Dr Javeria K. Shah an academic and educationalist driven by the pursuit of social justice. Her work is interdisciplinary and aligns with the visual arts, sociology, policy, and education fields. Her research draws on person-centered methodologies that incorporate visual anthropology and narrative approaches to interrogate and re-conceptualise societal positioning(s) of the individual and their self-identity formation. In 2018, she set up the Social Performance Network which is a research and practice-orientated platform that aims to extend focus on issues surrounding socialisation and its “performance” and enactment in social world contexts. Outside of this work, she holds an academic and inclusion position at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London and fulfils various visiting roles in Higher Education and the Arts.
What inspired you to get into the field you are in?
I have always been a little bit of a ‘geek’ if I’m honest. From quite a young age I was interested in philosophy, ideas, literature, art, and theology – but I also held a very keen sense of fighting injustice and amplifying voices of those omitted from the ‘dominant conversation’. So, it seemed natural to consolidate all of these different aspects to my work, interests, sense of social justice, and research, to enter academia.
With performativity of Blackness being made into a commodity/appropriated (both historically and contemporarily) what are your views on ways in which we can change the narrative?
Change needs to begin by equalising the voices and questioning our socialised mind set when it comes to what we think Blackness is and how it should be performed. Communities need to be able to speak for themselves and be respected in that right to do so. For too long, we have seen a selective engagement with Blackness on terms that are dictated by whiteness structures. Be it fashion, music, culture, or food, the crass homogenisation of many distinct diasporas. A challenging is needed of the reframing of ‘acceptable blackness’ understood through the white lens, in which, a select few have a self-proclaimed licence to perform blackness how they see it, while Black individuals and communities are subjected to structural racism and anti-blackness. There needs to be an acknowledgement that sometimes Blackness is performed to a point of stereotypical caricaturing or diluted to make it palpable to the communities affected by years of anti-blackness drip feeding. Both performativities are problematic, because both types of performativity are disrespectful of the communities they claim to draw from.
So, how is change practically possible? Change is possible through reflexivity and a process of ‘de-socialisation’ (Shah, 2018) and allyship – but what does this look like?
Reflexivity to De-Socialised States
Our identities aren’t a taken for granted organic phenomenon. We are shaped by our environments, heritage, familial and social circles and so on. We are socialised by our immediate and broader circles. We are shaped into identity tropes from a young age based on our family social status – a socialised identity. So, part of ‘the work’ is to reflect on ourselves, our journey, and to question our world views. To identify things in ourselves that make us uncomfortable, and to dismantle this, and finally to work from an underlying premise that we are all truly equal.
Well, a good start is to listen in stillness and respond under the steer of the Black individuals and communities you are allying with. Take the steer. What is needed? Sometimes, nothing is needed. Sometimes, it is just about sharing space or giving it up or recognising that not every community expression can be co-opted as a banner for ‘multi culturalism’. Society still has much to learn about the difference between the rhetoric and the practice. The two should never be separate!
With racism being an issue that has intensified the emotional charge of PoC over the past few years specifically, how do you channel your energy in order to making sure your mental and emotional wellbeing is in tact?
Oh this is a hard one! Truthfully, it’s difficult. Sometimes I am so overwhelmed by it all, and I guess it doesn’t help that I am an empath, so along with dealing with my own ‘stuff’ I absorb the broader, global, social ‘stuff’ too. Stuff being racism.
Connecting with nature helps, especially places with water, like riverbanks, beaches, or lakes. The pandemic has been an unexpected catalyst in drawing my spiritual side out. So, meditation, affirmation work, and energy work make a huge difference – but in recent years, I have noticed that taking digital breaks (I call it a ‘digital detox’) or reducing online platforms or online interaction can make a big difference too. It’s surprising how much energy our online interactions can take up and how we often fall into the ‘algorithm trap’ where we are cyclically accessing an echo chamber that only speaks back to us in the algorithm that we belong to. ‘Unplugging’ now and again can make a huge difference.
As an educator and a WoC who attained her PhD, what has been your highlight and lowlight in each space?
Great question! Let me think … I’ll start with the positive, so highlight, making any sort of difference to a student and connecting with inspirational WoC to create networks of support and mutual celebration. Lowlight, navigating some pretty toxic spaces underpinned by insidious racism.
Why is it important for WoC to use their voices creatively?
I truly believe that creativity is a form of spiritual articulation, that it is a gift that is unique to us. To use it to underpin our interactions, to inform our voices, is to ensure that we are truly ourselves in spaces.
What makes sisterhood significant in your life?
There is a strength in sisterhood that is so beautiful. A shared experience, or understanding, underpinned by a mutual celebration of each other is such a wonderful gift that we as women can give each other.
As a mother of a daughter, what advice would you give her in relation to navigating school/professional settings?
Never give over your power or seek external validation. A person, situations, events, can only impact you if you give them huge importance and priority over your peace. Remember, you are always in control! – and part of that control is to consciously keep your power and to protect your peace. You are strong, you are powerful, you are wonderful, you are woman!
As a WoC, in a predominantly white industry (education), how do you honour yourself within those spaces?
I stay true to my values. I do not play games or compromise who I am to get by. I show up as my most authentic self and I challenge disrespect and the omissions.
What WoC inspired you during your studies and/or creative endeavours?
Indian actress, Shabana Azmi
What affirmation or quote would you like to share with your fellow sistas?
Protect your peace!