I write to speak my truth
by Huma Munshi
Who am I to demand, to desire, to dream?
Who am I to think, to create, to break?
Who am I to lie naked, to arch my back?
Who am I to breathe, to live?
Who am I?
Who am I?
Shonda Rhimes, creator of TV shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy was recently quoted as saying,
“Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”
She couldn’t be more right.
A homogenous white commentariat does no one any favours. It provides an outsiders’ account on the experiences and issues BAME communities face; it talks about us and therefore takes away our agency to inform discussions. This is not to suggest that the white commentariat remain silent on these matters, rather opportunities and spaces should be given for diverse voices to be heard. Ask us about our experiences as women of colour on issues such as tackling violence against women and girls, mental health, the niqab ban, gender segregation – all these affect us. Do not speak about us, without us.
This recent article by Laurie Penny has caused a furore. The furore started almost immediately and some wondered what all the fuss was about, after all it was just about hair wasn’t it? Having considered it for 3 days many seem to have concluded that by writing only about her experience as a white, middle class, cisgender woman she has (unwittingly) contributed to what has always been tacitly understood in the mainstraeam media ‘her (white middleclass) narrative is the “norm” narrative.’ Yes it’s unintentional. Yes she meant nobody any harm. Yes she should speak her truth. However the furore is no surprise. Her article and others like it just add fuel to the increasingly vocal rebellion against the erasure of the experiences of people of colour, trans people and other marginalised groups.
As a young woman growing up in a strict Muslim household, it was strictly forbidden for me to cut my hair. When I left, I chopped off my long long plait in an act of defiance, It was exhilarating. Fuck the restrictions and rules, but how would the New Statesman or its readers know that?
With a word limit of 1000 or similar it’s going to be hard to fit in all experiences. To avoid questions such as “What of the experience of other people of colour? Black women and their relationship to their hair? Other people of faith? Visible trans women?” It’s time editors admitted there is another narrative and they’re doing a disservice to their readers by not giving that narrative a platform too.
‘All voices can speak, but only few are heard. Amplification is tied to prestige, meaning that where you publish – and what privileges you already have – gives your words disproportionate influence.’ Sarah Kendzior
For women of colour, who are often marginalised, writing provides us with the space to tell our stories and speak our truth. Without such a space, other people tell our stories; often skewed; often with racist and imperialist connotations, both “othering” us and silencing us.
For survivors of abuse, writing takes on an even greater importance. It is a way to understand trauma and with the safety provided by time and distance, reflect on deeply suppressed emotions. Without undergoing this process, supressed feelings are often recycled which can lead to destructive cycles of behaviour.
It is for these reasons that the anthology of short stories and poetry, produced by Muslim Women’s Network (MWN), will be an invaluable resource to highlight the experiences of Muslim women. The above verse is from a poem I submitted to the anthology giving voice to my own experiences of surviving and recovering from “honour” based violence.
The publication will cover a breadth of topics as varied as social inclusion and exclusion, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, polygamy, sexual abuse and mental health. You can donate to their crowd funding initiative to enable MWN to publish the anthology and give a space for Muslim women to share their stories.
The anthology and similar spaces, such as Media Diversified, provide opportunities and avenues for women (and people) of colour to have our voices heard. At a time when BAME people are under-represented in the media industry by a magnitude of over 300%, safe spaces are invaluable to get our voices heard. Indeed it is through engagement with other activists and survivors that I was able to challenge my own feelings of shame and share my story.
It is also critical that we as women, we as Muslims and we as people of colour challenge oppressive practices within our own communities. It is the silence that provides tacit legitimacy for such things to remain unchallenged. As Unheard Voices (a report on the prevalence of sexual abuse within Asian and Muslim communities) documents, notions of honour and shame are a barrier for victims to access support. The evidence in the report also highlighted that there were cases where parents sought to hide incidences of abuse to protect their so-called honour and standing within the community.
All these issues make it abundantly clear that we need diverse voices in the media.
As many doors remain closed within the mainstream media, I wholeheartedly embrace the opportunities provided by the blogosphere and other publications to speak my truth.
To contribute to Muslim Women’s Network Fund for the anthology on the experiences of Muslim women, please donate here .
 Who Am I to Say No, Huma Munshi for the Muslim Women’s Network
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. This column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here
Media Diversified is a 100% reader-funded, non-profit organisaton. Every donation is of great help and goes directly towards sustaining the organisation