SheSays Include Us

Last night people from all walks of life (mostly of the female persuasion but not, in a word, exclusively so) gathered in Manchester for the latest SheSaysManchester [@shesaysmcr] event, this time on the theme of inclusion. In a time where governments are weaponizing hatred and other forms of nationalism and the us-vs-them approach to a new exclusionary culture throughout the western world, inclusion is a word that strikes fear into the heart of those in power. Not to mention that those who see themselves as normal, average and, above all, white-British, have been conditioned to understand inclusion as the problem with modern society and that it means the end to life as they know it. It may, indeed, spell the end of the traditional racist, misogynistic, Christian-culture-motivated lifestyle that is understood to be stereotypically British, European or working-class-American but one truly must ask the question, who truly benefits from that life. Given that it applies hatred to anyone from another culture (a huge section of society even in the farthest outreaches of the contemporary western world), to those who are not cisgender, not heterosexual, not male and not white. It does appear, on reflection, not to be a majority of the population, only the majority of the government. And that, indeed, is where much of the talk, much of the incitement and much of the hatred begins.

It was against this backdrop of standing up and being counted as people who are inclusive that three speakers began their reflections on this warm northern evening. Emilia Kolbjørnsen [@itsameliakoko], Marketing and Events Manager and Community Manager of Manchester Girl [@manchestgirl] started the evening, telling the story of a life where inclusion is the ultimate desire and concern but where it was withheld. From the cliquish school community of Norway (not unlike that of the British multi-strand education system where different uniforms give way to street brawls and aggression and football allegiance is enough for playground violence to mirror that of the parents) to the overtly-inclusive but secretly-exclusive Spanish culture where she, obviously different in background and looks, fought to be a part of an accepting group. Without success, though. From there, she speaks of a heartbreaking return to her home only to be seen as an outsider by those who had never been inclusion-minded in their early childhood and worsened from there, culminating in time seeking a place within the middle-east and, finally, a hope for a turnaround in Manchester’s community, a group that is regarded within England as accepting and open but that certainly has vast distance to travel before that is the truth. Her vision of inclusion being implemented by the community here in the north is touching and, after fighting for inclusion throughout her life, it is remarkable. Against this history, it would be natural to feel nothing short of black depression as sectarian tribalism raises its head and the nationalist rhetoric of exclusion, pride and a disregard for thought and education screams the same notes as prewar Germany or the rhetoric of both sides before the Sino-Japanese war – the politics of racial hatred, cultural exclusion and blatant lies. One must hope her optimism describes a better future.

Chisom Emecheta, a doctor specializing in women’s health, then took the stage to speak of an applied logic approach to inclusion. The message was strong and clear, that acceptance, that kindness, that inclusion is beneficial to everyone, those who are included and those who include. After a brief discussion of distribution, it would have been difficult to miss the essential truth – without outliers, there is no progress. Life doesn’t get better for anyone, especially not the majority, without change that is motivated by and often put into practice by a minority group. Whether that is a minority that lacks power, lacks influence, even that lacks visibility or obvious difference from the cultural norm (how can one easily tell if a person is gay or comes from an immigrant family?), all improvement in standards of living come at the cost of change, of being unsettled from the status quo. Not each change brings improvement but, realistically, without the change from the minority evolution is impossible and humans would not have progressed from hunter-gatherer societies, would never have spread out and populated the world and certainly would have had no chance at developing modern technology. She spoke of the importance of meeting needs and even those things not quite needed but mutually desired. If you are starving, physically, socially, culturally or even emotionally you are unlikely to listen to another, to include them, to even see them as another human. Proposing this as a basic issue in the modern case, she put forward a strong argument – the majority of those who make decisions in this country are afraid they are about to lose their only means of earning a living and have been told that it is us, the minority, who is to blame. It is no wonder that in an atmosphere of fear, both of the unknown and of the painfully-known, where having enough to feed your children is by no means an assumption and immigrant, minority, disabled, even visually-different others are portrayed as an enemy has exactly the expected result. Overt exclusion, thinly-veiled and government-sanctioned persecution and a society hopelessly divided.

The final speaker, Emma Preston [@emmajanepreston], inspirational speaker and bestselling author concluded the night with a discussion of her journey of fighting a society painfully transphobic and male-privilege-obsessed. Her story was one of loss but of strength in the face of opposition from all fronts, leading to the publication of a bestselling personal narrative book and a resounding victory over the darkness of depression and self-hiding. Highly inspirational, her words were those not of a hopelessness for society, although that may be brutally true of late, but those of personal strength that is within everyone, each member of the excluded minority to stand up and expect no longer to have to fight for inclusion but live within a society that has no choice but to accept its diversity.

In all, the night was one of highs and lows of emotion, happiness and sadness with the empathy that is always present among such audiences. Questions focused on personal approach, how to apply peaceful resistance to a society that is all too happy to fight acceptance with violence and love with hate on the streets, in the boardroom and in the hallowed halls of government. It was an experience none will likely soon forget and a motivation that was doubtless felt by all present.