“When you look in the mirror; Do you see yourself; Do you see yourself; On the T.V. screen; Do you see yourself in the magazine” Poly Styrene

By Lara Ratnaraja

So I am an ethnic- minority, BME, BAME, Asian other or whichever tick box you would like me to use.

Actually I am a  Sri  Lankan  Tamil  Catholic  Brahmin British Citizen.  In Birmingham  that  pretty  much  made  me  a  minority  of  5.  Oh and I was born in Germany.  Which made me  a  minority  of  two  with  my  brother.  Oh and  we  grew  up  in  Solihull  in  the  1970s.    Which pretty much  made  me  a  talking  point  in  the  neighbourhood.

So we  grew  up  as  exotic,  rather  than  different,  in  a  town  where  what  othered  you  was  if  you  only  had  the  one  car  or  didn’t  have  a  pony.

I didn’t see myself on the TV screen and I never saw myself in magazines. But I read. Constantly. The Women’s Press was my library, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir and Sylvia Plath my Northern Stars; Toni Morrison, Margaret Attwood, Frantz Fanon, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Alan Hollinghurst, Oscar Moore.. the list is endless..and in between these pages I found my community.. one that was intersectional, challenging,  interesting and questioning.

But in the mainstream world this representation was minimal.. I was different, was othered, and othered myself.. I celebrated this. I lived in my own little intersectional world without understanding what that meant.

But over time it felt like things were changing. The doors were creaking open.  Same-sex marriage, reproductive rights and the legal protection of people from discrimination in  the  workplace  and  in  wider  society through the 2010 Equality Act made the world feel inclusive.

Then along came Brexit. And the refugee crisis. And Trump. And the rise of the polarised and endemic racism. And the world exploded.. the anger that came this time seemed to come from all sides. The world became black and white. Binary views were held front and centre and the underlying hetero-normative structures were revealed to be very much in place, just obfuscated by a veneer of legislation and acceptance. Inclusion turned out to be built on permissions and invitations in.

But this time there was a difference. There was a plurality of voices of debate, dissent and democratic activism.  The cultural hegemony had been disrupted. By people online forming new communities and allies, creating a narrative  on  inclusion  which  is  not  predicated  on  permission  or  an  invitation  but  on  collaboration,  equality  of  discourse  and  equity  of  diverse  cultural  value  to  allow  for  a  fluidity  and  intersectional  cultural  ecology.

In a binary world, the non-binary came to the fore;  reclaiming notions of diversity and equality where self-identification is respected and valued, and in turn subverting a narrative that doesn’t represent those who live within a global community.

Now I see myself on the (computer) screen and in magazines. I see myself online and increasingly in the physical world. Self-identification fractures the concept of othering. It doesn’t require you to approve or condemn. It’s not asking for permission.

Huge love to Andrew JacksonHelga Henry and Shekayla Maragh for being my Northern Stars the last 18 months.

This piece is dedicated to Ted Ratnaraja

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