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Lisa's
Story

I grew up in a little white village on the border of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. I left England at 18 to live all over Europe in places such as Spain, Italy, Turkey, Portugal. I became an English as a foreign language teacher at 21 and taught throughout my travels. I spent the next 10 years travelling around, learning new languages and living amongst different cultures. Coming back to England at 31 to go to University of Western England, I fell in love with Bristol and settled there.

 

During my degree in Spanish and European Studies, the module that really stood out for me was the Rise of the Far Right Across Europe. I wanted to understand why there is such a high level of overt racism in my home village and the surrounding areas. Another module that stuck with me was European Business which looked at how business in Europe differed to elsewhere and how there was no right or wrong - simply different ways of thinking and doing stuff. This made me appreciate that diversity really is a true asset in business as it allows for diversity of thought and experience.

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I followed that degree with a Masters in Intercultural Communication where I became mildly obsessed with the concept of othering. I looked at how in order to justify colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade in particular, the colonialists created a construct of other - in this case othering the people of Africa and reducing them to less than human. My dissertation was an interview-based study. At the time, my parents were in the process of fostering two unaccompanied asylum seeking young people and so I interviewed several members of the village about their feelings when they first arrived. It transpired that there was a lot of fear about the boys joining the community simply because they are asylum seekers. Six months later I interviewed the same people again and found that there was a massive reduction in fear due to these people interacting with the boys and understanding that they are not so different to themselves. I called this process 'rehumanisation'.

The conclusion was that generally people are scared of others that belong to groups of people that they deem ‘different’ or ‘less’ due to false narratives about refugees and asylum seekers but through as little as one interaction, fear of others can be reduced a significant amount. I also concluded that the narratives used at the time (2008) against Muslims and refugees were in the same vein as the ones used to justify the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Through the process of 'Othering', colonialist powers reduced African people to a construct that is primitive and less than human through demonising, dehumanising, and removing identity and individuality. They took away names, religion and language to justify enslaving people all in the name of free labour and the mass theft of natural resources.

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Following my Masters, I travelled through central America and lived for a year in Colombia. On my return to Bristol in 2015, I was really concerned by the backlash that was going to come from the terrible attacks in Charlie Hebdo in Paris and so I organised a peace demo with the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society. The next day I quit my job and started to build Interculture. I spent the next five years attending hundreds of community events, council events, race equality events, and built up a huge diverse network in Bristol. I realise now that even though I didn't have the words at the time, I used my privileges to start Interculture and I wanted to model how to be an ally and to promote allyship within other groups of people.

As we started to gain traction with our events, lockdown hit in 2020. That year became a huge turning point for Interculture and general anti-racism work. This was because of the unfortunate, tragic murder of George Floyd. Before that I had been trying to talk about whiteness and found resistance. Whereas after that there has been less resitance  as people started to realise that having good intentions was not enough and that we all can, and do, add to the problem. However, there is still a long way to go. Interculture went online and held a number of panel events over Zoom. From our collaboration with the organisers of the BLM demos that saw the toppling of Colston, we developed and started delivering bespoke Allyship training to businesses and organisations.

If you have any questions or concerns about why a white woman is the founding director of such an organisation, please get in touch for a chat.

Now in 2022, we are continuing our work on allyship and extending it disabled allyship. Intersectionality is very important in the work I do and so we want our events and training to reflect that. This has come out of several conversations and the observation that a lot of disabled spaces lack diversity and are not representative of Bristol's diverse communities.

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