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As part of Race Equality Week, 5th – 11th February, we’ve been reflecting on how Race, Race Equality and Racism can impact our mental wellbeing.

In this blog, two members of our team respond to questions posed by Race Equality Matters, which hosts the awareness week. 

First, Sophia Ulhaq shares her personal experiences and response to: ‘How can we know about or understand things when we’ve never seen, heard, or read about them?’.

Next, Eloise Bell looks at How often do you read books, listen to music or podcasts or watch films which expose you to different views and cultures?’ 

Hopefully Sophia and Eloise’s reflections will help you (or your organisation) explore Race Equality Week in your own way.

How can we know about or understand things when we’ve never seen, heard or read about them?

“When I met my husband, I was very excited to share my culture with him. But I very quickly realised that a culture isn’t something you just tell someone.

I’m British-Pakistani and it’s very hard to split what makes me Pakistani and what makes me British. Focusing on this too much makes me quite anxious. So, my husband and I began to watch Pakistani Dramas and Indian films. These sparked a lot of conversations and it felt like I was sharing my identity more authentically.

So, I thought I would share some Indian movies that we enjoyed. If you’re interested in learning more about South Asian, specifically Indian, culture. 

Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge

(1995) (3h 9m) 

A classic Bollywood “masala” film. A musical with romance, action, comedy and drama. Simran and Raj, one from a conservative background with a strict father and the other from a wealthy background with a super chill father. They meet interrailing in Europe, but Simran is going to India for an arranged marriage. Raj follows to win over her family.

Om Shanti Om

(2007) (2h 42m) 

One of my favourites. It’s a Reincarnation Revenge story where the main character dies and is reborn to avenge his own murder. In this case, a struggling film actor is reborn as the son of a famous film actor. He sets out to solve the mystery of his death and the murder of the love of his previous life. It’s melodramatic and very funny.

Chak De! India

(2007) (2h 33m) 

A sports movie! Kabir Khan, a disgraced former Hockey player for the Indian National Team, is made coach of the Indian Women’s National Hockey Team. It’s got all the tropes of a great underdog/redemption story but also uniquely focuses on the diversity of India. Each woman represents a different region of India, perhaps a little stereotypically, which causes conflict in the team.

Sir

(2018) (1h 39m) 

A realistic drama focused on issues around social class and servants. A rich Indian man, Ashwin, begins to fall in love with his servant Ratna, a widow with a dream of becoming a fashion designer. It deals with the topic sensitively and maturely, showing everything from Ratna’s perspective. It depicts society in two clearly different classes with all the limitations that brings to our main characters. 

White Tiger

(2021) (2h 5m) 

Keeping with the social themes, but this time with less romance and more thrills. An ambitious Indian driver sets out to escape from poverty and make a better life for himself. This pits him against his own family, his wealthy employers and his peers. A masterful showcase of class differences and how following social norms can keep us caged.

Axone

(2019) (1h 44m) 

People from Northeast India are underrepresented in Indian cinema. This story follows Upasana and her friends who are from Manipur and Nagaland but live in Delhi. They are trying to prepare Axone, a pungent delicacy for a wedding party for their friend. This simple act of cultural celebration causes conflict with everyone around them and shows the reality of the discrimination they face. The tone is slice of life but can get serious.

I hope you find something to enjoy.” 

How often do you read books, listen to music or podcasts or watch films which expose you to different views and cultures?

I am an avid reader. I read at night to get to sleep, in the middle of the night to get back to sleep, and first thing in the morning in bed with a cup of lemon and ginger tea. I would read all day, every day if I could, wrapped up in a blanket on my sofa (preferably with some chocolate!) 

I love all kinds of books; health & wellbeing, positive psychology, business psychology, leadership and true crime non-fiction can all my found on my Kindle and my bookshelf. But if I am going to read fiction, I adore reading historical fiction. I love immersing myself in different cultures and contexts, within time periods I’ve never known. I didn’t study much History at school and in some respects, I think I am making up for that with my reading habits now. Exposing myself to new things and experiences through reading about the lives of people different to myself, has made me so much more knowledgeable and compassionate to the people around me. I can better understand the barriers and challenges people naturally face because of their identity.  

In the UK, only 1% of candidates for GCSE English Literature in 2019 answered a question on a novel by an author of colour (Penguin Random House, 2020). This statistic alone shows that even in our early education we are not exposed to different cultures, therefore it is no surprise that we carry this on in our adult life. However, when we expose ourselves to books, music, and movies etc, that represent different views and cultures, it helps us become familiar with people’s differences and experiences and that can replace judgement with understanding. 

So I thought I would share with you my favourite books by culturally diverse authors, that have helped me to understand more about their cultures and identities and to celebrate their experiences. These books have had the greatest impact on me, and I would love to share them with you.  

Compiling this list has helped me to understand I do need to read more books by men of colour, so it’s been helpful for me to target my future reads. My sister also loves to read, and she said she has tried to go through the alphabet and read a different book by an author of each country: Austria, Brazil, China etc. That sounds like an interesting challenge I might take up with her.  

Geisha of Gion

Minek Iwasaki 

A memoir by Japan’s foremost geisha. After reading Memoirs of a Geisha I read a lot of books about geishas, but I think this is the only true story, autobiography. 

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

Beautifully written fiction about living under Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Check out A Thousand Splendid Suns, also.  

The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett

A story of twins growing up in the Southern USA in the 1950s, and what happens when one sister decides to pass for white. It’s a beautiful take that shows how identity and race impact on personality, experience and relationships.  

Black, Listed

Jeffrey Boakye

A non-fictional exploration of 21st century Black identity and Black British culture. 

The Taste of Ginger

Mansi Shah

A novel about a first-generation Indian-American immigrant who falls in love with a white Christian but then returns to India and learns more about her culture, the class battle and traditions. 

The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan

A story of four Chinese women who emigrated to San Francisco in 1950 and their stories of what they left behind in China. In contrast to the lives of their daughters in modern America. 

Black Boy Out of Time

Hari Ziyad

A memoir from a Black and queer author, who was raised by a Hindu Hare Krishna mother and Muslim father in the USA. A brilliant exploration of gender and race, social norms and narratives. 

In Black and White

Alexandra Wilson

A memoir of a young mixed-heritage barrister in the UK, navigating a world designed by a privileged few. It looks at the uncomfortable truths about race and class in our justice system. 

Pachinko

Min Jin Lee

Gorgeous novel about a young teenager exiled from Korea in 1911 who makes her way to Japan. A wonderful way to learn about Japan’s colonisation of Korea and World War II in East Asia and the impact on Korean immigrants in Japan across different generations. 

Dominicana

Angie Cruz

A story of a young woman from the Dominican Republic who emigrates to New York City in 1965, and how she navigates life as a young woman as an immigrant. 

Queenie

Candice Carty-Williams

A really funny ‘modern’ novel about life as a young British-Jamaican woman in South London, and her relationship with her white, middle-class peers and boyfriend.  

The Girl with the Louding Voice

Abi Dare

A story about a teenage girl in a rural Nigerian village, who is sold to become the third wife of an old man.  

Americana

Chimanda Ngozi Adidine

A story about life as a teenager in Lagos, Nigeria under military dictatorship, and trying to get to the ‘American Dream’ in post-9/11 USA. 

Girl, Woman, Other

Bernadine Evaristo

A wonderful book that follows the lives of 12 different characters, mostly black British woman, and celebrates those lives. 

Wild Swans

Jung Chang

A popular book that follows the stories of three generations of women in the authors family, her grandmother as a warlord’s concubine, her Communist mother and the author herself. 

Crazy Rich Asians

Kevin Kwan

A funny, easy to read romantic novel about modern life and class as a rich Singaporean. 

A big thank you to Sophia and Eloise for sharing their experiences and recommendations with us for this blog. 

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