Aniqah Rawat considers the intricacies of race and identity.
It’s wet and cold and I can barely feel my fingers as I fumble around, trying to open my umbrella for the short walk home. Home. That’s what the weather reminds me of: cold, rainy days in Preston where the warmth is found in the people who make up its community. I’m midway through a conversation with a friend from Dramsoc, who, out of all the possibilities, is also from Preston, when we’re interrupted by a third year leaving the Wickham Theatre.
“Excuse me, are you guys theatre students?”
“Yeah, I am.”
“Are you first year?”
“Oh my god. I’ve found my people. I’m sorry, I saw you and I just had to stop you. It’s so rare to see a person of colour around here.”
A person of colour. That’s what I am, but I’ve never given it a second thought, never really labelled myself with the idea that I am a minority, especially considering the community I have grown up in. But I am a minority. I’m a combination of a clashing of cultures, from Islamic values, to Asian stereotypes to the social life of a Western girl – clubbing until 6am, crashing at mates’ houses, and still getting top grades on the assignments due the following morning. I’m a person of colour who doesn’t see colour, didn’t see colour until this guy brought it to the forefront of my mind. And now, in every performance in which I participate, be it as an actor, a designer or an audience member, I am very much aware of how white everything is within the student performing arts community.
Of course, it would be unfair for me to expect an equal balance when approximately 22% of the student population identify as BME, and roughly 10% of undergraduates within the Department of Theatre identify as BME. However, when I look at student shows I’ve been cast in, or watched as an audience member, and I can count on one hand the individuals who aren’t white, in casts as big as 60-80 people, it makes me wonder whether or not I have a place here in this community.
There are many theatre-based societies, and I feel lucky to have such a vast selection to choose from; but at the end of the day, having a choice is different to being accepted. It’s not special treatment that I seek, but an understanding as to why, in such a culturally diverse city, am I underrepresented? BME or BAME are all considered minority groups, but in the decision to use BME, I feel like I am lost. ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities’ – they are each an umbrella term for a larger range of ethnicities. ‘Asian’ alone covers a good percentage of the global population, and yet for some reason it is still considered a ‘Minority Ethnicity’.
In the past I have witnessed directors hold the attitude that in casting one black person, diversity and representation is thought to have been achieved. And it makes me angry. It makes me want to scream and break down walls, but it feels like whenever I bring this topic up, I’m screaming into a vacuum. I’m constantly toeing a line between truth and passion, and at what point can I stop being paranoid that these issues seem like pointless complaints to my friends, who are harmlessly unaware of the privilege they have? And when they can respond to my ‘complaints’ with the fact that I’m already taking part in my fourth show here as a first year, am I truly part of this minority?
I do too much. I say too much. But is my voice ever truly heard? I may be part of a minority, but I don’t feel like I am. And maybe that has something to do with my own attitude, my own stubbornness and refusal to see colour as a boundary or at all. But after encountering this third year, and delving into topics of culture and diversity in my studies, I realise colour is something that cannot be ignored. By refusing to see colour, I am refusing to see my own Asian-ness and in turn ignoring the history of my family, the history of one of the many cultures I am a part of and the history of ‘my people’. I’m ignoring a part of who I am, and if I don’t acknowledge it, how can I ask someone else to? How can I ‘find my people’ when I ignore the fact that I am one of them?
I’ve only been at university for ten weeks now, but it already feels like a lifetime. Beyond learning how to function on an average of three hours sleep a night, and how to make a £10 food shop last two weeks, I’ve perhaps most importantly learnt that the only person who should care about who you are is yourself. When you start to become more open, more accepting of the different facets that make you your own person, you don’t need to worry about finding your people. In finding yourself you find others along the way, and those interactions and relationships become a part of who you are. You begin to paint the world in your own colours, but to do that, you first of all need to see colour and acknowledge what that means.
Illustration by Maegan Farrow.