Meet Anti-Racism Activist, Sadia Siddiqui
And learn how she's shining a spotlight on racist discourse
I don’t know whether you know that I’m a language buff. It’s probably not that surprising, since I’m a writer. So when I discovered the Language Matters account on Instagram, I was immediately hooked. It’s one of the few I check out almost every day, knowing that I’m bound to learn something. When I started chatting with Sadia Siddiqui, who runs the account, I knew she’d have perspectives worth sharing in this newsletter. I hope you find her interview insightful. Please meet Sadia.
Sadia, what made you become an anti-racism activist?
To me this is work I’m compelled to do and it’s the result of a years of conversations around identity and belonging. My father had met Br. Malcom X shortly before his assassination and so growing up I’d always been invested in what we call ‘race relations’ in the UK but that understanding lacked structure and form.
There are two moments which motivated me to do more than just sit with my thoughts.
The first was the racist discourse around the London riots in 2011 and the second was discovering the work of the author Afua Hirsch. Reading her book ‘Brit(ish)’ was life affirming - I felt so understood. More importantly however it helped open my eyes to how insidious anti-Blackness is in British society. A fact I was aware of, but as a South East Asian woman, I can never fully comprehend.
The more I read, the more motivated I was to play my part, that eventually years later led to Language Matters.
Why did you pick language (problematic words and phrases) as the topic you most wanted to focus on?
I studied Communications at Uni and have worked in advertising for years and so language is very much part of my everyday life. When it comes to race and ethnicity our vocabularies are rife with problematic words phrases.
The reality is language is not neutral; it conveys a mindset, and mindsets determine behaviours.
Put simply - the bias in your head, plays out in the language you use and translates to how you interact with those around you. It’s all connected.
Changing the odd word here or there won’t solve everything but using language with more intent is an important part of unlearning.
What response have you had?
It’s been positive. Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to turn my content into training for organisations who want to create a more equitable environment for their people. I’ve had a really great reaction which has been so energising.
In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?
That’s such a big question.
I see instances and the impact of racism everywhere, because IT IS everywhere.
My hope for the future is a colour conscious world, one where we are aware and celebrate our differences and can just be. Will we get to that point given we’re in 2021and still having the same discussions? I don’t know.
What I hope we can get to in my lifetime is the ability for White people to be able to see instances of racism and racist systems at play and call them out unprompted. Until we get to that point, we’re unfortunately just talking to ourselves.
What do you consider your three most important posts?
‘May I have it in nude please?’- I chose this post as it allowed me to talk about the way that language centres on whiteness and sees it as the default. It a small, but important point about our language, world, products, brands - the whole system we live within and how it prizes and presents whiteness.
I was always told it was rude to say 'Black'– I wanted to call this one out as so many White people believe this to be true. The reality is that what they’re reacting to is years and years of learnt behaviour equating ‘being Black’ with ‘being bad’. When people do this, they aren’t saying ANYTHING about the person they are trying to describe, but are saying EVERYTHING about their own racist perceptions.
We need a Diversity & Inclusion policy asap! This post is really important to me on a personal level. After the murder of George Floyd and the racial reckoning that it rightly unleashed, companies rushed to create new D&I policies. But Mr Floyd did not die because there was a lack of diversity. He died because of the anti-Blackness and racism of those police officers. It’s important that we make this distinction because I’m not interested in your D&I policy unless it also addresses anti-Blackness and racism. Don’t welcome BIPOC people into your organisation unless you can ensure that they will be safe within it.
Share one anti-racism article you've read written by someone else that resonated with you.
There are so many! I’ve taken the call to share one which relates to the advertising industry entitled 'The ad industry's dirty secret': why it's time to recast casting'
People in the UK are quick to look at the USA and reassure themselves that things are different here. Sure, there are differences, but racism and anti-Blackness permeates every part of our society. The article centres on the advertising casting process and how that needs to be overhauled to rid it of the stereotypes and troupes we see in front of the camera and the microaggressions which take place behind the camera.
The advertising industry is a fascinating place that I’m privileged to work within, but like many industries, they are trying to solve the issues through a Diversity & Inclusion drive. That is important, but it’s bigger than that.
Thank you, Sadia. Folks, I encourage you to browse the Language Matters Instagram account to find more posts that make you reconsider the language we use everyday.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.