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Because Representation Matters- Interview with the founder of They Did I Can Too.

Joana Alarcão

In the Platform -They Did I Can Too – there are sections such as profiles on historical individuals, career information,and interviews of individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds.

They Did I Can Too showcases the historical contributions made by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals here in the UK, many of whom we are not taught about or made aware of in mainstream education. We acknowledge these Champions (our term!) who are far too often overlooked in mainstream UK history classes in favour of teaching focusing on slavery and Black American history (obviously important but not the same experience). We also showcase modern day Champions.

The UK has a rich history which includes the presence of Black Asian and Minority ethnic peoples throughout the centuries who were born here or settled on these shores. The individuals we’ve featured have made fantastic contributions locally, nationally, or internationally. We’ve also included foreign individuals who studied or lived in the UK and people who’ve lived interesting lives. Check them out here.

Joana Alarcão: What motivated you to start the online platform they did I can too?

Ngozi Okorie: As a person of colour raised in the UK, I found that nowhere on the history books was mentioned black or minority group people and I was intrigued to find them. I could see so many individuals thriving but not talked about.

I wanted to have sort of an outlet for this information that I was gathering. I was thinking about, putting the platform out there on the internet would be quite an idea. So that’s really where that kind of came about. I wanted to expose some of these historical and important individuals that I came across and weren’t taught in the school curriculum. Whether these individuals made an impact in sort of community-level or within their towns and cities, whether it’s national, whether it’s international. I just thought it was important to have a platform for that.

In the Platform -They Did I Can Too – there are sections such as profiles on these historical individuals, career information with career audio interviews, and interviews of individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds- how they got to where they got to in their career journey. So, anyone who’s listening can get insights, tips, and hints.

Also, there’s an area where we have commentaries and news. So, one thing I’m wanting to do is to cultivate an area here any youngsters or young writers can expose and talk about an area of interest. I mean that in the sense of just having an audience. I’m happy for them to use the platform to create their voice and find their voice writing or journalism-wise.

Joana: So, you created a platform where writers can write their stories? Ngozi: Yeah. It is not necessarily their personal story per se, it is more of commentaries on subjects. Like we’ve had individuals who’ve written music reviews, artists that they liked, and they wanted to talk about. The latest one we had was a short series on identity, what is it like growing up black in the UK, what it’s like growing up as a minority ethnic individual here in the UK, the schooling environment system, and how that affects one. Also, articles on wellbeing , LGBTQ, and I’m going to put one up from a previous writer who did an article on his experience of, you know, coming to terms with his sexuality. So, it’s whatever somebody feels that they want to write an article about or comment about. I’m quite happy to have that on the website as well.

They did I can too web page . Image courtesy of They did I can too.

Joana: What do you think are the main challenges we face as a society today? Ngozi: Um, that’s a big question. We have got inequalities and we have got racism and social inequalities. There’s climate change. There’s a lot of news that comes out at the moment. We’ve obviously got COVID and the effects of it, unfortunately, is younger people who bear the brunt. With COVID, you’ve got people who’ve lost their jobs and its younger people that get hit more. So, you’ve also got the mental health aspect of COVID, and people being restricted, being indoors, being encaged. So, you know, mental health is also an issue and it’s, how do we get the right information? What information do we get? Unfortunately, people are passing away and having to deal with death and with loss. Joana: Do you think COVID has worsened racism and people being less understanding of diversity? Ngozi: I would say absolutely. And that’s unfortunate because we are having these cases where people have been victimized because of COVID. The Asian hate has spiked considerably throughout the world and we’re seeing it, we’re hearing it and that has unfortunately fueled that hate. Although you have cases where people want to show that they are supportive but unfortunately the dominant face is the rise in hatred and the crimes associated with that. Joana: Yeah, I do agree with you. Although there are a lot of people trying to help and raise awareness of this type of circumstances and events. I have one question that relates to this subject. What is your intact on political correctness? Do you think, it is a helping factor? Ngozi: What do you mean by political correctness? What do you mean by that phrase? Joana: I mean the reformulations that the government is imposing. When you’re having a conversation with someone that is not from your ethnicity or not from your gender, you are more aware of things that can come across as racist or misogynistic. Do you think it’s helping or making it worst because people are feeling trapped and that they cannot speak about issues?

They did I can too web page . Image courtesy of They did I can too.

Ngozi : I think in a sense it has more to do with responsibility and individual responsibility. And I say that because if you want to be sensitive to a group, it goes back to you as an individual. It’s up to you to understand that group or at least have an appreciation of what might be seen as being racist or might be seen as being sexist or homophobic or whatever. I kind of understand it from a certain extent or a viewpoint that somebody might feel uncomfortable with doing anything because you think, okay, am I going to upset someone? Am I going to offend someone? But saying that even as I’m speaking, I’m just thinking that, even saying that when it comes to political correctness, when it comes to wanting to do the right thing, there’s always a chance that you might inadvertently do the wrong thing. So being comfortable with being uncomfortable has to be a stance that you accept as an individual. So being uncomfortable and thinking like – Hey, I might make a mistake, but I didn’t mean it. Try to put yourself out there that is more where I think the conversation needs to move towards. Rather than it being – Oh, being politically correct because that is politically correct. I think in some ways it can be kind of loaded and it can have a bit of a negative connotation because it’s like – Oh, if you’re not being politically correct, then you’re automatically wrong. Joana: I do agree. I think that’s the discussion right now. That political correctness is so charged, that it is stopping the conversation and not bring it forward. So, it started to be, people being racist and sexist and defending themselves with “No I’m just being politically correct”. Ngozi: If someone’s saying something about hiding behind “I’m being politically correct” that is gaslighting. Then that’s a different conversation. A different thing altogether, that motive is not right. This is why I said at the beginning that it is about responsibilities, individual responsibility. Why are you doing this? What is the responsibility I have as an individual? That’s why I ask that you kind of define what you mean by political correctness because it just means different things to different people. I think that the main thing is that you commit as an individual. If you say you are committing to understanding different groups of people, knowing that you might put your foot in things and do something wrong, say something wrong. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is part of the process. Joana: Yeah. I agree so much with it. We should consider, maybe I did something I shouldn’t, I should apologize and try to understand the individual that is in front of me. And yeah, I understand it. Coming back to your project. Do you think it is helping celebrating the UK black and Asian and minority ethic individuals. Do you see changes?

They did I can too web page . Image courtesy of They did I can too.

Ngozi: I’ve had positive responses concerning the platform. Even though it is a window for the UK historical champions, where the interviews and interviewees are from minority ethnic backgrounds, I do find that it is a resource that gets comments from everybody. From all ethnic groups, including white ethnic groups. It’s a platform that people are looking at. A resource people are using and finding interesting, coming back to it, listening to the audio, and interviews. So, from that point of view, it is a resource that I can see is making a difference. As for the actual content creators, the members, as I say, it is a platform for them to showcase their voice. For them to put the feelers out. Is this something that they want to do? Do they want to write, do they want to comment? Or is it just something that they want to do while they’re at Uni? So, from that point of view, it’s quite nice to hear, people saying thanks for publishing my work or thanks for being that window that has given me other opportunities. It has been a positive outcome from people who have gone back to me.

Joana: That’s so good to hear, that the platform is having an impact. Do you have any major events or progressions coming forward? Ngozi: Not at the moment. Unfortunately, COVID put a temporary hold on some ideas and projects that I was kind of thinking about. So, at the moment, no, we’re quite a young organization, so we are still sort of developing ideas and thinking on different ways to present ourselves.

Joana: In which way do you spread your messages? Do you have events like volunteer work or it’s just an online platform? Ngozi: Yes. It’s online at the moment and there’s also the Instagram page @theydidicantoo. Joana: Ok, Thank you so much for the interview.

Ngozi: Yes of course, thank you for inviting me !

Ngozi Okorie

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