May Musings - 27

Couple of announcements today folks!

I have these events coming up:

The Last Word - In Conversation at the Roundhouse Theatre - TICKETS HERE

This one is pretty cool… You Must Be Layla book event IN LONDON in collaboration with The Other Box - TICKETS HERE!

I’m also heading to Australia for a week or so in June so stay tuned for those details inshallah


What’s on my mind today? Well, firstly, I can’t believe it’s May Musings 27. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep up the habit of writing every day when I started the challange - fairly flippantly - sitting in a cafe in Malaysia. Goes to show that a slow, incremental change that you hold yourself to does make a cumulative difference.

I’m not sure if my writing has gotten any better in this month as I’ve often written squeezed in the moments between five-to and midnight. That being said, I certainly think my fingers are flowing a little easier…It’s also been nice to have a record of my travels and adventures this month.  I’ve got one more trip before the end of Ramadan, inshallah. I really did pick one hell of a month to try write every day!

I’m curious to see if it’s a habit I can maintain. Part of me wants to try continue it for as long as possible, part of me realises it’s probably unsustainable. But then again, some people do continue habits for years at a time - praying, for example, is one such habit. If I reduce the commitment, say to once a week, will that reduce the disciplinary effect? What if I write once a week and focus the energy on developing my newsletter (that I’ve been saying I’ll do for ages?). What if, what if! And that’s not even taking into account that I have to make time for actual paid work that I need to do... haha.

That’s where my head is at, this Tuesday. Where are you? 

May Musings - 25

It’s been a couple of days since Binyavanga Wainaina passed. Binyavanga was a Kenyan writer and journalist who wrote widely, including one famous essay I thought it was worth revisiting. It’s titled ‘How to Write About Africa'.

Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title. Subtitles may include the words ‘Zanzibar’, ‘Masai’, ‘Zulu’, ‘Zambezi’, ‘Congo’, ‘Nile’, ‘Big’, ‘Sky’, ‘Shadow’, ‘Drum’, ‘Sun’ or ‘Bygone’. Also useful are words such as ‘Guerrillas’, ‘Timeless’, ‘Primordial’ and ‘Tribal’. Note that ‘People’ means Africans who are not black, while ‘The People’ means black Africans.

Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.

On it goes. It’s brilliant, but sad, as you realise the sardonic tone is often missed by the majority of writers outside the continent. Rather, they take Wainaina’s words as instructions. Quartz has shared a lovely obituary here.

Re-reading the piece was timely, as I’m speaking about the ethics of writing at How The Light Gets In festival sharing the stage with another legend, Minna Salami. To my shame, I hadn’t come across Minna’s work before, but her blog, Ms Afropolitan, ‘connects feminism with critical reflections on contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective’ in a wonderfully fresh way. In the interests of sharing different voices, here is a recent piece I enjoyed from the site: What is the role of family?

…in modern society, we oscillate between contradictory ideas about family as a place of comfort and an institution of tradition and dogma, where repressive and outmoded views are upheld.

Additionally, people who grew up in countries that were colonised by the West must grapple with the intersection between typical Western ideas of family and their traditional ones. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I witnessed how the polygamous family and the Western nuclear family were entangled in ways that, at times, made them more vibrant, but also compromised women.

Going back to the question of the ethics of writing. It has been termed as ‘cultural appropriation’ in the program but that term is so ill-defined I find it unhelpful. Conversations like these mildly interesting, but often miss the point. Why do we even have a conversation about who can write what? In a truly equal society, where no group was deemed supreme, then there wouldn’t be a problem. However, we don’t live in that world - we live in one with structural inequalities, ethnocentric supremacy and ‘epistemic injustice’. In writing, this last term is quite relevant: it refers to the idea that there is injustice and inequality in who gets to ‘know’ things in society, and whose knowledge is respected, deemed worthy of listening to, deemed true. Is a young black man’s testimony of a crime worth the same as a senior, white male engineer? If a young woman accuses a powerful man of sexual assault, is she believed? If an indigenous grandmother speaks of an injustice on her land, is that given the same weight as that of a farmer named Bryon? We might not legislate the differences in how these testimonials or ‘knowledge’ is treated, but society reflects deeper inequalities in this way at every level. I can tell you that my grandmother fasted on Monday and Thursday every day for years and that the Islamic tradition encourages this as good for your health, but the moment that same intermittent fasting regime is published in English, it becomes a down-right phenomenon.

So, in a world with such injustice, how can we say that we can write without an acknowledgement of the responsibility that accompanies that creation?

The thought led me to Orwell’s essay, ‘Why I write’.

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books..

Sigh…

May Musings - 23

Hey folks! Happy Friday!

What’s on my mind today? Well, I’m preparing for the How The Light Gets In festival which I’m appearing at on Monday inshallah - will any one you be there? It’s one of my favourite events of the year - Music and Philosophy, I mean c’mon!

Folks, I made it to the fourth line on the posters. I’m pretty much a headliner. SUBHANALLAH!

Folks, I made it to the fourth line on the posters. I’m pretty much a headliner. SUBHANALLAH!

I’ve also started a super cool gig as a regular contributor on Midori House, one of my absolute favourite current affairs show. I did my first show last night, and I honestly feel like I may have made it (hehe). You can listen to the episode here. We talked Indian elections, EU elections, Japan’s new (or old?) name convention and childhood books…

Click to hear the episode.

Click to hear the episode.

I feel very blessed Alhamdulilah to be doing things - speak, broadcast, write - in spaces and with people I’ve deeply admired for years. It’s amazing, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘what’s next’ mode of thinking: planning the next step, focusing on the next challenge, rather than taking stock and sitting in gratitude for where one is now. I’m reminded of the quote: where you are now, is where you once dreamed of being (or something along those lines). Subhanallah, indeed. I remember when I was in third year university, I was invited to be in the audience on Australia’s current affair show, Q&A. A fellow engineering student was giving me advice on how I should act, before I realised he thought I was on the panel. ‘Oh no, I’m not on the panel,’ I told him. ‘Wow, if that ever happened, I will have truly made it.’ Two or so years later, I was invited to be do just that - sit on the panel of the live TV show. It felt like the biggest, scariest, most impressive thing in the whole-wide-world. After a few appearances, that feeling faded… but it’s nice to reflect on how much one has grown, and be grateful for every step along the way, Alhamdulilah.

So, I’d love to hear from you! How do you know when you’ve ‘made it’? What does that look like for you? Have you ‘made it’ and then moved the goal posts? Let me know!

***

PS - I thought this was cool! Muslims to lead Birmingham Pride parade for first time in event’s 22-year history:

Muslims will be launching Birmingham Pride celebrations for the first time in the event’s history as they march alongside prominent gay school teacher Andrew Moffat at the very front of this year’s parade.

While Moffat has been selected to front the Pride parade this weekend, event organisers are adamant he will be flanked by LGBT+ Muslims and their allies as an expression of solidarity following anti-LGBT education protests outside Parkfield Community and Anderton Park primary schools in Birmingham this year.

May Musings - 15

This blog post is a little late today. A a few minutes ago Firefox decided to have a moment, freeze and quit, erasing an evening-worth of work.

Oh, the irony is Iftar-level delicious as well, given the entire piece was about how Ramadan has been tough so far but had reminded me of the power of discipline and patience. I am feeling neither patient nor disciplined in this moment, just a sense of searing frustration and a pang in my right arm that’s mildly concerning.

Perhaps Allah was protecting me from putting something out in the world I didn’t need to be putting out. Who knows. All I know is that today’s musings are going to be short and sweet, just like my tether in this very moment.

***


I started the day off as a guest on Monocle 24’s morning show, the Globalist, talking about the recent political escalation in Sudan. You can listen in [here].

I was then quite fortunate to join Munroe Bergdorf and a number of other prominent activists for a breakfast and panel for Mental Health Awareness week hosted by iWeigh and the Allbright. We shared our experiences with social media and mental health and stood for a few cheeky photos....

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

It was wonderful to be connected in person with so many folk who I admire from afar, and be reminded of themes to reflect on regarding mental health, but also in terms of how we see ourselves in the world - and who we are centering when we are having those conversations. When we talk about liberation, are we centering others, or those we seek to liberate? What do our conversations say we implicitly value? Who do we deem as authority? Where does the pressure come from? How do we live in alignment with the values we purport to have?

I’m going to leave you with those thought bubbles, as I need to go watch some stand up comedy to let off some steam…


Allah give us all strength to get through this Ramadan. Khair inshallah.

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

Photo credit - Gerogie Glass - @georgieglass_

May Musings - 14

Folks!

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I write to you from my mobile phone, on a train back to London from Bristol. I just had the most wonderful evening sharing my YA novel, You Must Be Layla, with the Bristol community through an ‘In Conversation’ event hosted by Words of Colour.  

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

With Joy Francis from Words of Colour

It’s been an absolute joy - no pun intended - bringing this book to life and now seeing it in the hands of people all around the world. The Bristol audience was kind, engaged and enthusiastic, and the conversation also reminded me how far I’ve come since I moved to the UK in late 2017.

Times of darkness makes one feel like there is no light. Sometimes, the darkness is so deep, one wonders when there ever was light, and questions whether there will ever be light again. That’s the terrible wonder of darkness, it’s ability to make you forget the very existence of the possibility of salvation. 

Yet living through darkness makes the light all the more sweet.

I felt light tonight, Alhamdulilah, bouyed by the compassion and generosity of strangers. Thank you, to all who came, and to all who contributed to making it happen. I am forever indebted. 

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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?


Whitepaper on Cultural Diversity and Inclusion

I'm so excited to share with you the second part of the whitepaper I've written on cultural diversity and inclusion.

Part 2 is focused on how to create a workplace that is inclusive, and links to a lot of the Diversity Council of Australia's work in this space. 

Want to learn more about cultural diversity and inclusion? Download the whitepaper today!

Part 1 - Diversity Beyond Gender

Part 2 (NEW!) - Re-thinking Diversity

Let me know if you have any thoughts / feedback on the papers. If you're interested in having the paper presented to your organisation, feel free to get in contact and we can organise a time.

Enjoy!

 

MUMTAZA MASTERCLASS!

I'm so very excited to be telling you about Mumtaza's first Masterclass for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro!

Details Below:

Want to learn how to #Slay on Stage?

The Mumtaza Network is proud to announce the first of its MasterClass Series for Women of Colour: Public Speaking Like a Pro.

In our survey last year, you said you wanted to learn how to share your stories in the most powerful way possible. You wanted to learn the skills of slaying on stage, of holding a room, of perfecting a powerful presence.

You told us what you wanted, and we listened.

Public Speaking Like a Pro is a day-long workshop run by Women of Colour, for Women of Colour. Hosted by co-Founder and CEO of the Mumtaza Network, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, you will leave the session equipped with the skills to be the most powerful advocate for your message.

Further details will be released shortly, but get your tickets ASAP, as seats are limited!

TIX HERE!

 

VIDEO IS UP!

Hello all!

It's been an eventful few weeks, and thank you all for the messages of support you have sent through - it has meant a lot.

That's all I will say about that though! What I really wanted to do was share this video of a sweeeeet panel session I did at 'All About Women' a couple of weeks ago with two other amazing writers, Lindy West and Van Badham.  Check it out below!

What do you reckon?

Enjoy your week folks! 

The End of the Road: Leaving Youth Without Borders.

…the end came without fanfare.

Today, the 31st of October 2016, I chaired my final Board meeting at the helm of the organisation I founded in 2007, Youth Without Borders.

I was 16. 16! It was a time of dial up internet, Nokia 3210s, and my traditional hijabi look. I had no idea what I was doing, no idea what journey I had just begun. I also had no idea why people thought it was such a big deal, starting something at 16. I just had a lot of energy and wanted to change the world! My parents wouldn’t let me do drugs, so I started an organisation instead. Seemed like a fun thing to do. Why not, right?

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

The Asia Pacific Cities Summit — where the idea for Youth Without Borders was formed

This end has arrived without fanfare. It has crept up on me, not unexpectedly, but with a finality that leaves me unmoored, bobbing in the current of an uncharted future. I’m left with sense that one should be celebrating, but I mostly just want a long afternoon lying on the grass, starting at the sun, reminiscing at times that will never be experienced in the same way again.

‘My baby’ is all grown up. It walks and talks, it lives and breaths. It is different to what I wanted it to be, what I hoped for it when it was born, but then — aren’t all children like that? Like I assume it is with kids, I did my best to provide a solid set of morals and values that will guide it through the world, and the rest, well. It’s not my choice anymore, really. Isn’t that scarily beautiful?

Honestly, one of the main reasons why we still exist almost a decade later, as one of the oldest true youth-led organisations in the country, is the fact that we stuck with it. Boring, right? We just didn’t quit. We almost did, many a time… but importantly, we didn’t.

‘We’ was quite often myself and a few of the engineering boys I corralled into doing a fundraising BBQ. ‘We’ was whoever I could convince to stick with it for a little while. ‘We’, was sometimes just me.… but ‘we’ made it. Teenagers and young people wanting to change things, before being a ‘youth-led organisation’ was part of a government’s plan to reinvigorate the economy. Subhanallah.

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

First conference we attended as YWB members in 2008

There are many stories to share. For now, I just take this moment to acknowledge and thank every single one of the people who were a part of the Youth Without Borders journey. Without you, we would have never existed. Really, YOU are what makes this organisation great. Lucy, Anthony — the OG’s — thank you for believing in me at the very beginning. I may have inadvertently made your life difficult at times, and for that, I apologise. To all who may have had a less than optimal experience: for what it is worth, we always tried to do our work in good faith. I hope you will forgive me having to learn critical lessons at your expense.

I am who I am because of Youth Without Borders. But Youth Without Borders is not what it is because of me. It is thanks to the collective sweat equity of hundreds of young people who gave the organisation life, and in doing so believed in their capacity to make a positive impact on the world around them.

In a time when things seem to be falling apart, it’s nice to remember that all over the world, there are young people determined not to let that happen. Have faith in that. Have faith in the fact that the good stuff doesn’t make it in the news, but the good is happening all around you, all the time.

But it does its work and leaves. Its touch is light, imperceptible. Good happens without fanfare.

Fanfare.

Fanfare.

Alhamdulilah for the strength to lead, for the capacity to be heard, for the fortitude to forge on. Alhamdulilah, always.

This was originally posted on Medium.

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! 

Event: Australia in Transition!

Hey hey hey!

I would love to see you all at an awesome event planned at The Greek Club in Brisbane, talking about the future of Australia and this country's travel through transition.

George Megalogenis, Anne Tiernan and I will be tackling these issues on the 28th of April, and we would love to see you there! Jump on the Avid Reader website and get your ticket today!