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OPINION

A kaleidoscope of social identity

Hamied Haroon

Hamied Haroon

Intersectionality is the complex way that our many social identities overlap, affecting our individual experiences. Dr Hamied Haroon explores the issues around the discrimination and prejudice that many of us face in everyday life.

We’re all made up of a kaleidoscope of social identities: race, religion, age, gender, sexuality, disability to name a few. Whether we believe we belong to the ‘majority’ or ‘minority’ of any of these identities, it’s impossible to say we live with just one.

As founder and current Chair of the National Association of Disabled Staff Network, I see how complex this issue is and how important it is to be supportive of each other’s unique perspectives.

Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charter Marks have helped bring gender, race and ethnicity to the forefront of equality, diversity and inclusion efforts in higher education. Athena SWAN acknowledged that it was important to look at the intersectionality of gender with other identities because of the profoundly different experiences these present. A black woman may face sexism in the workplace and this may be compounded by pervasive racism.

But what if that black woman was also disabled and gay? Being disabled or LGBT+ can be completely invisible to another person until they choose to ‘come out’. People will often keep their disability or sexuality hidden in the workplace for fear of judgement and stigma. People who are disabled and LGBT+ face the added dilemma about when to disclose, if at all. I have heard how ‘out’ disabled people are discriminated against and isolated in the LGBT+ community, and vice versa.

Inclusivity is key in the battle for understanding and intersectional equality. There’s an important distinction between being accessible and being inclusive. A tiered lecture theatre can be wheelchair-accessible, but it’s not inclusive if wheelchair-users can only ‘sit’ at the front or back. Asking someone if they require British Sign Language interpreters or captions at a talk can make the experience more accessible, but it’s not inclusive if you have to ask. In a truly inclusive society, the support would simply be provided as standard. At conferences it’s common practice to ask attendees to opt for vegetarian or vegan catering if required, but why not provide a range of vegan and gluten-free catering as the default? The most inclusive spaces are those that offer a spacious flat hall for plenaries, gender-neutral toilets, changing places and breast-milk expression facilities, multiple lifts serving all floors, and much more.

It’s critical to remember that different challenges affect us all and we need to educate ourselves on what these may be. We all need to be allies for each other and keep up the dialogue on intersectionality.

Dr Hamied Haroon, Research Asociate in Biomedical Magnetic Resonance Imaging, School of Biological Sciences.

Dr Haroon held a conference in June on intersectionality. Accessibility was central to both the talks and the format.

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