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You Pick A Name, I'm Just A Person Of Colour

You’re not the first to confuse a brown person for another brown person. You’re not the first to wrongly pronounce a person of colour’s name, or not even make a vague attempt to get it right

12/01/2018 11:48 GMT | Updated 12/01/2018 11:48 GMT

This week, I found myself reading an email informing me that I had failed to make it onto training aiming to boost the amount of diverse voices in the mainstream media; having applied with the hope of developing my skills as a spokesperson around topics such as race. The rejection was due to my location (up North) being outside of their expertise, but my issue was focused elsewhere; in my clearly replicated feedback, they called me ‘Nadeem’.

Nadeem, as you will have noticed, is not my name, it’s an Arabic name. Admittedly, if I had been rejected as ‘Jane’, I may not have felt as let down, but I wasn’t. In this case (and it will not be the last case), I couldn’t help but feel that to them, I was just another brown person. And here’s why:

If you want to be in the business of representation and challenging the institutional failures that leave black and brown people discriminated against, behind, and sometimes invisible; then you need to truly BE in it. You need to go above and beyond to make those at the center of the problem feel valued. You need to commit to the cause authentically, with empathy, and with attention to detail, as well as have a desire to get something that may be insignificant to many, right.

Why? Because you’re not the first. You’re not the first to confuse a brown person for another brown person. You’re not the first to wrongly pronounce a person of colour’s name, or not even make a vague attempt to get it right. You’re not the first to show individuals from marginalised demographics, that actually, when it comes to the marginalised, you just don’t care enough to try. You’re not the first to fail to integrate those often pushed to the sidelines, and prove that they don’t matter in your world. So no matter how big or small, even if your mistake was an honest typo, then honestly? I’d appreciate it if you tried a bit harder next time (as those facing inequality have to everyday, just to be equal).

As lefty spaces tackling the problem often remain dominated by white, middle class activists, the fate of those who face inequality on a daily basis is in your hands. And I am glad you’re there, I am glad that the people directly affected by societal inequality have allies ready to back and fight for them, and those affected do not stand alone. But those leading the fight without experience of the battle must accept that they won’t directly understand, and a failure to try to leaves people feeling even more hopeless than before.

Because if you can’t get my name right when rejecting me for an opportunity that would help me diversify a space failing to represent, then I have absolutely no faith that you are doing what you claim to do on the tin. If you can’t make the effort to personalise your responses to non-traditional candidates, then I refuse to believe you truly fight for equality with a genuine vision. And when the majority get the opportunity to take to prominent platforms and speak on behalf of the minority, as the current, whitewashed status quo allows, we will see you. We will see just another name forgetter, another so called saviour who perhaps doesn’t care, and myself - and maybe Nadeem - will remember that you didn’t remember.

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Note: I wrote to the training provider to offer constructive criticism on their feedback, the response I received included the words ‘my bad’.