Categories
Islam LGBTQ Personal Writing Projects Sudan Politics U.K. Politics

Modern Prayers: A Companion Guide

This article intends to be a companion to my work ‘Modern Prayers’ commissioned by Out and About: Queering the Museum at RAMM, Exeter, 2021.

Another way of saying history is written by the victors is that history is denied to the oppressed.

I grapple with this a lot, especially when museums have a huge task in modern times of not only preserving history but a responsibility to actively find out what was ignored or forced into hiding.

Queer histories are one of those blank spaces.

I was drawn to the necklace taken during the Nile expedition from a Sudanese soldier in 1885 when I looked through the online collection at the RAMM. I am – still today and through the months of the commission – fascinated by it because it is wrong, but only upon a second glance. It passes at first, blending into a normalcy. When you examine it though you find it falsely labelled – even taking rosary to be an approximation and not intended to associate the necklace with Catholicism the beads do not count high or few enough to be a misbaha, used to count the 99 names of Allah.

You always know when you have a good project when it plagues you. I spent a whole weekend reaching out to my Sudanese relatives and friends and they too could make no sense of it; my father said it is a fraud, not genuine Sudanese at all.

78 beads with 21 missing pieces – it neatly reflects how queerness is a missing element of our histories, both in the UK and in Sudan, as well as the sloppy way the history of those under British rule was treated during colonialism.

I want to note here that a lot of the questions I have around the treatment of the prayer beads are something I place in the historic period and not something I see as coming from the modern RAMM. I think it is likely that the prayer beads were broken at some point in someone’s personal possession and that information was not handed over to the museum when they were donated. I think it’s important for people to remember that we often have a complicated task in modern times of preserving and maintaining history when – either through carelessness or maliciousness – a lot of key information that should have been handed down hasn’t.

There are similar issues with museums in Sudan, where a lot of old Nubian relics weren’t treated well in the past for a combination of factors including religious prejudice due to the former government’s Arabisation drive, and only now is there really a push to properly preserve these important artefacts. Part of my intentional inclusion in the piece of my atrocious Arabic is a reflection of that – why should I be ashamed of my language skills when my family have lost their mother tongue, and relics of times gone by were allowed for decades to be swallowed in sand?

What is in the modern museums hands is how they choose to seek out that missing knowledge in modern times and who they ask to help them with that. Museums tend to reflect what society finds important to preserve and it is vital that more museums invert that process and take a proactive approach of adding nuance and uncovering hidden aspects of our past.

In the UK QTIPOC have a unique experience compared to white LGBTQ people, especially with our relationship to history. Many of us come from places that were under British colonial rule and experience marginalisation within both mainstream culture and mainstream queer life. I think prayer beads and I think of my own prayers for a sense of home, and how so many of us have nostalgia for a past that shares our fullness but no way to learn about or embrace it.

A lot of time with queerness people want to talk about the future. I am interested in the pasts that were denied. I am interested in the fact that the historical language of my fathers side – Nobiin/Mahas – was almost wiped out of common use in a few generations and yet holds so many fascinating aspects that would be considered futuristic by some; for instance there are no gendered pronouns and folk tales abound with stories of women stealing the skins of men to live new lives. I am interested in learning how exactly generation after generation of LGBTQ people have lived in shadows, and how they thrived as well.

There are five chapters to my piece. The first two look at crimes brought with colonialism and with those who originally claimed our history as theirs to filter before being passed down. Next I expore our erasure from history and then the role of us as rememberers. Finally I seek to reassure that there is still joy and revelry to be had as we continue to rebuild our pasts.

Coming from a place where these queer histories and those of other minority groups are regularly erased, from our personal stories right down to the languages we speak, it feels important to bring to light just how much of our past does not show up in formal records. I hope that by being part of such a project we can begin dialogues, not only here, but in other countries about how to tackle these blank spaces.

Acknowledgements

Firstly thank you so much to Dr Jana Funke, Natalie McGrath, and Eleanor Coleman for their help and support during this process.

Secondly a major thank you to the RAMM and the University of Exeter for commissioning this work as part of Out and About: Queering the Museum, and to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for investing in this fantastic project!

All music I was kindly able to source through https://www.free-stock-music.com and tracks are listed below in the order they appear in the piece. One of the things that was important to me was to have the strong sense of drums throughout as it drew from the ceremonies the Dervish’s hold in Omdurman each Friday where they spin and chant to obtain a closeness to God. There is something in the rhythm and intensity of the beat that makes you feel a oneness and it was that I wanted to tap into and how through time it has faded away.

Ambient Bongos by Alexander Nakarada https://www.serpentsoundstudios.com
Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Mirage by Hayden Folker https://soundcloud.com/hayden-folker
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Bumbumchack by Alwin Brauns https://soundcloud.com/alwinmusik
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Last Promise by Nettson https://soundcloud.com/nettson
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Luminance by Ghostrifter Official https://soundcloud.com/ghostrifter-official
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

Categories
Personal Writing

Big Things/Sad Things

My cousin died a number of weeks ago. My colleague died a few weeks later.

My cousin once removed was born. She is tiny and a burst of light. My career both in research and in creative pursuits has been full of excitment and wonder.

There is a range of bittersweetness in these months; the birth of bright things and the loss of those who share my blood and who were in my daily life. That death and grief and joy can ride alongside each other, entwined, seems quiet cruel.

It feels strange now to revel in great things, like there is a betrayal there in taking moments away from sorrow. Other times I think to myself “This is what it is about – living in the knowledge that we must push to accomplish what we enjoy because we don’t know what time we have”. I don’t have shame so much as a quiet confusion about how I can place my emotions and how I can share my pride.

I published a piece about disability I have sat on for a while and I am glad to get out there. I started a new job as a Research Manager that I enjoy to my core, getting to delve into social issues impacting my neighbourhood in collaboration with people from the community I live in. I presented on my experiences as a late diagnosed Autistic adult to professionals from the East London NHS Foundation Trust as part of Autism Awareness week. I was commissioned to produce digital art work for the RAMM Museum and the University of Exeter as part of their collaborative project, Out and About: Queering the Museum. I have some new poetry being published soon in Untitled: Voices Issue 3 as well.

Artist introduction for my ‘Out and About: Queering the Museum’ commission.

Nuances in life are hard to articulate sometimes. That we can have painful and terrible moments existing alongside some of the best is surely known to be real and yet it is still so hard to acknowledge to ourselves that it is okay to be confused. Even with time I haven’t yet grappled with it fully and perhaps never will resolve this tension.

So I sit and I wait for life to resume in a way where I feel I can thrive without hesitation.

Categories
Personal Writing Resolutions

Lockdown Diaries: The Marvel of Washing Up

When all is said and done there will be serious questions about various governments handling of the pandemic. Some choices – Eat Out to Help Out – will hopefully be roundly criticised. Others – spacing out the vaccination schedule – I hope will be viewed in the context of gambles that sometimes must be taken.

In the meantime though we have to each learn to bear with it in the best way we can. For me this means getting involved again with community work – this time through the fantastic London Renters Union who are in the process of setting up a full branch in my borough of Tower Hamlets. Definitely join them if you rent in the capital! For others I know this has been done with bread baking, or DIY.

I am learning to find pleasure in smaller things these days. Washing up dishes to the sounds of the Talking Heads. Among Us games with friends spread across the globe. A fluffy cat whose joy in life is staring out my bedroom window at the comings and goings of Whitechapel.

I haven’t written a New Years blog for a while now. In a way this is because everything globally always seems so much, and I get trapped in wanting to explain the world before I talk about myself. Consider this as a late one and an incomplete one. 2020 was a strain, but as always things blossom in the midst of shit. I know more about myself and I know more about where I want to take myself.

I started this blog back in 2015 after finally deciding to leave a stressful job and move into the political field. It’s been interesting ever since, but I’m reminded how much more faith I have in myself these days. It creeps up, ever so slowly altering within yourself until one day you take for granted that it has always been there. Prospects which seems so alien and out of reach back then are now simply lists of accomplishments.

Years might just be the way we make sense of time, but I like their opportunity for reflection. 2021 might have the same flavour as the year before but it is a stretch I am excited about. There is a fire that has been lit, cultivated by quiet reflection, and I am ready to do more of what I enjoy and prioritise that over others expectations. I have plans I am building, not quite ready to be revealed yet, but I look forward to sharing them when they are.

In the meantime I’ll be singing along with “This Must Be The Place” while I rinse out my cafetiere.

Categories
General Politics Media Analysis Projects The Smokeless Room

So, I have launched a newsletter

The Smokeless Room is a newsletter by Rushaa Louise Hamid, with a special focus on all you need to know to sift the bunk from the gold of opinion surveys! Sign up here!

I firmly believe that polling should not be something made difficult for the average person to understand and critique. Unfortunately these days with the media being what it is it can be tricky to figure out just how accurate a figure being thrown out is. This is especially true when the issue polled in question is contentious.

As someone who has worked on and off in polling and socio-political market research for the past five years, most recently as Special Projects Manager for over two years at polling firm Survation Ltd (you may remember them for such hits as the 2017 and 2019 UK General Elections) I really appreciate just how difficult it can be for someone with no expertise to assess what they read. So I’ve started a weekly newsletter – The Smokeless Room – to help people navigate the topic in an easy to understand way, and whose archives you can find here.

The name ‘The Smokeless Room’ is a riff off the idea of “smoke-filled rooms” which the OUP’s Oxford Languages helpfully summarises as a term “used in reference to political decision-making conducted privately by a small group of influential people rather than more openly or democratically”. It’s at the core of my politics that information should be accessible, especially when it comes to important matters, and so making sure that the wider public are literate in polling is one way of promoting more open decision making.

If this catches your fancy, sign up here! Issues are out each Wednesday and I’m always up for receiving suggestions of items to cover.

Categories
General Politics Personal Writing Political Debate U.K. Politics

Decolonising Universities and Life

Late September is the period where students flood university halls for freshers. Generally focused mainly on drinking too much and starting their new phase of life. Or rather it should be. Due not only to COVID-19 but also the sloppy A-Level algorithm fiasco, students instead have stress and uncertainty.¹

University used to be a guarantee of a prosperous middle class life. Now it is a tick box exercise for only the possibility of such (particularly if you have opted for something outside of the STEM field). No longer the essential path to a certain standard of living, now it forms one more hurdle to navigate for any sort of basic managerial path at all.

I spent my undergraduate degree at the School of Oriental and Africa Studies (SOAS), University of London. SOAS is unfairly maligned for its Decolonising SOAS student movement dedicated to introducing more non-European thinkers on the curriculum. Something that should have been a welcome step was portrayed in the media as political correctness gone mad – that all they want to do is reject white men.

It is not any sort of surprise that in education European thinkers are dominant. Even in specialist classes on Africa we would frequently come back to the views of European and American academics rather than African thinkers. And it is frustrating to know that whilst we see value in applying Western thought to other cultures and context, we don’t look to the rest of the world to build up our orthodoxy. The Occident analysis is a side, not a main course.

This is flaw in education is intricately bound with the initial decision to use an A-Level algorithm that tied current students to the ghosts of A-Levels past. The endeavour showed that voices which have always been held up continue to be facilitated. Those at the margins who could contribute something new had to fight to be heard. Even with the change allowing teacher predicted grades to be used, students who were disadvantaged in the first place are likely still faced with issues around admission, housing, finances (especially if they have to delay entry) even if their grades now meet their offer requirements.

Entering higher education as any sort of minority means that sources you use frequently contain errors simply because authors don’t consider something so obvious to you. In older texts Muslims are referred to as Mohammadens because Western European Christians could only see Islam through the lens of Christianity. I have found level of religiousity to be tied to frequency of prayer – you are in the “most religious” group if you pray three or more times a day. It completely ignores that there is a huge difference between a Muslim who does that and a Christian who does. These problems will persist so long as our systems prioritise the same-old same-old.

Cognitive biases are so common, and not just in academia. WhenI write surveys I often conduct cognitive testing to check my assumptions on how someone will read a question actually apply across the board. Once you open your eyes to it you see in even in the little things. Once I accidently kissed a friend’s mother on the mouth because I assumed she would greet me three kisses on the cheek (Sudanese) and she assumed I would give two (Mauritian).

Diversity is not just about race, but class, country, sexuality, field of specialism – the list draws on. Universities instil a confidence in knowledge, but when the knowledge draws only from one type of background you don’t actually get a high quality education. You need to be both challenging and to be challenged. Barriers to allowing different views to mingle, through access to education and texts chosen, is a significant problem.

The most essential thing I have learnt in education is how to handle being wrong and be open to that experience. And I can only find out the numerous things I am wrong about when there are others around – whether in person or through texts to study – who come with different knowledge and perspectives.

 

*

Notes

  1. I want to make clear I am not someone who is advocating university education above other forms of continuing learning – technical colleges, apprentinceships, and going straight into work are all important (and I would venture more important) to society and should be funded far better than they are. I am however someone who can’t speak to those experiences, so I am focusing here on academia.
Categories
General Politics Personal Writing Political Debate

Comments on Identity and Success in a Fractured World

At some point if you are a member of a minority you will bump up against some elements which serve to make the biased structure of the world visible to you. A woman might see the glass ceiling or casual sexism, a black man may be stopped and searched repeatedly with no real cause, a blind person may continue to find the internet intensely difficult to navigate with their screen reader. Sometimes these moments make one compassionate to other struggles. Sometimes people are convinced that only their specific problems exist and all others are the result of paranoia.

If you are lucky then you will be asked to believe there is something there which you will never experience. Something that cannot be seen, that is often hard to objectively prove, and that if true means that your position is not entirely due to your hard work or ‘natural’ talents but also the result of a system which keeps others outside and tells them they deserve very little.

I think it is clear this is why there is a group who see bigotry as only the obvious – racism is a man yelling a slur, homophobia is banning marriage rights. It is harder for them to see how it can be generation after generation creating a situation where the unconcious idea of a worthy person has the mannerism, tastes, accents – and so on – of a narrow selection of people. They can’t see that if this supposed meritocracy¹ just so happens to predominately favour the group of people who have always been in charge then maybe they are the group who rigged the game.

When you grow up in an environment where it is hard to fail completely, and where when you do that failure is often a result of some catostrophic mistake or horrific piece of bad luck then it becomes easier for your sense of self to project that it is the same for others. That every success is the result of their hard work and that if others just stopped complaining and tried more we’d be past “all this”. The more overlapping a persons identities are with those which aren’t upheld by the system, the more it seems that they “play the victim”.

We all have this thinking to a greater or lesser extent if we don’t catch ourselves – the more privileged we are the more we must take it on faith when someone tells us their experiences. That gathering to protest injustice is a legitimate pro-community reason to break social distancing while gathering for a party is not.

Back in the pre-2013 Snowden relevation world I remember being on the other side of this. Having numerous white British people view my knowledge that there was a global surviellance programme in collaboration with the Five Eyes powers – a knowledge shared by so many around me growing up that it was backround noise – as conspiracy thinking and the results of some racial and cultural paranoia. It surprises people I tell this to now, who are all on board with the idea that the CIA read emails how hostile people were to this idea back then. I was told that Western powers would naturally only do this on occasions where they would get warrants, that there would be no increased targetting of people from specific (particularly Muslim) backgrounds because the UK government was obviously restrained by the rule of law.

My nationality data dashboard project² highlighted a small fraction of that gulf – some people were surprised by how frequent people challenge my identity, whilst others commiserated with me on the basis of similar experience.

Clearly I don’t have all the answers – I am a researcher by trade. However the older I get the more I think it is pertinent that I have more open public conversations about these issues drawing from my areas of expertise. It means more data projects, more blogs, and continuing to work on some other items I have put off for a while, unsure of the need for them. And perhaps most importantly it means that if you would like a chat, then I am here.

*

Notes

  1. Meritocracy is a faulty concept in the first place. One of the main ones I have issue with it is that, aside from the fact that you can’t divorce so-called aptitude from the ways in which we can pass down benefits to our children via our status in society, in a lot of ways it ties your value as a human being to your capitalist productivity. Nobody is talking about a setting up a meritocracy based on advancing joy and it seems to be a backdoor way of justifying social inequality.
  2. The nationality dashboard project was borne out of the frustration of constantly battling the question “but where are you really from?”. It’s a question that many people, particularly BAME people know too well. And underneath it is the sinister implication that you are not really part of “us”.
Categories
Personal Writing

What Rushaa Did Next

It has been a while since I last wrote, and I wanted to address my hiatus and also announce that my posts in the future may continue to be incredibly sporadic, but for good reason.

Currently I am working on special projects for a political market research firm, developing new techniques to better capture minority populations within the U.K. (with particular emphasis on faith and ethnicity), on top of other complex research work.

It is interesting and challenging work which allows me to use my specialist knowledge; it also means I do not have as much time to dedicate to this blog.

It is possible in the future I might occasionally post (if something incredibly fascinating arises), but for now this exists as a monument to my past and the perspectives I had back then – some still true, some changed since.

 

Categories
Personal Writing Resolutions

The Year of Consequence (and 2018, the Year to Come)

Someone recently said to me that 2017 wasn’t actually the year that everything went haywire – that was the year before. 2017 is the year we had to live with the tumultuous votes we made before it started. And, like with the realm of politics, for me 2017 has also been the year of decisions coming home to roost.

The consequences of 2016 linger. Both the good and bad have set the world on a course I’m not sure I can fully appreciate just yet. 2018 will perhaps be the climatic third act, the soothing of the horrors, where we recognise the error of our ways. The pessimist in me says that things always continue much the same, sometimes better, generally worse, and relying on fables of how things ought to turn out is really an excuse to not try too hard to change anything.

For myself, the consequences of 2016 have manifested in a way that makes 2018 feel like the ‘make it or break it year’. In March I applied to my Masters course – now I have an M.A. in Politics and Society and the beginnings of another language. My elegant new fuck-it attitude, inspired by spectacularly and permanently breaking up a close friendship due to an email in November 2016, meant I pursued a meaningful thesis topic rather than something bland and easier to sell to relatives. I ummed and ahhed over it, until my thesis supervisor simply said “Rushaa, you know what you want to do” and that was enough permission to throw myself into something I consider one of the best pieces of work I’ve ever written.

For so long consequence and failure seemed synonyms in my mind. Consequence has such a gravity to it that I could only envision it as something I did ending badly. I spent a lot of my time and energy dealing with an impostor syndrome that permeated every inch of my life. My anxieties of not being good enough have roots in many places; I tend to find it hard to trust that those close to me aren’t lying that I have talent. This is partially why I enjoy and thrive in academic spaces, as praise there seems more legitimate.

This is perhaps also why 2017 and dealing with what it caused, failures included, has been so good for me. Fuck-it attitudes work out temporarily, but it can’t be denied that they’re also deeply tied to the idea that you’re not actually valuable enough to need to worry about the consequences. These past few months I’ve been looking over the small choices I made in 2016 that have been positive, and then picking others to make now in order to best set 2018 up as a year where I can continue trying to accept appreciation without greeting it with scepticism.

Achievements in a capitalist system are always so tied to production that it can be hard to recognise internal growth as a success in itself. Status is earned in how many pounds we pull in, and how many people know our name. I am not saying I am now immune to this (far from it – I have been feeling stagnant because I am missing that social validation from a monthly salary) but I want to give space to feel proud of how different I’ve become and how willing I am to be weak, vulnerable, and most importantly let myself risk feeling resented or pitied for the chance to articulate my feelings.

The first post I ever wrote for this blog was supposed to change everything. It was freshly 2015 and I wanted to do something great with my life, aware that much of that motivation stemmed from a desire for external praise. The next year I was tempered, coming to the conclusion that life is actually about the minutiae of changes you make day-to-day that gradually lead to a wholesale transformation. Last year I just wanted to deal with political chaos by helping others and pretend that I didn’t also need help myself.

2018 will be about carrying a new confidence built from internal validation. I know that it will be messy but I am hoping that – just as 2016’s impact still lingers – my intentional interventions will reverberate across next year.

 

Categories
Personal Writing

Learning to be Uncomfortable with Silence

The luxury of choosing your level of visibility is a privilege. Groups not in power are forced into hypervisibility and hyperinvisibility. You are one of a teeming mass of people who are all viewed in the same two-dimensional way. Someone to be skipped over in terms of representation within prominent and powerful groups whilst focused on when the news reports look at the latest threats. Someone to be spoken about but never with.

It’s why more of us have started caring about fights that have been around for ages, looking fondly back on the past few decades with a romantic view when for a lot of people this is just more of the same. This is the crux, that now other people are being made permanently visible, not as individuals with complex histories but as targets. It’s not that ethnonationalism has come to Europe or the USA, but that more of the population are declaring their sentiments out loud instead of just with their actions. And that when you say it out loud you finally see they are after you as well.

I think that scares people. That we who have generally been fortunate enough to avoid many types of prejudice are now being made very aware of our complicity and our vulnerability as well. And a lot of people want to approach this as if only removing certain people or parties would cure the problem and then we can all pretend once again that nothing is really that bad.

It’s the same moment of realisation that I began to have after 9/11 and I was suddenly aware that the shape of my life in the West would be greatly influenced by my surname, regardless of who I was as a human being. I was visible in a way I didn’t want to be.

In my day-to-day life on the street I am still fortunate enough to be able to have the option of flitting between being seen and unseen as who I actually am (and not just limited to ethnic background). Yet I know it’s still there, underneath everything, waiting for the moment when I am revealed and waiting to see how that will then change things. That’s what scares me about some people – that they will never choose to see this truth that lies at the roots of our society, and instead bigotry is explained away as just a veneer for other frustrations that are supposedly actually economic or class-based in nature.

The past few decades weren’t perfect. They contain moments where we saw divisions, insecurities with identities, and just moved on as if life is static. Now we are in a position where we have to be grateful we still have the ability to be fighting fires.

***

I am always slow to speak. I try to measure my words and uncomplicate everything before I make a move and that in itself is a bad habit that has left me behind the starting gate well after a race is over too many times. Sometimes it is the fear of making a mistake, of misreading a look, or of claiming something that turns out to be only half-remembered. Hesitation in these cases is a false relief – in the moment I can pretend to be perfect in my argument or desires, but always at the expense of never being passionate enough.

I am working on teasing out these complexities, and over the past year I’ve spoken things I would have resisted before. As a reward I’ve had some pain but also the clarity that comes with pain. You forget that, staying out of the fray, about how pain can be positive, that it can be a sign that you’ve identified a problem and are now an inch closer to healing.

It is Audre Lorde herself who condenses this realisation that silence is the greater regret. That is the truth, that I have “betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.” That I have been hoping to one day produce something perfect and unquestionable and speak truth to power in a way that no-one will shame me for it.

What I am truly scared of is not the AfD gains, or the slow drift of Brexit, but that I still won’t quite have figured out how best to speak – both personally and in activist terms – without having that betrayal of a moment where I linger too long to collect my thoughts, where I smooth the terms so they are somehow “more acceptable” because it is always “more acceptable” to disguise what you really feel. That I will not be able to overcome the training I have had since childhood to be respectful and quiet and not jeopardise a simpler path to success as defined by a capitalist world.

My identity in many ways has been why I’ve stayed quiet for so long, even though I have many insightful and intelligent points to make. It’s made me vulnerable and through speaking I fear I unveil too much of it and my principles, and that they can be used in turn to attack me. I want to write honestly but each time I begin I find myself weighing up the impact on others and what cost their disappointment or shame might bring me.

Yet as Lorde says; “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

The M.A. thesis I wrote, for which I got 80%, looked at the complexities of identity for queer British Muslims after 9/11 and its shaping by the political-social context of Islamophobia. It was rewarding to explore and to help expand a new area of research. Years ago I would have resisted taking this up, torn about what others would say, but also torn about whether this was a safe option in terms of advancing my professional career. When you have the luxury of choosing your visibility you can become seduced by the ease of being indistinguishable from others.

What I’ve realised with this sweep of ethnonationalist visibility is that fundamentally identity can no longer be denied the importance that it has in the mainstream. The idea that niche communities are not worthy of proper study is a side effect of these insidiously oppressive systems that we’ve normalised. Rather they are essential to understand; to see how identity is shaped on every level is to actually see society for what it is. And to remove those silences and push those areas forcibly kept in the dark into the mainstream is to improve society through confronting the ugly side of it.

It is hard to pull away from the privilege of getting to stay hidden. Of having the ability to keep the peace by being quiet. And even when the issue is just a personal one, and the cost only my own personal regret I still know I will not improve overnight. Yet I can grow more, forgive myself when I falter, and strive to do what I can to pull other voices up too. Shame and fear don’t have to be guiding directions in my life more than whatever power I give to them.

Categories
Media Analysis

The Importance of Doctor Who

My youngest brothers’ first exposure to a queer character in television was through Doctor Who’s Captain Jack. When you are eight (or really any age) Captain Jack is the archetype of complete cool that you are always striving to achieve; witty, brave, ridiculously charming, and has a gun. So when you see that that character “dances with everyone” it tells you that there’s nothing weird or wrong about queerness. And when, a few days later, you go to school and find your friends using homophobic language as one brother did, you tell them to stop because you know that people should never be a target for hate.

That’s the impact that a great show can have.

The recent announcement that Doctor number 13 will be played by Jodie Whittaker has had predictable reactions. To some this is the worst case of pandering. To others it is about time. But in reality it is just another form of the Doctor, and in some ways that is the most significant part. Because removed from all the adult conversations, all children will see is the central character of a show they eagerly watch simply looking different yet again but still going on the same adventures with the same balance of coolness and nerdiness that we’ve all grown to love. It’s that normalcy that made Captain Jack so important, and it will be the same again when the Doctor leads an army, saves the world, or refers to her wife in the seasons to come.

Doctor Who teaches morals. It highlights that sometimes it is worth risking danger to you and those around you for a greater cause. It shows that even genius is not infallible and that we all have a part to play in improving our situations. It tells children that you must have hope that people as a whole can be good in the end, and that though there are bad things in the world it is important to love and protect one another as best you can.

The wider world is a cynical one. It’s one that makes us forget these rules in favour of a more utilitarian bend. Yet the idealism of Doctor Who is what draws us in, and what makes these inclusions so important because it reinforces the humanity of groups who haven’t historically fared so well. The recent companion of Bill, a gay, black woman who unabashedly has crushes and has to rebuff interested men helps with this normalisation. Adding a Doctor whose gender in our eyes has shifted builds up not only what women can do in society’s eyes, but makes conversations around gender dynamics and the idea of a binary easier to have too.

Having a pop culture locus to discuss and represent difference shouldn’t be a marvel, but something ordinary. I’m looking forward to the next series of Doctor Who to take us a little bit closer towards this future.