Identity, intersectionality and inclusivity

By Angeline Aow @@angeaow

Recent global events have ignited an international call-out for educational institutions to take action towards becoming anti-racist, to decolonise curricula, address systemic racism and do more than simply declare that they believe in diversity and inclusion.

The rise of nationalism in many parts of the world, the inequities Covid-19 has exposed and the advocacy of the #BlackLivesMatter movement following the death of George Floyd, have ignited personal and institutional learning about social justice issues across the globe. 

If we wish the steps we take towards becoming anti-racist to have real impact and contribute to lasting change, we need to reflect, recognise and react in ways that will help us completely rebuild our perspectives and institutions.

Becoming

In her book Becoming, Michelle Obama wrote, “Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” Reflecting on what inclusivity means to us, I believe we must look back in order to look forward, focus on and understand our own stories and recognise how our perspectives have been influenced by our past. I am always keen to deepen my own understanding of how my experiences and expertise have and continue to shape my identity as an educator, feminist, mother, and passionate advocate for intersectional understanding, inclusivity and social justice. I have learned a lot from this process of reflection and recognition and it has helped me to better understand what inclusivity means to me. But I know that I am on a journey that has no real end. In the words of Michelle Obama, I am “becoming”.

'For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.'― Michelle Obama, Becoming

In the evolution towards my better self, I wish to share some personal stories and reflections that have shaped my perspectives. I hope that by doing so I may encourage others to do the same, reflecting on their personal and professional journeys, to consider what has influenced their own thoughts and behaviours and what they may learn from this. 

I am an Australian-Chinese migrant, born in Malaysia to parents who come from very different backgrounds. My paternal grandmother came from Chinese landed gentry whose family had fled from political turmoil in China to Malaysia to find themselves a new home. My mother’s family have Hakka roots, a nomadic Chinese group, and worked the land as rubber-tappers. My father had servant helpers, and when she married into his family, my mother became an unofficial one. Among the strongest memories I have of myself as an angry pre-teen, in a home with three generations and three families living under one roof, is of me yelling at an aunt who rarely lifted a finger to help out around the house, questioning why my mother was the only one who did that. For me this injustice was hard to understand.  

Looking back now, I can reflect on the situation with a deeper understanding of the complex issues of social class, the cultural expectations placed on women who married into wealthier families and the caregiving responsibilities upheld in traditional Chinese family structures. At the time, I was just angry and privileged and it didn’t cross my mind to simply help my mother out. I was another  product of our family norm, expecting ‘mothers’ to do the work and as such I was complicit in her exploitation. Our complex family dynamics (and let’s be honest we all have them) continue to evolve and these days I try to take a deep breath and encourage my mother to use her voice to say no.

I realise that for me the injustice I perceived as a teen was the start of my awakening as a feminist, a passion I now channel into my volunteer service work as a country network leader of @WomenEdDE (Deutschland-Germany)

Read the rest of this thoughtful article here.

This article appeared in edition XXI of EDDi. The full edition and accompanying articles can be viewed here.

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