While Brexit and the American election have sent shockwaves across the globe, I thought it is important I do not become overwhelmed by negativity, and look at some positive stories happening around me. Despite the liberation of far right discourses, diversity is here to stay and grassroots initiatives show us that people from diasporic cultures and spiritualities are already building a better society. White supremacy is only one of the symptoms of a Western hegemony which, more than anything, wants people to conform to a specific set of conventions which have not only to do with ethnicity. The dominant culture is not only white, it is masculine, straight, Christian or secular and neoliberal (people who do not pursue productivity and profit are rejected). However, people have the confidence and the courage to express and celebrate their diverse identities, cultures and legacies to disrupt narratives of power. Whether it is in the fashion industry, Arts, blogs or businesses, I feel humbled by these five brilliant people who work concretely for a more harmonious world:
Kai, BA in Journalism from the London College of Communications, is an activist, blogger, and a self-taught web designer and video journalist. She founded Diversity Matters, an awareness platform with a focus on Race Matters and BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) representation in the Arts and Media, Education and Work Environments. Appalled by the lack of fair representation of students at her university, she decided to take action: "When you see something not right, either you feel angry, or you turn your anger into making a change." Diversity Matters started as a hashtag when she was president of the African Caribbean Society (UAL ACS), and now provides workshops and organises international events for people from different minorities to speak up. She also set up Let's Do Lunch for connecting women in the creative industry.
Salahuddine is all about connecting people too, but through fashion with his Instagram Adventures in Fashionistan. Growing up between a father from the Indian subcontinent and a Syrian mother, he felt the need to make sense of his multiple and layered identity. He connected with various people during his travels through faith, and grew a fascination for the diversity of clothing styles across the Muslim diaspora: "fashion is a platform to discuss deeper things, it is a way to kickstart conversations about identity. People are scared from the unknown, I'm trying to bring people together." He remains conscious about his initiative: "we have to be people of meaning, those fashion vloggers have a responsibility. They need to avoid falling in the trap of capitalist modern monster that lives on the lives of other people working in sweatshops."
Responsibility is a key word for Sarah (see SaraKBlog), an auto-entrepreneur and fashion blogger with a mission. Sarah defies conventions not only through the quality of her work, but also through her ethics and vision: "Women are moulded according to expectations of the family or society. For girls, look is number one, people are taught that way. Women are not really empowered, so they need to work 10 times more to get somewhere. There are self-esteem problems because of the image imposed by male domination. People have to realise that they are beautiful being themselves." Aware of the superficiality of consumerism and corporate-like behaviours, she focuses on quality work, building sustainable and meaningful relationships: "Our decisions are often based on conventions while it should be based on what makes better mankind. When I wake up, I first ask myself: "What can I do for people?" I make people see their potential and help them hit their goal."
Still in the fashion industry, Aneta is a model, and a lucid one. She came to Britain from Slovakia and has been showcasing collections of clothes, jewellery and make-up for top designers. Despite working in a universe revolving around appearances, she was affected by how people compare themselves through the lens of money, looks and status, but she realised that: "a successful life: not measurable by money." Conscious about conventions that are "dictates of the society," she is concerned by the suicide of factory workers in India as a consequence of the race for lower costs. "But it's difficult to be picky in the fashion industry; people will tell you that there are 20 more girls waiting... if you're not happy just leave." Aware of the impact she can have as a model, she is planning to set-up a Youtube channel to raise awareness.
Aneta Kocisova. Photo: Ioana Mitroi / HMUA: Kitty Noofah
Shemiza, a teacher, artivist, and a radio presenter for Luton Inspire FM, is convinced that the future resides in being more moderate by Fasting from Fast Fashion. "As a Muslim, she realised that "there is more to us than just the prayer, it's about how are we dealing with those around us, with issues like animal welfare, food poverty, helping the homeless, food waste, the environment... being a voice and empowering others." She is aiming to stop buying new garments and explains her challenge: "it's not about criminalising fashion, it's about being more consumer conscious... Muslim modest fashion is not Islamic, if the garments have been sourced on cheap labour...Shifting to a more ethical lifestyle could lead to a greater consciousness and help balance inequality and a greater appreciation for want over need and human nature, for a fairer just world."
Kai, Salahuddine, Sara, Aneta and Shemiza are not just brilliant by their vision. In a society of conformation, they bring change. Their presence on the public scene is not for them to be validated by anyone. They may use means and techniques at play by dominant conventions, but they use it for making alternative voices heard. By being themselves, they already disrupt the narratives of power. These people are the foundations of a sustainable and powerful change. And the world desperately needs more like them.