Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

Tyranny and Free Speech: Essay in The Saturday Paper

“The colliding of opinions will only lead to the emergence of truth if the force behind both is equal, if the playing field is level, if there is a commitment to truth rather than to an agenda that is self-serving.”

GUEST APPEARANCE ON GUILTY FEMINIST PODCAST

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I joined Deborah Frances-White and Susan Wokoma for an entertaining and impassioned edition of the fabulous podcast, The Guilty Feminist. Also a guest on the show was the inspiring co-founder of Legally Black UK, Liv Francis-Cornibert.

Check it out!

 

 

Interview with Investment Magazine on Unconscious Bias

  Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

Yassmin Abdel-Magied delivering the Mavis Robertson address via Investment Magazine

I was honoured to present the Mavis Robertson address at the Conference of Major Superannuation Funds in Brisbane this year.  As part of the engagement, I answered a few questions for Investment Magazine on #BeatingBias. Here is some of what I said:


In your 2014 TED Talk, you make the point that acknowledging unconscious bias is “not an accusation”. Do you find many people still resist discussions about beating unconscious bias and get defensive?

In 2014, unconscious bias was a relatively new concept in the corporate world. Today, I think many people are aware of its existence, but rather than be outwardly defensive, sometimes they think it is an excuse for biased behaviour – as in, ‘Oh well, I am biased, there is nothing I can do about it.’ The other thing I often hear is people saying that they aren’t biased, and then immediately follow it up with a statement or question that demonstrates the exact bias they were trying to deny. Sometimes those who think they are the least biased are the ones with the most deeply entrenched ways of seeing the world.

How do you suggest people start the process of identifying their own unconscious biases?

It starts with being open to the idea that we are all biased, and that all of us need to go through processes of identifying and acknowledging the biases that we hold. It’s about asking ourselves about every single assumption we make and then questioning why we have made that assumption – where has the information come from, and is there space for that assumption to change? If we have a gut feeling someone is going to be a good leader, for example, is it because they have actually demonstrated anything, or is it because they are tall, they seem sure of themselves, they remind us of ourselves, etc? We need to be comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable – challenging our own biases is never a comfortable experience, but it is worthwhile.

In that TED Talk, you challenged people to seek out and mentor someone different to them. Have you seen any good examples of organisations doing that systematically? How has it worked?

There are a couple of organisations I see do this well, and it tends to be places where the idea of inclusion is a value that is built into the very DNA of the organisation. Organisations that understand how power dynamics work, that demand that you are on board with the culture of the organisation, that see supporting and empowering those with structural disadvantage as a must have, not a nice to have. It works best when everyone in the organisation understands that this is a company-wide ethos, and when individuals are willing to do everything they can in their power to make a difference for others. That sometimes involves sacrifice and discomfort, but when people believe in a goal that is bigger than themselves, it works out well.

What is your advice for someone who knows there is a problem with unconscious bias within their organisation but feels they are not senior enough to lead change?

Leading conversations at a peer-to-peer level is incredibly important and powerful, so that should not be underestimated. Cultural changes need to be both top down and bottom up, so finding ways to stimulate the grassroots conversation can be a stepping stone to broader understanding within the organisation. Also, looping in a champion, or someone else at a higher level who believes in the need for change, is also a good option.

What would you say to any senior executives or directors who are confident they are not afflicted by unconscious bias?

The science says that we all are – even me! The more we think we are not affected by it, the bigger the cognitive blind spot is. The first step in addressing any problem is to admit there is a problem, so I always encourage people to be open to admitting there might be bias, even as a thought experiment. Acknowledging unconscious bias isn’t saying someone is bad per se, but it is an opportunity for improvement – and what senior executive doesn’t like finding ways to improve?


2018: A year of learning to move beyond anger.

I originally published this piece on Medium.

 Photo by Sally Ryan

Photo by Sally Ryan

Charlotte Wood recently published an incredible essay about the anger of women.

It got me thinking about my anger, my rage, how I processed trauma; of recent experiences, and of simply existing as a Muslim woman of colour living in the West.

I must be clear. I do not think less of anyone for being angry. Often, almost always, the anger is justified. The world is not fair, trauma is real, and anger is an incredibly valid response to the pain the world, society and individuals, inflicts on us. Anger can drive change, and often does. It catalyses action in ways many other emotions do not. It is the fuel behind many an engine of transformation. It has it’s place, and is so deeply part of the human experience that to deny it completely would be folly, and perhaps, dangerous.

But like fire, anger can be the candle that lights a room, or a burning inferno that destroys a home. For the first time in my life, this year, I felt my anger spiralling out of control. I felt it consume the oxygen in the room, slowly creep under the doors. The flames of my fury licked at my window frames and threatened to engulf the safe house I had built myself to survive.

I frightened myself.

Charlotte Wood’s piece refers to this:

I won’t forget the look I’d seen on her face. It was fear, of drowning in her own rage.

My housemate, incredibly thoughtfully, bought a gift for my birthday. ‘It’ll help you get the anger out’, she said. It was a session at The Break Room, where you can break things, and feel good.

It was a wonderful sentiment, but I was strangely and involuntarily repulsed. My housemates were confused; they felt my rage. Surely smashing crockery was the perfect way of unleashing it. ‘I’m afraid of my own anger,’ I told them. ‘I don’t like the person I become.’ They didn’t understand, but how can they understand that sometimes we are most afraid of ourselves, of the darkness only we know exists?

We went anyway, despite my sullen mood and protestations. It was a wet Melbourne morning, the weather matching my demeanour. I watched the others take baseball bats to mugs, throw plates against the walls, hurl glasses with pure abandon. Loud metal music drowned the sound of chaos.

I felt sick.

Housemates 1 & 2 insisted that I have a go. I smashed a few mugs. I felt a tendril of satisfaction. Then, I felt sick.

Allowing myself to be violent in response to anger felt like opening the door to the room on fire, the room which once held a candle. The fire was hungry for the rest of the oxygen in the house, and once that door was open — even just a crack — well, that was all the invitation it needed to consume the building.

Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps breaking things would starve the fire, remove the oxygen.

I still felt sick.

My anger was justified, I felt. I had been treated unfairly, I felt.The world was systemically set up against me, I felt. My anger felt safe.

I found allies in the anger, other women and people of colour who were also deeply enraged. Rightly so, because my feelings weren’t off base: the world was set up against people like us. My anger alienated some, but drew in others. I found community, in anger.

Anger, for a brief moment, was liberating.

And then, it wasn’t.

The fire had consumed all the oxygen.

I couldn’t breath.


I don’t like being angry, certainly not when it is without restraint.

I don’t like the person I become.

But anger is an energy, a fuel, and perhaps like energy, it is neither created nor destroyed, but only transformed into something different. Petrol engines transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. Perhaps there was a way for me to transform my anger into another form of constructive energy, into an emotion that does not consume the very essence of who I am.


I’m occasionally reluctant to talk about how faith plays a role in my life. Having grown up in quite an anti-religious society, I know how faith based discussions are received. Religion, like Islam, is often mocked and ridiculed, sometimes by the very same progressives who fight for the rights of those who practice the religion. Irony aside, it is obvious that we all have our own framework for understanding the world. Fabulous; the plurality of experiences makes our world the wonder that it is and coexistence is divine. Mine is, and has always been, faith.

My faith allowed me to believe there was nothing I could not handle. That every obstacle was an opportunity for growth. That I could use the fire of anger; contain it, tame it, channel it. It taught me how to use the fire to light 100 candles, rather than let it run free. It didn’t work alone — faith worked in conjunction with therapy, a strong support network and moving countries. But it gave me the fortitude to ask myself how I wanted to use my anger, and what I was going to do about it. I am an engineer, after all. Energy is only useful if it can be channelled constructively.

So yes, I have anger. But I am no longer angry, Alhamdulilah.

I am not so frightened of myself anymore, and god, how that helps me breathe.


The first day of the year often brings with it an opportunity to rest, reflect, restart. As corny and passe as that might be, I revel in and enjoy the chance to stop, pause and think. To give myself the time to listen; to myself, to others, to what the world is telling me beyond the conscious, perhaps.

Here’s to a 2018 where I learn to live beyond a destructive anger. A year of directing that energy to raising others up, to building, to maturing. A period of time to be treasured, as all time deserves to be.

Ameen, Inshallah.

Right of Reply: A Call for Difficult Conversations, Not Censorship

In case you missed it, I wrote a reply in the New York Times to Lionel Shriver's piece, and also to further clarify the points I made in the original Medium/Guardian essay.

To the Editor:

Re “Will the Left Survive Millennials?,” by Lionel Shriver (Op-Ed, Sept. 23):

My initial response to Ms. Shriver’s keynote address at the Brisbane Writers Festival last month — walking out and writing about why — seemed to be largely misunderstood. Many took the reaction to be a call for censorship and responded with fury. They took as a given the right to say and write what they want, without critique, consequence or interrogation of intent.

The debate is not about censorship: People can write in the voices they please. The real question is whether they should. It is about the structures that define the world in which we live and work.

Fiction does not exist in a vacuum: It becomes people’s realities, because so often the only exposure we have to those with very different lived experiences to our own is through stories. But this discussion is larger than the world of fiction.

Ms. Shriver claimed that those who now fight for equality have become the oppressor. Her words betrayed a disappointment that the times are changing, and lamented that people are so terrified of being caught saying the wrong thing that they instead choose not to say anything at all.

This must be the same censorship that sees her books published, her keynote addresses delivered and her Op-Ed article published in The New York Times. Her perspective betrayed a deep fragility, born out of the fear of change. To those with privilege, equality may feel like oppression. But equality need not be a zero-sum game. Framing it so seeks to divide and ultimately to halt progress.

Yes, the times are changing. Millennials, like me, are agitating for us all to be better, and that should come with the acceptance that nobody is beyond reproach. Difficult conversations will make us all uncomfortable. Good. That discomfort is how we improve, how we render the best characters, best stories, how we create the most equitable societies.

So rather than making broad, sweeping generational assessments, how do we move forward? We can start with intent. Is the intent to preserve the status quo, or to demand more?

YASSMIN ABDEL-MAGIED

Melbourne, Australia

 

Podcast: Storyology Panel

I had the honour of being on a panel with a couple of awesome women recently at the Walkley's Storyology conference. 

Check out a podcast about the panel below:

Kara in particular, just *says it like it is*. YAAAS! 

Why We Must Listen to Hanson, Trump and Leave supporters.

So a couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have caused my Facebook feed to lose its collective mind.

The first was Brexit.  The media post the vote (which apparently, no-one took seriously) bordered on openly derisive towards Leave voters.  

I love Trevor Noah as much as the next third-culture-kid, but he was just one of the many whose commentary post-vote was essentially, 'how could they do this, don't they know what is good for them?'

Now hold onto that thought, and how the tone might play out.

The second thing that happened was Pauline Hanson's election to the Senate. If you haven't heard of Pauline before, here is a taste of her world view.

Again, her supporters have been labelled as xenophobic, ignorant, racist, etc etc. 

She's tapping into the populism that has fed the Brexit, and the same that is supporting Trump! On this, the general commentariat is agreed.  

Now check out this video... and I want you to listen to what Pauline has to say about 'grass roots Australia'.

Hold on a minute... Start listening to grass roots Australians! ...I know what the people are thinking and how they’re feeling... Let’s get the kids jobs and pull it together as one!
— Pauline Hanson

Now I don't share the world views or policy platforms of Pauline Hanson, Drumpf or Leave voters in any way, shape or form.  However, I think it is incredibly dangerous to ignore and deride those we disagree with. When has derision ever worked to persuade someone to your perspective? 

The question then becomes - well, if we are not to deride and ignore, what to do? How do we deal with these vast feelings of frustration, hurt and exasperation? 

Honestly, I think what we *must* do is start by truly listening. 

Pauline is right on one thing. Leaders haven't been listening to what sections of the population have been trying to say, and so the 'unheard' have taken to yelling in the only way that seems to get the attention of progressives and intellectual elite (a social segment for the purposes of this argument) - by voting in ways that will hurt them - despite what said elite say is 'logical' and 'rational' and 'good'.   

Listening doesn't mean agreeing. But what it might help us to do is *understand* why populism is taking on the hold is has, and understand what needs to be done to tackle it.  

Who is this group? Well on that I don't have a definitive answer, and smarter people than me are working on nailing down the exact demographics. There are some interesting leads though... Check this graph out. 

Note the blue line; inequality within country groups.  It is relatively flat (although increasing slightly) during the industrial revolution, but takes a definite dive during the early 20th century. it gets pretty flat again during the period following the second world war... and then it starts rising in recent decades. The world starts seeing an increase in inequality within countries from about the 1970's. Globalisation has been around for a while by this point, but an interesting reflection is the change in the cost of flying.

According to the Atlantic, 'in 1965, no more than 20 percent of Americans had ever flown in an airplane. By 2000, 50 percent of the country...the number of air passengers tripled between the 1970s and 2011.'

So the crudest way of looking at this is that in the last 40 or 50 years, people have started to increasingly look different in countries (because it was just easier to access different places on planes and thus the link to the anti-immigration sentiment), and coincidentally inequality within countries increased, yet everyone was being told that what was happening in the world was good for them.

What was happening in the world was good for the world, yes. The graphs above demonstrate that on the whole, the world is less unequal (there are less people at the super poor end of the spectrum). 

What hasn't changed though, is the fortune of the poorer people in the richest nations.  The people who globalisation (in the modern, airplane driven sense) hasn't really helped. The ones who have lost positions of privilege and power due to the improving status of the world but who have not been swept up with the tide. The ones who in some sense, feel like the world is forgetting them and leaving them behind. The ones who were once proud of their identity and place in the world, and are searching for that feeling once again. 

Their vote is equal to everyone else's, and they are some of the people that aren't being heard.

Being unheard - silenced even - is not a fun place for anyone to be.  


Inequality is frightening. I truly believe it is one of the most toxic ailments that can afflict a society and so much of what is at the root of the current wave of populism is due to the increasing levels of inequality within nations. Watch the video below (click through) to hear some of the reasons why I think we must keep talking about this deep disease. 

 Why inequality is not okay.

Why inequality is not okay.

So what does this have to do with not laughing at Pauline Hanson's voters?  

It's about reminding us to think about the long game. To think about why people are at the stage they are at, and realising that rather than derision, they deserve - like anyone else - to be listened to and heard. That is the minimum we owe. We may disagree, but what is more important is then to tap into that and dig deeper - why are you feeling the pain you are feeling? What in our systems is causing this entrenched and divisive societal ailment? What can we change?

Our societies are meant to be built to protect the lower income ends of society.  It is not supposed to exploit them until they have no way of speaking out and thus turn to being societally destructive.

The world is being served some timely reminders. It is also worth noting that the relative peace and harmony we have been working on and have enjoyed for the past few decades has only occurred because people worked at it.  Harmony doesn't just happen; social cohesion is a constant project and we all need to roll up our sleeves and get stuck into it, on the daily. A socially cohesive society starts with understanding and respect, and a vision that is about the greater good and systems that reinforce that belief. 

We've got some work to do. Khair inshallah... 

 

It's been a while...

Hey y'all!

A few things have been going on so I thought I'd share a few links, thoughts and announcements... 

1. I wrote this piece after attending an Iftar with the Prime Minister of Australia, the first Iftar held by a sitting PM in the history of the nation.  It was also in response to some pretty vicious reporting following the event... check it out here!

The fallout has been pretty rough, and has definitely provided lots of food for thought. I'm still ruminating but hope to share some reflections soon. Stay tuned inshallah.  


2. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the lovely Meri Fatin for Cover to Cover WA talking about 'Yassmin's Story' and the process of writing a book. It was broadcast on Westlink TV a little over a week ago. Check out the video below!


3. I started a new Instagram! It's very self indulgent...

*chuckles*

@HijabKween is where I'm sharing my hijab/turban styles, fashion influences and bits and pieces of inspiration that I collect on my travels. Hit a sista up!

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4. Junkee let me reminisce about the last year. Subhanallah, it has been a full year, Alhamdulilah! Check it out here...but more importantly - if you'd like a nomination for Junket let me know - and nominate someone you think is cool for Aus or Young Aussie of the year! It's how we recognise those changemakers around us! <3 


5. Amaliah are doing this really awesome thing where their readers 'takeover' their Snapchat for a day and show what Ramadan looks like in their world! Follow the account below...I'll be doing a Ramadan Takeover on the 29th of June inshallah! Watch out for it! 

 SNAPCHAT YO.&nbsp;

SNAPCHAT YO. 


6. Still haven't picked up your copy of 'Yassmin's Story'? Well, fortunately for you, Mammia Mia posted an excerpt (a particularly angry one, haha!) here.  Check it out...then BUY THE BOOK! *grin* *angel face* #MyHijabCoversMyHaloRight? :D 


7. I'll be cruising around Switzerland, The Netherlands, Berlin and Uganda over the next month inshallah. Follow my travels on @yassmin_a (twitter, snapchat and insta), but if you're in these areas and you'd like to catch up and say hello, holla @ me! Email yas@yassminam.com - I'd love to meet you inshallah, and bonus points if you have a copy of the book for me to sign ;) 


8. Last note... this is what I wrote on my FB wall today. Food for thought.

 

  

Conversations with Richard Fidler

Today I had the honour of being interviewed by the incomparable and charming Richard Fidler. You can listen to the hour-long yarn here (click for the link).

Fear must not divide us.

I haven't written for a while as I have been run off my feet with a few projects - keep up to date via my FB here.

However, the attacks in Paris have given me cause to write a quick note.

We cannot let fear divide us.  

Whatever your foreign policy agenda, no matter how badly the immigration officers may treat you, or how uncomfortable life becomes on public transport, let us not turn that into hatred. Because then, who wins? 

I am just about to jump on a plane to the U.S. where I imagine borders will be tight.  This is what I will be reminding myself of.  

There is no 'us' versus 'them', we cannot afford to think that way. Life is not that easy and straightforward. In some cases though, there is clearly and 'wrong' and a 'right', and there is no 'right' that includes killing of the innocent. 

Islam does not allow for killing innocents.  Ever. Full stop.

Our Prophet Mohammed (SAW) did not turn to violence unless it was in self defence and even *then*, he constantly chose to forgive rather than inflict further pain.  

Even the colonisers, when invading Muslim countries back in the day, thought Muslims were 'too lenient'.  Governor Hastings, along with his Governor-General of India Charles Cornwallis, felt like Islamic law allowed people to escape punishment too easily, complaining that Sharia was “founded on the most lenient principles and on an abhorrence of bloodshed”.

Why bring that up?  To remind us that we do not have to be steeped in blood to be strong.

The world we live in can sometimes feel like it is more unstable, more violent and that the violence is becoming more indiscriminate.  We cannot let that feeling override us, because that is what causes further division and allows the space for vitriol and hatred to occur.  Acts of prejudice are at the bottom of the Pyramid of Hate, and we cannot afford for our society to make it's way back up that ladder.  

We have to find it within ourselves to be kind. We have to find it within ourselves to forgive those who may look at others with fear and see it as an opportunity to build bonds of compassion, to find what unites us rather than what divides.  We owe it to our ancestors and to society to ensure we play a part in making the world a safer place and not sit in the ease and comfort of hate.

If we all try to find a way to unite, particularly in a way which is inclusive, in the words of Kendrick:

"We gon be alright!" (inshallah) 

#ParisAttacks


Take this moment to also remember those in other nations who suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Khair inshallah. #Lebanon #Syria #Beirut #Sudan #Iraq #DRC 

Speech on Gender @ the Inter-American Development Bank

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is holding its Transport Knowledge Week and I was extremely honoured to be asked to speak on the topic of gender and bias as it applies to such a technical field.  The program is a two day forum bringing together 50 transport specialists from the Latin America and the Caribbean region and this year they are discussing how to improve project´s impacts by including gender equality objectives. 

In this excerpt (filmed with the amazing Emma and Lucy from Broken Yellow!) it is explained why it is important to take gender into account when designing infrastructure and the value in creating an inclusive environment for colleagues of all genders. 

What do you think? Enjoy!

The research quoted is from:

Hatmaker, D. M. (2013). Engineering Identity: Gender and Professional Identity Negotiation among Women Engineers. Gender, Work & Organization, 20(4), 382-396.

More interesting research on this topic can be found in this report:

Powell, A., Bagilhole, B., & Dainty, A. (2009). How Women Engineers Do and Undo Gender: Consequences for Gender Equality. Gender, Work & Organization, 16(4), 411-428.

Get into it! Fascinating Stuff! 

 Transport knowledge week @ the iadb

Transport knowledge week @ the iadb