‘Our Voices’ Interview

An interview with Royal Holloway's magazine Our Voices for BAME creatives

A magazine written by people of colour creatives with submissions for the first issue closing on the 26th October.

Owen Williams

What is ‘Our Voices’ and how did it come about?

Our Voices is an online magazine for BAME and Creators of Colour, open to any creatives at Royal Holloway who want to share their voice where they won’t be overshadowed or under-heard. It is a platform that people can use for sharing whatever they believe really needs to be heard.

It started in the summer after the resurgence of Black Lives Matters and we began to think about working on a project in our creative writing class to put together poems for sale. But with Black Lives Matter, rather than it be for profit, we realised that we can put the money towards the movement and black charities.

Why do you think something like ‘Our Voices’ is important?

As much as there are publications like The Orbital, there are a million places we can put these voices, we’re always going to be battling against a majority of white voices. Whilst a lot of those voices are supportive, there are always negators that will go against. For example, a black person’s voice when they point out they have been discriminated against in the SU or they point out some micro-aggression that they experience in class. With ‘Our Voices’ there is no tearing down of people’s voices because our core belief is that people are coming to this publication to say what they believe,what they have experienced and also to share without having to speak over white voices and struggling. That is not something we experience just at Royal Holloway but the world over. 

Writing for other publications, I do not want my experiences to become ‘Political Opinion’ pieces. I don’t want people to be able to read that and say, “I disagree”. One of the things we prefix with ‘Our Voices’ is that it does not have to be about your experiences as a minority. It is somewhere to channel your work; it is a free place to put something out there. Whilst I do write a lot about my experiences and identity, I did not want it to be a discussion point. I want people to take my creativity and work for something holistic, you’re not limited to your experiences. 

With existing publications, there is always this element of ‘tokenism’ whenever you mention that you’re a person of colour. You’re always saying, “as a person of colour” and people always take that as the one voice of black people or of Asian people. With ‘Our Voices’ there is a more concentrated array of those voices, that offers a fuller picture. It becomes a discussion rather than a singular point of speaking.

What do you think about white people writing about the Black Lives Matter issue?

There’s nothing wrong with white people talking about it because white people do need to talk about it. This issue needs to be addressed otherwise it’s going to keep being a rot in Holloway, England and the world, but there comes a point where white people need to step back and listen to people actually experiencing this, and this is something a lot of white people don’t realise. They think the louder their voice and the louder their performative activism, the better. For some people that’s a totally ignorant thing and for some it’s wanting to be seen as the most ‘woke’ on their Instagram feed. White people need to talk about it but also learn when to be quiet.

What do you think of the actions of sports teams following the resurgence of the movement over the summer?

Money cannot solve everything. We need the voices of people to be heard and to be listened to because without that, people don’t know what issues their solving, they don’t know what their money is going towards. Raising money for charity needs to be paired with education and the reformation of a system, we want to be fixing the root cause of the issue.

Do you think there is an issue of white people relying on people of colour to educate them rather than them educating themselves?

White people don’t realise how much of a ‘stresser’ it is for people of colour when they go to them looking to be educated because we as much as anyone, want to live our lives. We don’t want to have to explain our existence and our struggles at every point of the day to every single person that asks. There are so many resources to educate yourselves without the onus being on your friends. Our Voices is one of those resources; it celebrates creators and lifts up the voices of people of colour. 

It is very presumptuous of white people to expect black people and people of colour to know and explain the history surrounding these issues. To also explain one’s experiences can be deeply personal and traumatic and it is really selfish to ask your friends to do this. If you want to take a step forward, understand that there is such a difference in people of colour’s experiences. There’s such diversity in the world and trying to understand that slowly, rather than tackle it all at once, is the way forward.

It needs to be more than just acknowledging the issue, it needs to be actively learning and working towards tearing down that system. It means talking to white friends and calling them out on their micro-aggressions because they need to learn.

The Blackout Squares on Instagram?

It was originally made to drown out the informative posts about where people could donate, information on riots and learning tools but people did eventually start to co-op that and write their own experiences. It was a varied day. Some people did stop posting anything useful and others weaponised it against those who had originally weaponised it. 

What have your experiences been like at Royal Holloway?

Lecturers expect you to speak and educate the class on black issues when it comes to talking about black authors and poets and it gets tiring. 

I had quite a culture shock when I came to Uni and was expected to be the spokesperson of my culture. I became a dictionary for my background and religion; it was exhaustive trying to explain things about myself that I didn’t really understand. I was having to explain my existence to people. You want to be heard but you don’t want to become a teacher.

Would you be able to summarise what micro-aggressions are?

The dictionary definition would be: not overtly racist things but assumptions about a culture and race based on skin colour or background. 

With racism you feel justified having a reaction to them but micro-aggressions dig into you day after day until it becomes too much and people act confused why this small thing got to you.

Is it in some way worse because it comes from a place of ignorance?

I think when someone is overtly racist, they know what they’re doing. Micro-aggressions comes from so many different places and takes so many forms that it brings out this frustration in how unheard you feel and how widespread ignorance is. It can make you feel cornered.

It’s this never-ending ‘whack-a-mole’ of racist comments.

People brush it off as “only joking” and they don’t understand why you get so upset about it.

Would you say there is a lot of ignorance on Campus?

You shouldn’t have to explain where you were born to be a valid person of colour and that ignorance of not knowing appropriate questions is frustrating. It all comes back to being educated and considering what you’re saying a bit more. 

I feel judgement in some of my traditions and I feel I have to explain myself in a way that other white students would not have to. I feel I have to justify my existence to people who don’t understand it. We’re so used to guarding ourselves from micro-aggressions and racist comments that we’ll do anything to prevent it from happening.

Editor’s Note about Non-Binary:

One of the creatives that Owen interviewed identifies as non-binary; something that he got wrong when using pronouns and deeply apologised for. I write this in as it was an educational moment for him doing the interview and for me listening back and typing it up. It reminded us of the need to always be careful of assumptions and continue to educate ourselves.