash’ informed by categories of analysis which overwhelmingly focus on religion, culture and tradition. Diasporic identities according to cultural theorist, Stuart Hall, ‘are those which are constantly producing and reproducing themselves anew, through transformation and difference’. Despite the hybridity and adaptability of South Asian diasporic identities, they have been portrayed as static, steeped in values seen as distinctly ‘other’ in contrast to western,‘British values’. Through a variety of different cultural mediums, South Asians have rearticulated what it means to be British by accommodating, re-interpreting and fusing strands of various cultures, experience and identity. The director Pratibha Parmar, aptly stated in regard to the South Asian diaspora, ‘we have been changing the very heart of what constitutes Englishness by recoding it with our diasporic sensibilities’. [2]

Image credits: National Army Museum 

BrAsian; The term in some ways, captures the essence of Parmar’s articulation that the South Asian diaspora has ‘recoded’ Englishness in certain ways. BrAsian dispenses with categories which stress the nation or ethnic minority framings of identity. Both ‘British’ and ‘Asian’ are accommodated in the term but not left unaltered; they are fused to create something new altogether. The term ‘BrAsian’ was introduced in A Postcolonial People; an anthology which explores the multi-faceted experience of British South Asians.[3] The term also stresses the need to re-narrate the South Asian experience, not on the basis of national identity but with an understanding of the exchanges and nuanced experience that ‘BrAsian’ implies. Above all else, ‘BrAsian’ is a means of illustrating that identities can seldom be decomposed into neat categories; It demands looking beyond the notion of ‘culture clash’, which fails to account for the richness and multiplicity of British South Asian identities.

Credit: Peter Nicholls, Reuters 

One way of engaging with a more nuanced understanding of British South Asian identity, is to provide platforms for people to tell their own stories and experiences. Cultural mediums, such as art can be useful and effective modes of expression, which can capture the multifaceted nature of identity. A number of British South Asian artists have done just that. TheSingh Twin’s, are a British artist duo comprised of sisters, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, their work explores themes of identity and cultural prejudices amongst others.  Upon first glance, the Indian influences in the Singh Twin’s painting EnTWINed are most apparent; It is painted in the style of a traditional Mughal miniature and features important Indian historical figures such as Gandhi, Subhas Chandra Bose and Sophia Duleep Singh. Yet upon further inspection, there are very clear British influences evident throughout the piece in the form of landmarks and cultural references. In fact, the painting itself is a reinterpretation of the Victorian painter, Nelson O’Neil’s paintingsEastward Ho (1857) and Home Again (1858). Eastward Ho depicts British soldiers boarding a ship bound forIndia to quell the ‘Indian mutiny’; Whilst, HomeAgain portrays the return of the soldiers having quelled the ‘mutiny’.  EnTWINED subverts O’Neil’s narrative of courageous British soldiers’ participating in supressing the rebellion of 1857; This time, the heroes are those who fought for Indian independence. The painting further features references to both historical and contemporary figures and motifs; the twins themselves are illustrated, wearing the Scottish tartan alongside shalwar kameez. Entwined is the artistic manifestation of BrAsian; synthesising both British and South Asian history and culture, to produce a nuanced piece which unsettles traditional narratives and celebrates the influence that SouthAsians have had on Britain.  The twins have asserted their ‘right to define our own culture and artistic individuality in a way that is meaningful and true to whom we are as British Asians’.[4] When British Asians are given the platform to tell their own stories, perhaps we will eschew reductive narratives which seek to posit a narrow and selective definition of what ‘integration’ and ‘British’ looks like. 

[1] http://www.movingpeoplechangingplaces.org/migration-histories/south-asians-making-britain.html

[2] E. Ann Kaplan, Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film and the Imperial Gaze (Routledge, 1997), 20

[3] N. Ali, V.S. Kalra, S. Sayyid eds., A Postcolonial People: South Asians in Britain, 2005

[4]  http://www.singhtwins.co.uk/INSPIRATION.html

The STORM-BLAST came, and he Was tyrannous and strong*

By Aqsa Ahmed.

There is an albatross


About my person.

Sometimes he flies south,

But returns erelong.

I am afraid he never leaves.

I did shoot at him once,

Regained my hold of the helm

And sailed out.

But guilt crept back and hung around my neck until he healed strong.        

I kneel in the dawn,

Just as sunlight begins to trail on my floor and    

beseech freedom.

“Release me from this trammel,

let me swim away merciful albatross.”

                                                                                But he hovers about my person.

“Oh, strange soul”, says he

“My wandering marinere.

I am tyrannous and strong,

You are haggard


and thin.”

                                                                        “And I am sorry my little one –

                                                                 But you do not yet know how to swim.”

*Please note: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner L.41-42 (all lines it italics hereafter reference this text)

You can read more of Aqsa’s poems published on I RISE here.

Featured image credits: “storm waves by Kristian Leov.

Making History – but what now?

By Team I RISE.

The midterms had one clear defined success and that was female representation, with a record number of women winning seats in the House. We also saw the election of the first two Muslim congresswomen, Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib and the first two Native American women in Congress, Sharice Davids for Kansas and Debra Haaland for New Mexico. These were only a few of the women who made US history.

This change led to the monumental achievement in the midterms, more than thirty five women of colour are now the faces of change in U.S. politics.This defining moment did not take place in a vacuum, it was through a long periodof raising awareness of these women – of their goals, aspirations and promises of how to bring about a greater change. Social media such as Instagram allows voters to follow these candidates, to almost go on a journey with them as these candidates regularly posted their day-to-day activities in the run up to the midterm elections. To be able to have a closer and somewhat personal look into the lives of these candidates is empowering as it allows voters to feel more confident in their choices of who to vote. Social media has yet again, shown its potential and power to influence the outcomes in the political and social sphere.

This means that knowledge of the wider world and connecting with people of different faiths and backgrounds has become easily accessible. This power of the social media phenomenon has played a crucial role in the awareness of these women of colour. As a woman of colour, myself, I did not know or find out about these women through conventional forms of news, rather it was through social media. Apps such as Instagram have provided a platform where voices of people of colour can be heard loud and clear and such platforms allow a community of like-minded people to come together to make a change.

However, along with the celebrations and excitement of this surge in female representatives in official positions, there also came pessimism and questions regarding how entirely revolutionary and immense is such a change in US politics? Can these women really turn around and alter America’s long history of institutionalised sexism and perhaps also racism? It is a common historical trend that progressive politicians (especially Democrats) are passionate and mindful when it comes to positively changing domestic issues within their own states yet the same cannot be said when it comes to foreign affairs. The same politicians very rarely embrace anti-imperialist positions. But then again, can we really expect those who entrench themselves within US politics to really hold these views when the foundation of America is based on imperialist ambitions and the only way the US knows how to maintain its global hegemonic power is through violent, foreign intervention.

It’s wonderful to finally see some melanin in official positions especially when they belong to women. However, it is crucial that, considering the history of democratic reformists,we do not instantly assume that this will bring about radical change. The very racist institutions of US governance remain intact and, until these are altered, very little radical change will come to materialise. We can just hope that these women embrace progressive politics nationally and internationally and play integral roles in putting pressure on changing some of the institutional problems that US is based upon.

Why Decolonise? Are white, male thinkers no longer important?

By Thahmina Begum.

What a bore, right? Just another self-righteous, brown student demanding special treatment and is on a mission to eradicate whiteness and though she complains about the corrupt, greedy West, she still chooses to live here. This is obviously (partly) incorrect. Those who interpret ‘decolonise’ as synonymous with erasing white people or, in the context of academia, removing the work produced by upper-class, white men, are clearly part of the bigger problem. This issue of ‘decolonising’ syllabuses has gained more prominence and backlash in recent years but one of my first interactions with it was this particular article. Gopal, so eloquently, put my thoughts into words when she speaks out about not only the lack of diversity in the types of thinkers that university curriculums consist of but also this assumption that Western-born knowledge is universal and the centre of all valuable wisdom.

“Decolonising the curriculum is, first of all, the acceptance that education, literary or otherwise, needs to enable self-understanding. This is particularly important to people not used to seeing themselves reflected in the mirror of conventional learning – whether women, gay people, disabled people, the working classes or ethnic minorities.

Gopal goes on to say:

“Knowledge and culture is collectively produced and these groups, which intersect in different ways, have as much right as elite white men to understand what their own role has been in forging artistic and intellectual achievements.” 

Now, some claim that incorporating more thinkers of colour, to ‘diversify’ the syllabus, will decolonise university modules. But I don’t think this is enough to develop a broader and in-depth analysis of the complex structures and intersections of race, gender, sexuality, class and ability in literature and political thought. An educational experience goes beyond just the module outline and encompasses the values and knowledge learned and deconstructed and play a crucial role in validating social and political institutions. Therefore, this is about more than just adding one or two writers of colour into a lecture; more importantly, this is about moving beyond the Western canon, particularly in political thought.

In other words, if you teach a curriculum and it consists of only the work of white males, this would undoubtedly perpetuate the incorrect idea that knowledge is inherently Western. This further exacerbates the false claim that Western values and its philosophies are applicable worldwide and gives the impression that there is a general identity or history that we all share. This neglects and undervalues strands of literacy that are produced in other parts of the world and, as a result, post-colonial thinkers are overlooked or seen more as a counter-argument to mainstream literary work, rather than part of the main argument itself. This division in whose contribution is valued is unsurprising since throughout intellectual work, historians in the global South have continuously needed to refer to events and publications on European history for validation whereas European historians produce their work in obliviousness of non-Western history without having the quality of their work questioned.

The absence of thinkers of colour is too often considered a norm and left unchallenged and by continuing to teach academic literature in this way, we are maintaining this Eurocentric framework which is not only limiting but is also an inaccurate way to learn history. This Western canon, for instance, teaches political theory in a way that ignores the importance of race in determining your socio-economic position and therefore such theories exclude the experiences of BME people. In his book Racial Contract (1997), Charles Mills criticises the ‘social contract’ that is created in European societies, arguing that it is intrinsically racist since it validates and encourages white dominance over so-called subordinate populations. He insists:

[The social contract] “is always differential privileging of the whites as a group with respect to the non-whites, the exploitation of their bodies, land, and resources and the denial of equal socio-economic opportunities for them” and “all whites are beneficiaries of the Contract, not a contract in which non-whites can be a consenting party.”

Such raceless notions that are ruling political theory and works of literature will first need to be acknowledged and critiqued to expose the real character of our world and the corresponding historical deficiencies of its normative theories and practices. For instance, one example of this Eurocentric, raceless model of political thought is evident in the work of Edmund Burke. Burke, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) puts forward his stance against the abstract liberal ideas of human rights and natural equality that the French Revolution was established upon. He believed any attempt to build a new society based on such non-concrete concepts is harmful since society itself was a complex structure that had been sewed together by ancestral traditions. This belief in preserving traditions to support the fragile nature of society and his view of politics as an empirical science, based on past wisdom and experiences, meant that Burke was critical of revolution and believed it must always be the last resource of thinking. My intention behind mentioning his view on revolution is to portray how Burke’s position is one of privilege as a beneficiary in the status quo and therefore he can afford to sustain the very traditions and structures of society that placed him at an advantageous position. Truthfully, while Burke may have supported the rights of a ‘legitimate’ rebellion, he upheld the authority of Empire and cherished the rights of British imperial sovereignty.

I compare Burke’s conservatism with Frantz Fanon’s argument for revolution and the need of violence to overthrow the exploitative nature and psychological inferiority of the colonies, to exemplify how traditional disciplines within political thought and philosophies of European Enlightenment were inherently ignorant towards understanding the societies of the colonised nations. It was common for European colonisers to sermonise this enlightenment humanism to the colonised, while simultaneously denying this in practice. For thinkers like Fanon, complacency in existing conditions was not an option. His book The Wretched of the Earth (1961) is a summation of his experiences of colonialism and provides a synopsis as to how race is a primary axis of oppression and inequality and is linked to other intersections such as class. Fanon even critiqued Marx and Engels’s trajectories of capitalism and revolution as focusing largely on class and as inconsiderate of race:

“Looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear that what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to. In the colonies, the economic infrastructure is also a superstructure. The cause is effect: you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich.”

To redefine the scope of political theory yonder the occidental, many comparative political theorists argue, and I agree, that this necessitates a reflection upon the status and meaning of political life as not restrained to a geographical setting but in a global arena.

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Image credits

Though academic curriculums traditionally consist of white male scholars, when feminist theory is discussed, it is common to explore the work of liberal, white feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, particularly A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792). Wollstonecraft, despite her thought-provoking and important ideas on the civil rights of women, like many Western thinkers that overshadow political theory and literature, she does not consider the importance of race, or even class, in her philosophy. Wollstonecraft simply believed that women should not be excluded from political or civic employments as this undermines morality and natural rights. However, her stance was confined to middle-class women, since she regarded them as in the “most natural” state (that is the least corrupted by either wealth or poverty). But this class of women tended to be predominantly white. Therefore, by pioneering Wollstonecraft’s work as the main text within feminist political thought, the conversation disregards the experiences of non-white and poorer women.

Black feminist, bell hooks criticises this very framework of understanding and teaching feminist theory; she disapproves of Friedan’s Feminist Mystique being heralded as having paved the way for contemporary feminism.

“Like many white women who dominate feminist discourse [and] articulate feminist theory, Friedan has little or no understanding of white supremacy as a racial politic, of the psychological impact of class, of their political status within a racist, sexist, capitalist state.”

hooks claims that Friedan’s exclusionary feminism saw victims of sexism as college-educated, white women, “who were compelled by sexist conditioning to remain in the home” and these “specific problems and dilemmas of leisure-class white housewives were real” but were not “political concerns of masses of women [who were] concerned about economic survival, ethnic and racial discrimination.”

I believe this to be very similar to issues surrounding Wollstonecraft’s feminist discourse, since her insistence on allowing women to work neglected the experiences of non-white and poorer women who worked labour-intensive jobs and did not have the privilege in choosing to remain at home. Like most traditional literature which perpetuate a false universal identity that we all share, a central tenet of conventional feminist theory is the proclamation that ‘all women are oppressed’ which implies that there is a common experience. However, in reality, and throughout history, factors such as race, class, sexuality and religion have created an assortment of experiences which define the degree to which sexism oppresses individual women. Feminist theory and more female thinkers do indeed need to be incorporated into the discourse as a part of the decolonisation process. However, the aforementioned points must be taken into consideration, in order to successfully do this. Past feminist refusal, as seen in Wollstonecraft’s philosophy, to draw attention to, or even attack, racial hierarchies have not only repressed the relation between race and class but have reinforced white supremacy. Therefore, it is imperative that, when studying thinkers like Wollstonecraft, it should not be assumed that her feminism is applicable to all women, but rather an understanding that intersections, such as race and class, are prevalent through the study of non-white feminist theorists.

Evidently, this decolonising process in academia is beyond just incorporating a diverse range of thinkers. It is about disposing the notion that Western history is shared globally and accepting that there are significant intersections (race and gender particularly in this piece) that need to be included and taught in academia. This should not be interpreted as an attempt to eliminate the work of white, male thinkers but an acknowledgement that non-Western thinkers are not mere counter-arguments of the main conversation. Rather they should be perceived as part of, and integral to, the main discussion within academic studies.


Header image credits: Mike Hutchings/Reuters