I worked on this episode with my co-host and co-producer Femi Oriogun-Williams, a musician and podcast producer. We interviewed several people from Dorset, and reflected on their – and our own – experience of being the visible Other in white rural landscapes, and our non-white British cultural heritage.
Femi interviewed Ollie, who spoke about how his love of music led to a career in the army; arriving in Wool, Dorset, in the 1970s; and experiencing racist violence. We both interviewed Anjana, from East Dorset, and Mona, from Dorchester, where Femi is from (I also lived there for several years).
Anjana talked about her work along the Jurassic Coast and her love of the natural environment. She also spoke movingly about her family’s experience of migration and being refugees, and the importance of preserving her rich cultural heritage, Rajasthani traditions and language.
Mona spoke about her voluntary work as chair of South West Dorset Multicultural Network; her wonderful experience of living in Dorchester; and the strong sense of identity she has, although this was different for her children.
The podcasts are one outcome from my New Talent Immersion fellowship, which has involved research around the questions: What does it mean to be the visible Other in white, rural landscapes, and How can we communicate these experiences to the wider, white community in a way they will understand? I am fascinated by human stories, and the power of story-telling. My research has strengthened my belief that it is possible to imagine how it feels to walk in another’s shoes, and creative technologies can help us understand this. Although we may never fully understand another’s life without lived experience, we can grasp the essence of that experience – we can all relate to how it feels to be an outsider.
I don’t think we talk about ‘race’ (and I use quotation marks to show that I don’t believe it is a real thing) enough in rural parts of the UK. On a national level there is an ongoing current conversation in the media, and at times it can become an angry one. When you are white, and live in largely white community, unless you have family from other ethnic backgrounds or a particular interest in diversity, ‘race’ and the experiences of people of colour is probably not going to feature on your radar. Why would it? If it doesn’t affect you, and the issues are seen as belonging in urban areas where the large majority of ethnic minorities live, it’s not going to be a pressing concern. I understand that. But for those of us who come from non-white British backgrounds, it is often challenging negotiating our everyday lives and identities when we don’t see ourselves reflected in the landscape around us, and more often than not, experience and witness racism.
We need, as a community in the south west and elsewhere, to be having these conversations; to be talking about ‘race’ and racism and the toxic legacy of colonialism, because it affects us all. It divides us and dehumanises people because of the colour of their skin. We all know where racism can end up. We need to be having these conversations respectfully, and it is important that people of colour in rural spaces can feel listened to. Some white people may feel worried about getting it wrong, offending someone, using the wrong language (which happens a lot in the south west!) but for me, if your intention is good, and you are willing to listen, engage and look at the bigger picture, that is what is most important. It’s not about blaming individuals, but recognising that the problem with racism is that it’s a structural problem, and one that has been around for a long time.
On a practical level, although I’ve interviewed many people over the years with other research projects, I am totally new to audio and podcasting. I have been doing some training and recording with musician and music producer Gary Pickard, of YouDoMusic, who has been fantastic. There’s a lot to learn, but with continuing support I feel confident that this will become a new way for me to share important stories such as these.
Making the podcasts has been a rewarding, and at times challenging, experience so far. Although there was a lot of interest initially it has been tricky keeping the momentum going – people lead busy lives! The interviewees I’ve spoken to so far have been amazing, and very brave in telling their stories, because it’s not easy talking about this stuff. So thank you to everyone who has taken part so far. I would also like to thank Gary and Femi for providing some of their own music for the first episode, and South West Creative Technology Network for supporting this project.
The second episode of Where are you really from? will also be available soon. In this episode, I will be talking to people of mixed heritage, and thinking about how the subtle forms of discrimination – known as micro-aggressions – impact our sense of self and wellbeing.
I am still looking for more people to share their stories – for this blog and for future podcast episodes. So please get in touch if you’d like to share yours!