Humility is my act of resistance

Alia Alzougbi
Blog
17/06/2021

Inclusive Cultures is part of Clore Leadership's Inclusive Leadership delivery for Arts Council England’s Transforming Leadership programme, which prioritises activities to address existing gaps in diversity in the leadership of culture.

Image description: A woman is sat on a stool facing the camera. She has wavy dark brown, shoulder length hair. She is wearing a white smock top with a grey shawl over her right shoulder. She is sat surrounded by books on wooden book shelves.

Tell us about yourself and what you do

I started my career as a researcher in social anthropology and dabbled with amateur acting on the side. Eventually, the acting started to take centre stage and I applied for a scholarship to study Theatre in the UK. I came here with little more than the clothes on my back, good knowledge of the English language and a meagre stipend to cover my living costs in a wildly expensive city.

‘Bursting out’ into the acting scenes is generally a disappointment at best, and for me it quickly became apparent that as an Arabic-speaking, Muslim-identifying woman of colour, I was only going to be offered one-dimensional characters with mono-syllabic utterances. As my disability progressed and became increasingly visible, even the occasional multi-dimensional role offers dried up, and the precarious nature of a career in acting became unviable.

I turned to performance storytelling in an attempt to flip the script about my culture and people, and to accommodate my transforming body. I also started to produce the works of exceptional but little-known writers of colour who were finding it difficult to get their work on stage, and in so doing I discovered that a crisis of representation was rampant among so many from the Majority World. I now run a cultural learning organisation which brings global and indigenous perspectives to schools and cultural events, and am on my own learning journey as I explore other ways of being in the world and making sense of it.

What two or three values do you find yourself most drawn to?

Humility and criticality serve me well at work, which often finds me holding difficult conversations around justice, equity and sustainability. Life is so much more open when we are open, listening and poised to learn. I get so much out of making space for others. Humility also means that I am more interested in flat rather than hierarchical organisational structures when it comes to collaborating and connecting deeply with others.

Humility is my act of resistance against a world that has tried to teach me to always strive to come out on top.

Criticality is key because conversations and implementations around equity, inclusion and representation must remain responsive to context, and any stagnation risks becoming complicit in (re)established power structures. Criticality must be underpinned by the courage to speak up against the trend, whilst also celebrating the wins. Criticality asks: Whose voice is loudest in a room? Who is being sidelined? Who is missing? And crucially, what is my role in how things are playing out? Criticality is non-compliant in orthodoxies of any hue.

Reverence is a third quality that is crucial in how I show up at work and in life. I am convinced that part of the reason we are so detached from each other and from the Earth is because individualism has gone too far. What if the best version of ourselves was not dependent on constant comparison and competition with each other? What if the only currency was care for one another and the Earth? What if we saw each other and nature as an extension of our selves?

What matters to you about and around ‘inclusive cultures’ and what will be the theme of your provocation?

I will be offering some thoughts around Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of ‘intersectionality’ - how the collision of power, privilege and visible and invisible oppressions impact on our access to resources, opportunities and, eventually, life outcomes. At a time when we are being invited to turn in on ourselves and our tribes, I will propose that - while we may need spaces to intentionally self-segregate on the bases of shared lived experiences - we also urgently need to entangle our oppressions by weaving in and out of one another's causes to confront a historically and globally unequal system of power that thrives on unfair exclusion and unearned inclusion. I hope to uplift and inspire us with contributions from global and indigenous struggles, voices and perspectives.

What do you hope participants will get out of the programme?

I have no doubt that participants will find our time together to be fecund grounds for inspiration, provocation, meaning-making and the occasional discombobulation! I hope the participants, as well as coaches, walk away even more intentional about inclusion in its most critical, meaningful, active iteration at any given point. I hope that we all walk away confident to bring our whole selves - with all our contradictions, privileges, oppressions, vulnerabilities and outrage - to the spaces we step into, and that we are intentional about making space for others to do the same.