Exposure Asks: how celebrating diversity combats hate

March 1, 2023

L-R: Front row: Natalie, Rebecca, Mya, Elloise L-R: Back row: Georgia, Anjola, Lila, Miriam, Jasmine, Layla and Mariella

Exposure asks young women about their identity and the ways they fight discrimination

We explore our unique perspectives and experiences, living in a diverse and complex society.

According to the 2021 Census, London is the most ethnically diverse region in England and Wales. Over 45% of its residents define themselves as Black, Asian, Mixed or another non-white ethnicity.

Our capital is home to a wide range of cultures, that we celebrate in a variety of ways, including sharing amazing food and enjoying lively festivals.

Diversity is not dangerous. It’s not something to be afraid of. By celebrating diversity, we can dispel misconceptions about different cultures, religions and ethnicities and promote new ways of thinking.

We explore the obstacles that distort our identities and find ways to celebrate difference. When we embrace who we are, the community we live in becomes a much more interesting and open place.

Scroll down and use the slider tool to see what we think of these topics, and to view relevant thoughts and facts we want to share. The images to the left show what we feel, or invite you to think about, while the images on the right provide information on each issue.

Being told you’re ‘white-passing’ can negatively impact your mental health — by Rebecca Pattni, 16 and Miriam Chan, 16

In a recent study, researchers found that teens who had greater understanding of their ethnicity also demonstrated higher levels of self-esteem.

In our experience, we’ve found that being considered ‘white-passing’ can undermine a sense of belonging, having a negative effect on mental health.

What is ‘white-passing’?
‘White-passing’ is when someone perceives People of Colour (POC) as a white person, for whatever reason. This means there’s an assumption that everyone who “looks white” is white.

It’s no surprise that misidentifying someone does invalidate a part of their identity. To be ‘white-passing’ is to be viewed as having more privilege than other POC and having the struggle that these minorities face ignored.

In our work with Exposure we discuss our racial background. I, Rebecca, am interracial with my mother being English and my dad Indian, and I, Mimi, am also interracial. My mum is white South African and my dad is from Hong Kong. However, because of the way we look, with a lightish skin tone, we are both considered ‘white-passing’.

For me, Rebecca, I go through life with white privilege and don’t face direct racial abuse. However I, Mimi have faced direct racial abuse. We’re both subject to some microaggressions, which are subtle behaviours, either conducted consciously or not, that are aimed at someone from a minority group. Regardless of how someone looks, policing peoples’ identities is never right.

On the other hand, being ‘white-passing’, we can acknowledge the advantages we have, which encourages us to speak up on racial issues. Being mixed race is a unique experience for everyone. No one is the same; having a white mother or a white father affects how you experience your culture and identity.

The desire to lump all people who are mixed raced into one category can be detrimental. It can lead to mental health struggles and feeling distant from parts of our culture or even ashamed to express our racial identity.

Already, you have an internal struggle of belonging, as you don’t fit in fully to either side. Then there’s an added layer of complexity when people try to force you into binary categories based on how they perceive you. Being told that you are ‘white-passing’ undermines your sense of self, having a whole side of your identity dismissed by others.

However, having an interracial background means we’ve both had opportunities to taste and enjoy a broader selection of food.

For me, Mimi, food is a big part of Chinese culture. At family gatherings, we come together to enjoy a meal at a restaurant in China Town or at someone’s house. Round tables are traditional and symbolise that everyone is equal. Dishes are shared which is something I think is quite lacking in British culture. I love being able to try so many different foods. Amongst my favourite Chinese foods are dim sum and noodles.

I, Rebecca enjoys eating Indian food with my family. I love okra, potato shak, sweets like gulab jamun and jalebi cooked by my Dadima. My good friend Jess, who is white, also loves sharing Indian food with us.

Being part of two cultures is something exciting, special and rare. It makes us feel unique which is something to celebrate!

When does free speech become hate speech? — by Anjola Fashawe, 17 and Lila Griffiths, 17

Free Speech vs Hate Speech

A vital part of our identity is how we use our freedom of speech to express ourselves.

Firstly, to understand when free speech becomes hate speech, we must make a distinction between the two.

Free speech is defined as ‘the right to express opinions without censorship or restraint’.

An example could be expressing that the government is not doing a good job in tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

Hate speech is when abusive or threatening language is used as a form of prejudice against women, race, sexual orientation, and other minority groups.

Recently, multiple celebrities and public figures have been heavily criticised for holding extreme views that can be classified as hate speech.

Kanye West is infamous for making anti-Semitic slurs on his social media accounts.

“I just think that’s what they’re about, is making money,” West said in an apparent reference to Jared Kushner and his Jewish family.

Boris Johnson compared Muslim women who wear burkas to ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letterboxes’ – this is hate speech.

In our work with Exposure, both having grown-up where misogynistic ideas often go unquestioned, we discuss our personal cultural backgrounds and the impact they’ve had on our sense of self.

I, Anjola, am from Nigerian heritage. I was born in London and my mum has lived here for 30 years. I have seen and experienced the traditional values my relatives, specifically aunties hold, that are misogynistic.

I, Lila, am interracial with my mum being Indian and my dad British. My extended Indian family tend to hold traditional values and beliefs.

Historically within Indian culture, parents have favoured sons over daughters. Parents expect sons, but not daughters, to be the main providers who give financial support to their families. In contrast, daughters, but not sons, are expected to provide emotional care and take on a motherly role.

Similarly, in traditional Nigerian culture, misogynistic views and sexist hate speech is prevalent, where daughters are conditioned to take sole responsibility for all domestic roles. Women are expected to be ‘good housewives’.

Growing up in London with diverse friendship groups and the opportunities that our families have provided, through a good and liberal education, we know that whilst being aware of what doesn’t sit right for us, we have a lot to celebrate.

How can we celebrate ourselves to combat discrimination?
By sharing our concerns and discussing our different cultural heritage we have found out more about each other and have gained a deeper connection. We share the feeling that our backgrounds, with their limitations and richness, combined with the diversity that is London, has taught us to speak out and work hard to define ourselves.

Through educating ourselves by both honouring our positive history, and also learning about the impact of the negatives from our past, we can change our core beliefs. Also by modelling inclusive language and behaviour, and exposing people to multi-cultural experiences, we can help to break down outdated stereotypes.

What lies beyond the surface — by Mya Gosai, 16

Look beyond the surface
The surface?
Look deeper than the colour of my skin
The surface?
I am more.

What lies beneath?
My youth

All these values
My foundations
So why should my race be your opinion of me?
“Where are you from?”
Where am I from?

Between the walls of my school buildings
my home and my streets

Where my mind has been crafted
Within the pages of The Mountain is You
My morals have been shaped
Between the lyrics of Jorja Smith
Her guidance has been lent to me

I am what I have made myself.

But judge me now
Knowing nothing but what lies
Beyond the surface
Instead, turn unconscious bias to
Conscious inclusivity.

How can we celebrate our differences? — by Elloise Joseph, 16

“I think you’re lost because you’re mixed race.”

“YOU ARE LOST”, what a confusing statement for an 11-year-old to hear, and to be told this by your white, middle-class therapist on your first session. Yeah, it definitely comes in one of my top weirdest first encounters.

This was a phrase I replayed in my head for years; maybe being Pakistani, Caribbean and Israeli meant that I was lost. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful to come from such a culturally enriched background but I have always felt like an outsider, even in my own family.

Every summer holiday I look forward to the elevating feeling of Notting Hill carnival weekend. Excitement shimmers in the air, with the pungent smells of jerk chicken cooking, the mellow and soothing sounds of the steel pan percussions, colourful costumes and the overall feeling of inclusion and organic acceptance.

Everyone at the carnival appreciates each other’s cultures but why isn’t this element of acceptance universal? Why, apart from this day, do I feel like an outsider?

I always feel isolated at events because I’m seen ‘as not black enough’, because I wear my hair straight and my skin is relatively light. When I was younger there was a conflict in me; I was celebrated in school when my hair was straightened, yet I felt so judged within my own family.

Being exposed to different types of religious events when I was younger was so intriguing for me, that I didn’t always realise how odd some of my extended family found it, having me there. I would get stares of disbelief when walking into bar mitzvahs with my mum, receiving comments like “your hair looks like you just woke up”.

As a child I felt so lucky as I got to enjoy all types of cuisines, yet I still found myself being questioned by family if I was ‘even Asian’ because I didn’t take a particular liking to the spicy vindaloos.

It was odd growing up seeing girls and boys who kind of looked like me in the media, but never finding anyone who was mixed exactly like me. It left me questioning whether I was just ‘so unique’ as people always told me, or was it just code for ‘you’re an outsider!’.

What does ‘whitewashed’ mean to me — by Mariella angate, 16

Being ‘whitewashed’, in my life, typically applies to people of colour (POC) that live in Britain. It is a derogatory term used to describe a minority who has assimilated with western society (Urban dictionary).

It’s a dangerous concept that increases the prominence and power of white people, ultimately minimising and oppressing POC. Heavy stuff, right?

This term has followed me around for almost all the 16 years I’ve lived. I’ll give you the run-down of my life, which you’ve totally asked for!

I happen to live in a predominantly white area of London. So, if it wasn’t already obvious, I was surrounded by less POC; this lack was a gap that only widened during my childhood.

Inevitably, seven years in a primary school, where I was one of four black girls in my year group of 60, I adopted ‘white’ traits. What I mean by this is the way I talked sounded white, as well as the music I listened to. The friends I surrounded myself with were white and the social media I consumed was most popular amongst white girls.

I only came to realise these aspects of myself when secondary school came by. Being called ‘whitewashed’ was a phrase that I was forced to familiarise myself with. At school peers of all colours engaged in this microaggression. It was a term that was normalised due to its prevalence in comments directed at me and others. You can read more about mircoaggression here.

There was a mental and physical struggle for me to find a community to identify with. I felt rejected by my black peers because they perceived me as purposefully having distanced myself from my cultural identity.

Over time it dawned on me, that the phrase used by my black peers was an excuse to mock me. With further attention, I saw how isolated they also were from their own ideas of what a stereotypical black girl should be.

Feeling confused and isolated, I began questioning my identity and turned to the media to influence my own interpretation of being a black girl. No, I didn’t go out of my way and search up ‘101 on how to be a black girl’, really! I just stopped engaging with anything I thought to be part of this idea of being white.

I now understand that this didn’t help me or make me feel good. It only confused and distorted the idea of my own identity. Additionally, the media only portrays stereotypical ideas of being a black girl; it’s so subjective really.

Being ‘whitewashed’ was a weapon used against me and many others. I relate to its description as a cold, unfeeling and outdated concept that doesn’t reflect the historic pain and suffering it causes. It only evokes negative connotations. Check out more about whitewashing in our society here.

This form of social profiling results in restricting the target to only the stereotypes of being white. Yes, I know, I’ve dampened the mood a bit, but I think it’s important to understand the effect such reoccurring microaggressions can have.

Yet, although very damaging, there have been brighter outcomes from all this negativity. Being told I’m something that I don’t feel has made me resourceful and I’ve found ways to dig a bit deeper to connect with people and the stuff I enjoy.

I understand the versatility of my identity; it’s not only made of my culture but the fruits of my environment and experiences. I have independently come to learn about my heritage and the richness of my culture. And I don’t judge people solely on how they sound or look. Being constantly misunderstood has fuelled my drive to continue developing myself and appreciating difference in others.

It’s been hard at times but now I realise that my identity is forever evolving. And so is yours, which is truly okay because our identities will grow continually if we let them.

There are many misconceptions about my culture — by Layla Said, 17

As a young Middle Eastern woman, born in north London, I’m extremely proud of my culture and heritage. I enjoy sharing delicious traditional foods with my family at home such as dolma, hummus and kebab.

One of my favourite artists is Nancy Ajram described by Spotify as the ‘Queen of Arab Pop’. I really appreciate clothing like the abaya which is a robe-style dress, worn by some women in parts of the Middle East. Styles differ; some being embroidered with gold and silver thread on dark fabrics while others are brightly coloured and decorated with jewels and lace.

However, I’ve been judged and misunderstood by others due to religious and historical controversies surrounding the Middle East.

An all-too-common misconception is that all Muslims and Middle Easterners are terrorists, which continues to reinforce Islamophobia and xenophobia. And as a result of events such as 9/11, Muslims have been a target of prejudice and discrimination for decades.

Terrorist. Oppressed. Victim. These are some of the words associated with being Middle Eastern, especially for Muslim women wearing the Hijab. We aren’t seen as equals by many Britons, and others across the world.

I remember my older sister telling me about the time when she was on the bus days after the tragic event. She was harassed for wearing the Hijab and accused of being a terrorist. This isn’t a story unique to my sister. These biased attitudes sadly still affect many Muslim women and men across the globe.

Although London is one of the most diverse cities in the United Kingdom, I continue to see prejudice in the media. ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ in 2018, was a hateful online campaign against Muslims. It encouraged non-Muslims to commit violent acts against people like me!

I’ve noticed people blatantly crossing the street when they notice me and my friends, as well as choosing not to sit beside us on public transport as they perceive us to be ‘dangerous’. I’m sure if people stepped back and looked beyond my appearance, they would reconsider the misconceptions that follow me around 24-7. They’d also see someone much less threatening!

To me, being an Arab is more than just a title. Harmful stereotypes and anti-Muslim racism is prominent within today’s society. I feel a sense of responsibility to challenge people’s prejudices against Muslims. We shouldn’t be defined by random incidents. Rather we should be recognised for our generosity, our compassion, and our knowledge.

When I visited my home country, Iraq, this past December, I realised just how special and unique my people are. I witnessed incredible generosity on the streets of Baghdad, when the homeless and vulnerable were supported by locals, given food, water and money.

I learnt more about our history and how maths, medicine and writing originated from my country. I appreciated nature, the clean rivers, deserts and palm trees you never see in England. I cherished the feeling of ‘fitting in’ as I was surrounded by people just like me.

I wish to break the cycle of harmful prejudice. I believe that addressing these myths will help to build trust and hope this will contribute to promoting more positive views of our differences as well as our similarities.

How do we express our identity? — by Natalie Piechuta, 17

I’ve been thinking about how to explore my identity with Exposure. Initially, I found it hard to talk about as so much of our identities are what we choose them to be. On the other hand, identity can also be informed by our heritage and its history, which merges with our own past experiences and the present itself.

As we interact with our surroundings and each other, our identities evolve and influence those of future generations. Our identities create a space for connection through dialogue and emotion. I feel this links to the artistic language and visual messages that art conveys. Our identity often acts and speaks through us as a new or familiar emotion.

Both my parents and grandparents were born in Poland, and this plays a big part in who and how I am. The communities of north London where I live, and those of my heritage, are both equally the homes to my identity.

My parents came over to London from Poland in the early 2000s before I was born. Growing up I ate Polish food, my favourite being Pierogi which is a type of dumpling that can either have savoury or sweet fillings. Check out the recipe here. My first language was Polish and, since I particularly kept in contact with my grandmother, over the years I have learnt to read and write in Polish too.

Another part of my identity is my love of art. I developed a keen interest in it as I was entering my teenage years and I suppose it acted as a support and channel for my changing identity. Creating art continues to help me figure out what I feel, by grounding me within the present.

I remember being fascinated by history from a very young age. I would pore over old photographs in my grandmother’s albums and loved watching historical movies or documentaries.

Art is intertwined with history, making it difficult to understand one without the other. By looking at the symbolism, colours, and materials in a piece of art, we can learn about the culture that produced it. I created a piece of artwork dedicated to family photos from the 1930s to the 2000s which I collected at home, as well as from my grandmothers and aunties.

I printed the photos onto some acetate to create a transparent film texture and stitched them together with wire and thread to imitate a long tapestry. I feel deeply connected to this work and it makes me realise that I gravitate towards inspiration that is familiar.

I struggle with a sense of discomfort, that I have to overcome, in the process of manipulating the past and the familiar. It feels like a manifestation of the identity becoming ‘what you choose it to be’ but in a sense also becoming something more than you.

One artist I recently discovered is a Polish sculptor called Magdalena Abakanowicz. I was drawn to the scale and texture of her work and to the fact that I had never properly researched Polish art before.

Magdalena’s work focuses on her childhood in communist Poland and the trauma of the Second World War. She uses natural fibres to reflect her environment and depicts human figures living and working in harmony with nature. Magdalena was fascinated with nature since childhood. She was born in 1930 and died in 2017.

Magdalena’s work inspires me as she too explored her life and identity through her art. The Tate Modern is exhibiting her work until May 2023. Check out more about it here.

How can we celebrate diversity? — by Jasmine Ransom Malik, 17 and Georgia Wolfin, 17

One of London’s greatest strengths is its diversity. It is the most multicultural city in the UK; home to a wide range of cultures, food, music, celebrations and more.

Throughout the year, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Eid al-Fitr, Holi, Oktoberfest, Notting Hill Carnival, and St Patrick’s Day are celebrated, highlighting London’s cultural richness, encouraging us to broaden our horizons.

From Irish country music to Reggae, enchiladas to paella, there are copious opportunities for us to engage with and appreciate the diverse music and food across the capital.

However, it is important for us to be able to understand the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation.

Cultural appreciation is valuing another culture to expand our perspectives and connect with others. Cultural appropriation involves taking an aspect of a culture that is not our own. When we use culturally distinct items, aesthetics or practices, and mimic them without consent, permission or any cultural context we are guilty of appropriation.

It’s vital that we can understand, respect, and appreciate cultures besides our own, to get a wider, deeper and more inclusive view of people and the world around us.

So, what does diversity mean to you and what does it involve?
Jasmine: Diversity for me is an authentic representation and doesn’t feel forced. I want to be able to turn on the TV or read a book and see characters that reflect the world we live in. Diversity should not just be portrayed in the media – it’s not a fantasy, and it’s the real world we live in – it should be reflected in everyday life.

Georgia: Diversity for me means people being represented because they are valid and deserving of representation, not just because of a lack of it previously. Diversity includes having three-dimensional characters portrayed in Film and TV from marginalised groups. Storylines should fully reflect their lives and backgrounds, rather than just being shoehorned into generic stories, or having their ethnicity exploited as their only trait.

How do you celebrate diversity in your life?
Jasmine: I have mixed heritage so in my family we celebrate cultural and religious events all the time. My dad is Indian, so we mark Hindu religious festivals as more of a cultural event than a religious celebration as neither of us are particularly religious.

On the other hand, my mother is half Ethiopian and is orthodox Christian so while we do celebrate religious festivals with her, she takes them quite seriously. So, there’s a mix of celebrations in my family, some traditional, some familial and some religious.

Georgia: My family is largely British but originally came from Eastern Europe, with my great grandparents coming from Belarus, Russia, and Poland. We are ethnically Jewish but most of my family isn’t especially religious. When I was younger we had lots of family living around us and celebrated Jewish holidays like Passover and Channukah together. But now the extent of our celebrations usually takes the shape of my grandad coming over on Fridays and we share a takeaway instead of a traditional Shabbat dinner.

🎉 Let’s go celebrate our difference 🎉

Georgia is 18, from N-W London, and is currently studying English Literature, Sociology and Geography at Woodhouse college. She likes R&B, photography and learning languages.

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