Art in Diversity and Inclusion

5th January 2021

By Teresa Norman of TogetherintheUK

The power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing.  Simon Shama

MeToo and Black Lives Matter have shown the urgency of work on diversity and inclusion. Its about creating a fairer and more just society but also understanding that if we do nothing, terrible things will happen.

So, we need lots of different approaches, we need to keep on developing our understanding of unconscious bias, to identify and disseminate the processes that help make our decision making as objective as it can be and to consider how our policy choices affect different groups.

If we want though to make our messages stick, we need art. If you watched Small Axe, you will have gained a deep understanding of the impact of overt racism on the West Indian Community, if you watched ‘Sitting in Limbo’, you will have seen the real impact of policy on people.

What more do we need to understand and how can art help?

We need to learn more about migration and how it impacts on people. Whether its by choice or because of necessity, it involves facing huge challenges that can be hard to imagine if you have never done it. And as the world becomes more chaotic, increasing instability causing more wars, climate change, there will be more people fleeing their countries because of necessity.  At a lecture by Cambridge Lit, I learnt that the first world war created 5 million refugees, the second world war, 40 million and in 2019, there were 79 million. There will be more people with a refugee history working with us and many different communities came to the UK in the past because of war or oppression.

If we want to be inclusive, we need to celebrate the bravery of this and to do our best to understand the impact that migration has.    Isolated with no-one seeking to understand or to encounter people with unthought through stereotypes of your home country is an incredibly alienating experience. Or, if someone reaches out and engages you in a thoughtful discussion, you can begin to get a sense of belonging. In the TogetherintheUK research,  we heard stories of someone saying to someone Greek, ‘you don’t pay taxes, do you?’ or someone awkwardly mimicking a Japanese ceremony. How much more inclusive it would have been to say, ‘tell me more about Greece’ or asking someone to show them the Japanese ceremony. Or to have the vocabulary to ask about the journey from your home country to the UK.

So, how do we set about understanding migration, for those of us, not embarking on an MSc in Migration?  I have found that I have discovered so much about people I have been working with or met by providing a public platform.  Somehow, asking people, if they want to tell their stories in public honours their experience and creates an opportunity for more conversation, more insight, more exchange. I am thinking of one of our panel members at our launch when I found out that her family story was one of fleeing genocide.  At our next big event, I found that someone I had worked with for three years, his family story was that they had been picked up in the South China Sea 40 years ago and were what was known then as Vietnamese Boat People. I spoke to Nour Marjan on a podcast and nothing could bring the war in Syria more home to me than listening to someone tell me about how she spent all day on the phone trying to find out if her parents had survived the latest bombing. This public telling gives us all permission to be curious, to find out more, to engage.

This is one of the main reasons that TogetherintheUK is running a Creative Writing Competition asking for stories of migration.  They can be very simple, they could be about how you work out which shops to go to, how the work culture is different or if you want, or how you have managed in the pandemic. they could be about how you create a sense of home, which I have heard described as ‘a place of safety but also of loss’.(Ref: Cambridge lit lecture)  If you are willing to share your poem, your story or your essay, I hope you will find it a rewarding experience and it will be an opportunity for those around you to engage with your story.

Please do share this invitation with your network. And to enter, go to:

Message from Marshall E-Learning

We are delighted to sponsor this creative writing competition with Together in the UK.  We know the importance of sharing stories in creating empathy and counteracting unconscious bias and we would like to invite the readers of this blog to support the competition by sharing the link with international students and with any first or second migration migrants in your network.

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