Behind the Mask

Let’s not forget the voices of our already unheard communities

Whilst many of us are readjusting to wearing masks again, for a lot of people it is just a physical manifestation of how they feel already.

When you’re already from a marginalised community whether it be due to circumstance, race, disability, sexuality, gender, financial, religion, or even your location, you may have already felt ‘masked up.’

But rather than compulsory mask-wearing or restrictions equalising our world, it has further isolated our ‘forgotten communities.’

Not only does this mean that the ‘most vulnerable’ are unable to access vital services and equal opportunities but we are a poorer world without this wealth of voices. These are not ‘victims’ these are ‘experts by lived experience.’ The more we value one another’s backgrounds, the more we all prosper.

More than ever we need to use our platforms in life, work, community, or any area of life to include others who may not be as fortunate as ourselves and to share their voices or have their stories heard.

There are so many ways we can engage, elevate and learn from including more voices into our ‘conversation,’ which so many local groups are already doing.

I discovered more about ‘Forgotten Women’ of our past through the medium of a film made by grassroots campaigners at Dreamtime Creative who highlight so many diverse voices of our past as well as the stark parallels with some of the divisions that remain today when it comes to being an ‘unconventional woman.’

I have met with Inspiring Community CIC who work with young people and families in ‘deprived’ communities to provide them with whatever skills and activities they need to progress in life many of whom are concealed by society due to their location and financial situation. I have also worked alongside adults with learning difficulties at CoActive Arts charity on community journalism and a Yoga stories project. Again another demographic who are already faced with communication and accessibility barriers, now further exasperated by social distancing and mask-wearing.

But why do we need specialist groups and community hubs? Without them, people’s needs, voices, and stories would be forgotten like so many who are still shut out and shunned by society.

I am fortunate to now work with such a range of these underheard communities which I was drawn to due to my experiences growing up as a young woman with ‘invisible disabilities’ from a deprived area with a mixed-race and LGBTQ+ family.

I experienced ‘hate crime,’ abuse as well as facing more subtle barriers such as societal stereotypes. Yet I am aware of how fortunate I am that I lived between two safe and secure perfectly imperfect homes.

This meant that my diverse background inspired me to start my own community magazines championing a range of voices, create my own communities if I feel others are unable to access current ones and it has given me the strength to keep failing and not fitting in.

My mess did become my success but out of necessity too. Thankfully, adversity has led to the creation of some wonderful grassroots campaigns and enterprises for many, some of which I collaborate with as part of the School for Social Entrepreneurs I am in.

But it is no coincidence that the UK has one of the highest rates of ‘disabled entrepreneurs’ with many people starting a business because the ‘workplace’ isn’t appropriate…”

Such communities have inspired me to tell more stories in a diverse range of ways because ultimately I share my own story, to empower others to share theirs.

We can learn from one another by listening more.

Peace, Love & Sparkle! Sophie Mei Lan

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels