While I’m away for the summer, I’m dipping into the Our Story Time archives and sharing some of my most popular pieces for those of you new to Our Story Time, and who may have missed these, and also for those of you who have been beloved readers for a while and might enjoy remembering the pieces I’ve written. When I am back, I will be publishing a long essay on reading more inclusively - so see this as a refresher. This post first appeared in November, 2018.
I don’t call myself a minimalist but I like the notion of simplicity. My version of it is, well, pretty simple. I am appreciative of any effort to make the running around of daily life a little less chaotic. And I’m curious about how other people do it; the streamlined homes that are functional and not merely decorative; the pared-down capsule wardrobes. I enjoy reading about simple living. I have my favourites on the subject. I even sometimes try to write about it too.
But lately, I have found and felt that other people’s versions of simplicity or minimalism or slow living have started to look the same. Those streamlined homes, again; those pared-down capsule wardrobes; those lonely landscapes of sameness.
Sameness breeds sameness and in all that sameness there’s no room for difference. And by difference, what I really mean is: diversity. Is there room for people of different colours and backgrounds to choose to participate in this privileged and nice-looking lifestyle of less where people willingly give up what they have spent money on? Is there enough room for different efforts and different stories to be noticed? For different voices to be heard? I’m not sure.
I’m noticing this lack of inclusion more and more, not just in pretty pictures which perpetuate this certain kind of lifestyle for a certain kind of person, but also in magazines and podcasts that explore the same concepts of lifestyle and simplicity and creativity, and everything that goes hand in hand with that, too.
There is spirit and sisterly community shared between friends who appear to already know each other (and this is wonderful for them) but as someone who has often if not always been in the position of an observer, on the edges looking in by virtue of my name and my background, it also seems closed off - even if it is entirely unwittingly so. I have felt this whole vibe to be like an outdated elite girls’ school clique. In angrier moments, it has made me furious. I wonder, sometimes, what on earth I am trying to achieve and why.
In 2014, Kinfolk was called out for its lack of inclusivity. In an interview with The New York Times, one of the Kinfolk founders reportedly referred to the magazine’s lack of racial diversity as an:
“unfortunate oversight, not meant to signal that the Kinfolk lifestyle was for only young, willowy white people. He said: "We’re about living with intention, thinking about what you’re doing and trying to enjoy the smaller things, like a meal, a conversation, time out with friends. That’s what we’re focused on, and obviously anyone has access to that.” He paused. “Well,” he said, “at least most people.”
Kinfolk’s latest issue features interviews with political artist Shirin Neshat and author Elif Shafak. But it’s still an overwhelmingly bleak monoculture. I too believe in living with intention, but the Kinfolk lifestyle does not speak to me, nor to so many other women from black or ethnic minority backgrounds and also white and mixed backgrounds with whom I’ve had these conversations in private. I know many people will say that they don’t read Kinfolk either, but I use it here merely as an example. For there are still so many publications and so many people that have made the same “unfortunate oversight.”
My career started in newspapers; I know full well the reality of the lack of diversity in the media. I know the figures off by heart: British journalism is 94% white and 55% male (I remember when that study came out). I have spent the last few months researching the sort of publications I might like to write for. While the lifestyle magazines that I’ve been researching often if not always have brilliantly strong all-female editorial teams (and I am talking about both independent and mainstream titles here), it is still sad but worse, worrying, to see that when it comes to inclusivity of writers of colour, there simply isn’t any or if there is, it is minimal at best. This then trickles into the content too - where are the non-white interviewees? Where are their stories of how they started their businesses or created their beautiful homes or found their creative callings or raise their beautiful children? And so the myth of this beautiful lifestyle continues to flow, only accessible to a privileged few who have the means, the money, the background to do so.
When we make the effort to speak to people with different voices and different backgrounds, something special happens, even when we do not reference our difference continually.
We hear new stories, stories that share experiences you or I may not have ever felt before. For a moment, we may even see the world differently. We understand new perspectives and new ways of thinking.
We proceed, with a little more compassion.
These are the stories that are worth including, worth making space for. These are the stories that, personally, I find far more inspiring than stories of sameness.
These are the stories that add to the richness of the world, that help us empathise, understand, connect with one another.
If sameness breeds sameness, diversity breeds creativity.
I have scrolled through countless contributor lists in lifestyle publications where there are no writers of colour at all, no names that stand out like mine. I have ended up not pitching to these titles - not to make a point, but because these lists unsettle me, make me feel that my name in an email to an editor won’t stand a chance in the first place, even if it is subconsciously.
I was brought up being told I had to study and work three times harder than anyone else because of my Muslim name, because of being female, because of my Pakistani roots. And boy, did I work hard - hard enough to write for big newspapers, win awards for it and publish a book. And yet I carry this “three times harder” mantra inside me, all the time. I carry this. It cracks my heart to see that some magazines and blogs and podcasters and influencers can afford to simply not see how they let so many people like me down.
I am aware these might not be platforms that talk about politics and serious affairs; I know that. But one can write about pretty things and yet be purposeful. Each and every media platform - from a blog to a podcast to a publication, even a social media feed - has an opportunity to make a difference, no matter what subject or theme they pursue. They should strive. (I hasten to add, I have had encouraging conversations about just this with one editor who is ready and open to being more inclusive).
And so, in my striving to make things a little better, here are a few things that have been on my mind and four very simple ways to consciously make room for different voices from different people, with specific reference to this curated lifestyle world. Incidentally, I have thought long and hard before writing any of this, above or below.
If you like the notion of living with less, if you believe that it somehow helps you to live a better life, then perhaps my thoughts might lead you to conclude that living simply also means living consciously and making space to think of others, too.
Four ways to be more inclusive in the lifestyle niche of minimal, simple living:
1. INTERVIEW OUTSIDE YOUR CIRCLE
If you have your own website, magazine or podcast, please don’t just only ever interview your friends, or people that look or sound like them. Why not take the opportunity to stand out in your chosen platform? In journalism, we look for something new. Yet in blogs and podcasts, so much I am hearing and reading is so very familiar. From an editorial perspective, this could be considered unoriginal. Consider featuring new voices from people of different backgrounds whose stories perhaps we haven’t heard many times before. Why not give those voices the support and a platform to be known a little more, instead of choosing already well-established voices who don’t necessarily always need the publicity or the chance to talk at length about themselves? This is not meant to cause upset. I love hearing everyone’s stories and I’m grateful to have been interviewed for podcasts too. But let’s hear some new voices, not just the same ones. A mix of voices is good. A mix of voices is rich. Find those voices and support those who do it so well.
2. AMPLIFY MANY VOICES
Equally, don’t just support the one or two ethnic minority or black women you can think of because you either already know them or because they’re already prominent on social media. Rida put this powerfully in her podcast with Lucy Lucraft: “It isn’t enough to jump behind just the one person you know.” This happens all the time. Can you think bigger? Can you be kinder? Can you be more generous, more supportive towards and of others? Or must we still try three times harder to be noticed?
3. DIVERSIFY YOUR FEEDS AND READ
You might be wondering where to find these people and women of colour who have such stories and richness and an entirely new perspective on life in all its facets to share because of their origins and experiences. They’re not going to pop up in your recommended follows. You will have to do your own reading and do your own research. In the kindest way possible, I’m not here to provide a ready-made list of South Asian women or Muslim women or black women to help you get started. I’ve been asked this before, by no doubt well-meaning folks. But if I can find people like you, and make the effort to reach out personally (I do this; it is often the only way I can place my writing in front of people), then you can find people like me. Research. Read. Read. Read. Read the magazines you’ve never read before. Try here, here and here for starters.
4. BE FAIR. SEE THE WHOLE. GIVE GRACE.
Give everyone the same grace. By all means, go ahead and share this piece because it is a piece about diversity. I am immensely grateful to you for that, and I know and trust many of you will. But then share another piece simply because it’s beautifully written. Engage when we talk about race, yes. But then engage when we talk about our homes or our recipes or our children too. Engage when we’re simply being us. Don’t switch off or unfollow just because we don’t always talk about our identities all the time. Give the same space, the same balance, the same grace that you would to yourself.