Reflections on the Voices alumni COVID-19 storytelling workshop

By Lara Kingstone

Sahiyo held a StoryCenter-led COVID-19 storytelling session for Voices To End FGM/C alumni in May. The session was created to continue building community online and offer a space for women to share their stories during the pandemic. 

This workshop was designed to be an informal and relaxed space for those affected by female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). By sharing lived experiences during the time of COVID-19, we sought to provide a space where these women could express emotion, thoughts and questions to a sisterhood of nonjudgmental ears. I was reminded, as I am in so many of the spaces created by women, how unbelievably resilient we are even now. Participants shared stories of their lives and I was blown away by the resilience, grit and sustained strength these women exhibited.

It must be noted that this session was held days after the shameless murder of George Floyd, as protests against police brutality and hundreds of years of structural racism began to spark. 

It was incredible, speaking to women from different locations in the world, in different kinds of quarantines, some with families, some alone. We all are experiencing this chapter differently, but share common threads. 

Multiple participants spoke to the experience of being overwhelmed, angry and uncertain. 

The content spoken about during this session was confidential, but themes of frustration with the flawed systems in the United States continued to rise.

Trauma has come up for a lot of people in the past few weeks, and months as well. We need to consistently allow ourselves time to reflect, and vent and process. I’m so grateful that part of Sahiyo’s work is creating these opportunities for healing.

We are listening: Sahiyo’s statement on protests against police brutality

We at Sahiyo wanted to purposefully create space to address the continued protests against police brutality in the United States and globally, and explicitly state that we stand in solidarity with the protesters fighting for black lives.

Many are coming forward to condemn the treatment of people of color. But we need to be clear in stating that it is black lives that we are focusing on right now. The U.S. has been built on and fueled by white supremacy and the active oppression of black people, enforced by the prison industrial system, the police and other agencies.

As an organization working with South Asian communities, we recognize that colorism and anti-blackness exists within our communities, as well. We have benefited from the model minority stereotype, but we must make a choice now – we can choose to buy into the model minority trope, and align ourselves with whiteness. Or we can address the colorism and anti-blackness in our own community, and step forward as allies to stand beside this country’s black communities. 

The events of the past two weeks are happening at a time in which black Americans are getting consistently hit hardest by COVID-19, due to the structural inequality of the country, and the resulting high populations working in essential positions without access to proper healthcare, and a well-documented bias in the medical profession. 

These are incredibly disturbing times and it can be difficult figuring out the best ways to support and take action. Educate yourself, go to a protest, speak up when you hear anti-blackness around you. Speak up without centering yourself or performing allyship for social capital. Take care of yourself and the people around you.

Of course, not everyone has the capacity to physically protest, especially during these already challenging pandemic times and the need to practice social-distancing to stay safe and healthy. There are a multitude of ways to still take action and show your support for racial equality and justice. 

Donate to campaigns and organizations working to create structural change: 

Watch in order to educate yourself on these issues:

  • 13th
  • Eyes On The Prize documentary series
  • The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
  • Long Night’s Journey Into Day
  • When They See Us

Read and share information with friends and family:

Articles:

Books:

  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt
  • How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Between The World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black by bell hooks
  • Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by bell hooks

Listen:

These are only a handful of ways one can take action, but as a global community, we must do so, and we must ensure that all black lives matter. At Sahiyo, we are listening and we are here for the black community and all allies supporting change. 

With love, solidarity and hope,

~ The Sahiyo Team