People often ask me why, when I’ve got so much already on my plate, I continue to take on new things, especially those that might seem unimportant, like being on a trade union committee or contributing to work that challenges inequality at my university.
Having recently written a post for Young Workers’ Month for the Musicians’ Union, I’ve been reflecting further on why activism is important to me, and why it still gets prioritised in my increasingly busy life.
If not me, then who?
If I don’t stand up to represent young women of colour, in education, academia or music, then who will? If I’m not speaking up in committees, is there a voice there to represent who I am and the issues I face?
Of course there are women on committees with me, but so often I’m one of the youngest voices in the room, and almost always the only person of colour, especially within music. Yes, we are all nuanced individuals and no-one can truly be represented by another, but there is a degree to which certain groups and identities can be represented, and particularly where committees are not diverse, there is a need for broader identities and experiences to be represented. I can’t represent every person who experiences inequality, because the issues we face and how we experience them will be different, but because I have a better understanding of how privilege operates, there’s a good chance that I can relate to them enough to use my voice to help. Maybe there will be a day when I can hand the reigns over to someone else to sit on these committees, but for now I feel responsible to make sure I have a seat at the table, and a voice in the conversation, because if I don’t, no-one else is going to speak for me.
Growing my voice
As I said in my piece for the Musicians’ Union, I didn’t think I was ready for being on a trade union committee — what did I know about trade unions? What could I possibly have to offer? But that’s not what it’s about. I might still be finding my feet, and growing my voice, but I have every right to have that seat on committee. For a start, if I hadn’t joined the committee, I wouldn’t know much more about trade unions today, and I doubt there would be people on these committees who could understand the issues I face as a young, BAME woman.
Last week I stuck my nose into a Facebook debate on diversity in the classical music industry, and found myself arguing with white men about whether race was an still issue in the industry… realising that there is still an attitudinal issue needing addressed around lack of awareness of privilege and barriers, it’s things like this that remind me that if I don’t speak up, I’m complicit in allowing discrimination and ignorance to barriers to continue.
As I continue to find my feet, I’ve realised that most people my age aren’t really involved in trade union activism, and a lot of people around me aren’t members of a union, so I’ve decided something I can do is encourage people to explore what a trade union could do for them. From what I’ve experienced so far in the trade union movement, particularly in the creative industries, there’s a need for new, young activists to step up and represent the next generation of workers, and there’s a real need for this new generation of activists to be more reflective of society so that we can continue to break down barriers.
So, expect more from me along this theme…