Authoring Our Own Stories Update
Updated: Oct 31, 2022
Young Leaders used origami techniques to create identity boxes. The outside expressed how young people felt their identities were perceived, and the inside reflected their personal perceptions of their identities.
Over the last 6 months young people from diverse backgrounds across England have developed research projects to explore their peers’ perceptions of civic identity and how this learning can improve accessibility to youth services. As we close Black History Month, Partnership for Young London is taking this opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work from the six young leaders who have championed Authoring Our Own Stories in London and all the young people and colleagues who supported us. Thank you, we literally could not have arrived where we are now without you! We are currently analysing the data. Following is a snapshot of what we have learned so far about young people’s civic identities, from the perspectives of Londoners of Bengali, African, and African-Caribbean descent.
Overview and Reality Check!
From the get-go peer researchers demonstrated their commitment to the vision of Authoring Own Stories. The group of six who signed up in London to become Young Leaders assumed the mantel of their forbears; they wanted to contribute towards racial equality for themselves and their peers. The initial stages of the training for this new initiative involved exploring understandings of civic identity (i.e., our social or public identities). What quickly emerged were stories rooted in the misrepresentation and discrimination of young Black and Asian people such as, racial stereotyping, islamophobia, ableism, colourism and misogynoir. This prompted members of the group to ask ‘how much change can we really make with this project?
As the temperatures soared during the delivery of the fieldwork over the summer so too did the psychological levels of weathering endured by some of the participants as they grabbled with the validity of a project seeking to address racial inequity. It was hard to hold on to a vision for change that conflicted so starkly with their daily realities. We were told fervently by one participant that ‘…the world is racist and telling people to not be racist is not going to change them’ (Participant 1). Participants sitting close by agreed.
No-one could deny that when you feel unheard, and unseen, as reflected in the response of another participant in a separate session, ‘…society is horrible!’ (Participant 2).
Further reality checks were shared when we asked members of a third focus group to respond to an exercise sharing how they describe society’s perceptions of their identities. One young person replied ‘…a wheelchair user, underestimated, under-confident and insecure, overlooked and under-appreciated, disrespected and abandoned…’ (Participant 4).
Their cynicism and disappointment were palpable, undeniably justified and the antithesis of how they chose to define themselves. They used words such as ‘gifted’, ‘strong’, ‘kind’, ‘hopeful’ ‘courageous’ and ‘a good listener’.
Young Leaders developed collages inspired by the Afro/Asian Futurism Movement. They were tasked with reimagining their past and projecting into a future that is manifested now! In this ‘new world’, Black and Asian people step into their power and position themselves in the centre of civic society, on their own terms.
How young people from minoritised communities, with racialised identities navigate the constraining and oppressive labelling of their identities in the public spaces they occupy such as school, the work environment and simply moving across the city to get from A to B, requires drawing on a skills-set to build resiliency. Such resiliency is fully honed by adolescence and required throughout their lives. Participant’s stories reflected a sharp disconnect between how they define their identities and how they perceive society defines them. However, their understanding of how they are positioned in society and what they need to enable them to thrive in a challenging environment, means they are politically astute – conscious to the endemic nature of systemic inequality, discerning about its impact and wise to what needs to improve.
‘I think it is a matter of us entering out of our comfort zone and going into these (civic) spaces and being able to share our lived experiences and (see) how those experiences shape and mould policies…’ (participant 5)
What Participants are Telling Us They Want to See
Participants shared that they feel only a limited aspect of their identities is ever focused on and understood by professionals, yet most of the opportunities and support available to them are structured around this deficit of information.
They told us they needed more safe spaces to be in relation with others be it online or in person.
Better signposting to the resources available to them was also a requirement and more opportunities to influence change on areas that affect their lives.
A reflection on the language used when referring to and engaging with young Black and Asian people was also referenced; feeling like ‘a quota’ or referred to as ‘being targeted’ are unwelcoming turns of phrase. Young Black and Asian people are already marked out as different in a hostile environment. The youth sector should be an eco-system of support and that begins with using language that ameliorates the barriers to engagement.
Are We Nearly There Yet?
Young Leaders L to R Nadia, Sandra, Ilaria, Ricardo and Kyra on our Afro/Asian Futurism training day
Change is happening at a structural level in the sector, but the pace feels glacial at times and that lack of urgency contributes to the disenfranchisement young people with minoritised, racialised identities face. Is there an unwitting assumption that such groups have the emotional stamina to continue to wait? Some clearly do have the resources to turn to their own devices when they need support but for others it’s getting too late.
The testimonials of participants suggest that the sector is headed in the right direction in terms of awareness of the issues that can prevent access but has lost the momentum established two years ago at the height of the global crisis on race and health.
Going forward we need to factor co-production into policy development as a fundamental principle. This way we can maintain connections with young people of Black and Asian heritage and understand the shape of their lives through their personal stories. Further to this there is a call to accelerate the commitments pledged in 2020, to create timely and tangible change.
Nadia and Ricardo Evaluating their Progress on the Project
National Lead for Authoring Our Own Stories
Authoring Our Own Stories is cross regional initiative generously funded by the National Communities Lottery Fund. Our national partners are
Yorks and Humber Youth Work Unit
Youth Focus South West
Youth Focus North West
For more information About Authoring Our Own Stories contact Sandra.Vacciana@cityoflondon.gov.uk