Talking about some amazing people via my Twitter profile pictures

I love twitter! I use it all the time! I’ve made friends through twitter and I’ve developed a very good network for my professional development. I’m also a conference junkie and try to attend as many conferences as I can. I try and make sure I tweet from these events and also use them to meet up with people in real life who I’ve got to know through twitter. This is one of the reasons why I have my own picture as my twitter avi. It makes it easier for people who only know me through twitter to recognise me.

During the summer holidays (when there were no conferences taking place) I decided to replace my own picture with pictures of some remarkable women. In case you missed these or don’t follow me on twitter (seriously, why don’t you?!) the ten women I chose were as below:

Tina Turner rose to prominence with Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm before recording hit singles both with Ike and as a solo performer. She has been referred to as The Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll and has sold more than 200 million records worldwide.

Fatima Sughra was an activist. In 1946, aged just 14, she took down the Union Jack from the Civil Secretariat Lahore & hoisted up a Muslim League flag made from a dupatta. This was the first time the Pakistani flag was flown.

Sojourner Truth was born into slavery in New York State. She gained freedom after running away with her infant daughter. She became a well known anti-slavery speaker and a women’s rights activist.

Wangari Maathai was a renowned Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. She was awarded the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her “contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace” becoming the first African woman to win the prize.

Fatima Jinnah was the younger sister of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. She was a strong advocate for the two nation theory. She was affectionately known as Madar-e-Millat (mother of the nation). She qualified as a dentist but devoted her life to the Pakistan movement.

Moira Stuart OBE was the first black female newsreader on British television.

Begum Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan was a leading figure in the Pakistan Movement working closely with Quaid-e-Azam. She became First Lady when her husband, Liaqat Ali Khan became Pakistan’s first prime minister. She worked tirelessly for women welfare.

Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah was a Pakistani politician and diplomat. She was the first Muslim woman to earn a PhD from the University of London. She was Pakistan’s ambassador to Morocco from 1964 to 1967, and was also a delegate to the United Nations.

Nichelle Nichols played Lieutenant (later, Commander) Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the Star Trek. Ground breaking role for a black female artist.

Razia Sultan was the empress regent of the Delhi Sultanate and was the first sovereign female ruler in both Islamic and Indian history. She was the daughter of Shams-ud-din Iltutmish, who had begun life as a Turk slave.

These remarkable women belonged to different countries, were of different ages, lived at different times and were known for their contributions in different fields. What’s really amazing about them is that they just went ahead and did what they needed to do. Fatima Sughra, for example, didn’t wait for someone to show her what to do. Aged just 14 she hoisted the Pakistani flag and became the first person to do so. Begum Ikramullah didn’t say she can’t do a PhD at University of London because she couldn’t see another Muslim, Indian woman doing so. How poor would our world have been if each and everyone of these women had thought, “I can’t be what I can’t see”? Why is that these women didn’t think that way but we, in the 21st century, do? You would, I think, agree with me when I say that the periods of history these women lived during were no less racist, paternalistic etc than today. In fact, I’d say these women faced much greater hardships than we do. And yet. And yet it’s we who tell our daughters, our BAME students that they can’t be what they can’t see. Few years ago I was at a conference and during a conversation I remarked that there weren’t that many BAME attendees and someone (I’ve forgotten who) replied that it may be because there were very few BAME speakers! That really surprised me! If a BAME teacher can’t get up the courage to attend a conference where there are few BAME speakers then how will he/she inspire their students to go forth and conquer the world?!

While I was mulling over this I came across this tweet which made me really uncomfortable.

The portraits were removed because of the colour and gender of the subjects of the portraits! This is where identity politics eventually leads us. I can understand people wanting women and BAME scientists to be represented but I cannot agree that removing the existing portraits is a sensible way to solve the lack of diversity problem.

Identity politics is rearing it’s ugly head on edu-twitter too. If one disagrees with someone then just call them white supremacist. If someone says they aren’t racist then jump down their throat and tell them that unless they say they’re anti-racist you’ll consider them racist. The latest example was the infamous #ListGate. Tom Rogers made a personal list of people he thought were worth following and tweeted it and all hell broke lose! First it was that there aren’t any BAME on it, then that there were only 2 (there were more than two) then that there wasn’t any indigenous representation (this was a list of UK educators!) and then that there weren’t any uncompromisingly black people on it. White supremacy, racism, appalling and hurtful list are examples of what was said. Some of the extreme reactions were met with derision and it was thought that people were making fun of calls for increasing diversity. They absolutely were not! The extreme reaction to the list resulted in a typical British reaction; mocking the silliness! People who objected to the list didn’t stop to think that what they were asking Tom to do was to assign ethnic groups to people by looking at their avis. They were asking him to look at photographs and decide if people are white or BAME. Think about that for a moment.

Then when you’ve done that, think how you’d feel if you were mixed race and that wasn’t evident from your avi and Tom was expected to place you somewhere on a colour spectrum.

Lastly, think of the fact that if you happen to be BAME then some parts of edu-twitter will not engage with you, unfollow/block you if don’t think that

  • People who say they are not racist (rather than saying they are anti-racist) should be considered racist
  • Everyone you disagree with who isn’t BAME should be assigned the white supremacist label

It seems to me that people demanding diversity cannot deal with diverse points of view. This is something we need to explore more deeply into. The danger is that if diverse points of view are not given the chance to be aired then it will be assumed that every BAME person has the same thoughts on diversity.

Lastly, yes, we need more BAME in every field of life. Yes, we need to work to remove barriers. Removing portraits of eminent white scientists or arguing over a personal twitter follow list isn’t the way to do that. In fact, I would say that’s the lazy way to improve diversity! As educators equip your pupils to be the best they can be, to be the first one to do what they want to (someone has to be first, the ladies above have proved it can be done) and not wait around for someone to lead the way. And stop seeing racism everywhere, especially where it doesn’t exist. If everyone is a racist, then no one is!

I’ll end by quoting something I saw the other day. “Racism is not dead, but it is on life support — kept alive by politicians, race hustlers and people who get a sense of superiority by denouncing others as “racists.” Thomas Sowell.

During February 2020 half term the people I featured in my profile pictures were:

Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman whose cancer cells are the source of the HeLa cell line the first immortalized human cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research.

Abadi Begum was one of the first Muslim women to actively take part in politics and was part of the movement to free India. She pawned her personal jewelry to educate her children including her famous sons, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali.

Dina Asher-Smith, the British sprinter, is the fastest British woman in recorded history. She is the 2019 World Champion at 200 metres, the 2016 & 2018 European champion at 200 metres & the 2018 European champion at 100 metres. And she’s a Newstead Wood girl!

Muhammad Ali Jinnah, barrister, politician and the founder of Pakistan. Led All-India Muslim League from 1913 until Pakistan’s creation on 14 August 1947. Pakistan’s first Governor-General until his death. He is revered in Pakistan as Quaid-i-Azam.

Noor Jahan, a Pakistani singer and actress. Her career spanned more than six decades (1930s–1990s). She was renowned as one of the greatest and most influential singers of all time especially in S Asia and was given the honorific title of Malika-e-Tarannum (queen of melody).

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