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Pride, Prejudice and Difficult Conversations

Emily Sutcliffe and Loui Marchant, Wonder Foundation interns

What does it really take to bring together divided communities? Emily and Loui report back from Wonder's "Pride and Prejudice" workshop for the Knowing Me, Knowing You project, which tackled tough topics to find out. 

Above: the panel discussion in action. 

‘The most difficult conversations are often the most necessary’. This was the conclusion of one of the young people who attended the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ event at the Baytree Centre in Brixton.

What did they mean by difficult conversations? Arguably, these are the conversations we would normally avoid; those that make us feel uncomfortable and awkward, or touch on the taboo. Over the course of the day, the diverse group of young people in attendance at the workshop had many such difficult conversations about race, identity and prejudice. We asked ourselves:

What's in a name?

We began the event by considering our first names, why we were given them and by whom. We discussed whether we felt suited to our own names, whether they had other meanings and what their ethnic origins were. As each person shared the story of their name, it became increasingly clear what a diverse group we were, with names drawn from a rich variety of geographical, historical and cultural origins.

We were then asked whether we thought we might ever have been subject to prejudice because of our name. This thought-provoking question started a conversation about implicit bias and the assumptions we make when we see certain names.

Are you racist?

This was perhaps the most difficult question asked of us all day. Almost all participants were apprehensive about answering. The easy answer would be no, but this would have shut down the conversation without questioning our assumptions. After listening to the Avenue Q song, ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist’, we were asked to reconsider the question.

We considered British equivalents to the stereotypes mentioned in the song, including assumptions we make about people of colour wearing tracksuits, Polish immigrants seeking work and Muslim women wearing the hijab. The conclusion was reached that we may all be guilty of making prejudiced assumptions and generalisations at times, perhaps even without realising it. Furthermore, the group generally agreed that discussing and analysing your own prejudice is a better step forward than denying it.

Participants in the workshop also took the time to question and critique the message of the Avenue Q song. It was pointed out that the song might be too dismissive of prejudiced thinking and discriminatory behaviour. We discussed the importance of considering prejudice and stereotyping within its social and historical context. We considered the differences between racially charged mistreatment of white people and institutional racism affecting people of colour.

What is identity?

We were joined by Sagal Bafoe a young Somali woman from the Anti-Tribalism Movement and Rachel Ohwin, a young migration researcher. Sagal defined identity as how you see yourself and not how other people see you. Both women discussed how they balance their identity as a Londoner with their other identities. They talked about the fluidity of identity, and how the way you identify with different aspects of your heritage and culture can change over time. It was a fantastic opportunity to listen to and learn from two successful women of colour and second generation immigrants.

 

"There is no change without dialogue."

What is integration?

Rachel stated that integration is a two-way process which everyone should be involved in. Sagal described it as a sharing of cultures.

Following a question from the audience, the panel suggested integration techniques including setting up school and university societies and socials, making efforts to learn a little of someone else’s language and asking them questions about themselves without assuming their cultural identity.

How does the media influence us?

We examined various political cartoons about social issues such as the refugee crisis and homelessness. We considered the many ways in which these cartoons could be interpreted and guessed at their intended message. Reading newspapers across the political spectrum also highlighted how these issues can be represented in different ways depending on the intent of the paper. As a team, we analysed the language used to describe refugees and other minorities in the UK.

We agreed that the way groups are portrayed in the media does influence how we perceive them. We talked about how we need to be actively aware of media bias and selective reporting, so that we are not unconsciously developing prejudices from what we read.

 

Rachel and Segal discuss key insights they discussed at the workshop. 

How can we challenge prejudice in ourselves and others?

Ultimately, we all agreed that there is no change without dialogue. One of the biggest themes to arise during this discussion was that of bipolarity; of a big division between those on the political left and those on the political right. We then considered how to bridge the gap and create a meaningful dialogue with those we don’t agree with. We talked about always being open and willing to listen. Even if someone’s perspective seems wrong or even hateful, listening can sometimes provide us with a new perspective and deeper understanding of the lives of others.

Similarly, we talked about not being too defensive when we are called out for our own prejudices. Once again, listening to those we might have offended, even if it was completely unintentional, gives us the opportunity to learn.

Overall, we believe the other workshop participants will agree that coming together to discuss common media and public prejudices, as well as hold a mirror up to our own, gave us the tools to the question and deconstruct them now and in the future. Therefore, having these conversations was difficult, but we concur that is was very much necessary.

Learn more about our Erasmus+ funded 'Knowing me, Knowing you' project and get involved in future workshops. 

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