Persephone Pioneers

Persephone Pioneers: Hana Riaz

I first came along Hana Riaz’s work by absolute chance: a tumblr quote on my dash that left me thinking, “What rock have I been under to not know who this is?” A relatively new blogger, yet long time writer, Hana Riaz is no stranger to deconstructing the messy intersections of social justice, race, pop culture and sexism. A recent graduate of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies in Politics, Riaz is a self-described “black muslim feminist, a british south asian middle class woman, writer, blogger and believer in the transformatory power of love.” Her work can be found on where she blogs on everything from art and culture, to politics and sexuality, with a voice that is all her own.  Please welcome the ever-amazing Hana Riaz to Persephone Magazine.

Persephone Magazine: You are the leading force on your site, Hana Riaz, an online space dedicated to critically looking at art, race, gender and pop culture.  Why did you start this space and what was that process like?

Hana Riaz: I started a blog last year that was a very personal exploration of my own journey and struggle to find love, happiness and humanity. But I am inherently political and whilst I am not one to make a separation of the personal/political/private/public, I wanted to create a space in which I could solely dedicate to my cultural criticism and social commentary.

Although I’ve had pieces published here and there over the last few years, I’m not always the most confident writer. I’d put it off for a while, using conversations with friends to fall back on or relied on twitter to stream and share my consciousness. One day I just decided I had to break the circle of fear and put myself out there. Launching this site became not only necessary to train my craft, but share my voice and critically engage with issues that I believe are fundamental when challenging White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy in the quest for equality and justice.

PM: How has the site evolved since it first began? Do you find that is as just as much a process of learning about these issues as there is writing about them?

HR: Although it is only a few months old, I see myself growing with my work. For me writing is as personal as it is political and necessitates growth, progression and transformation. Sometimes you don’t realize where your thoughts or feelings are coming from until you pen them, other times it isn’t ’til others share their perspectives that you see yours shifting. It is about keeping an open mind.

PM: What are your goals for the site?

HR: This site is really about providing myself with an intimate space to express my views and exchange with others without any limits. I’ve explored issues I wouldn’t have always written about, in ways I wouldn’t have, and addressing audiences I wouldn’t always encounter. I think I just want to continue on that journey and allow people to engage with me ““ to come to my site and have them read things that make them think whether they agree with me or not.

PM: Why do you think conversations about oppression get bogged down so easily? How can we better talk about privilege and the way it intersects?

HR: We live in a society that is anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking and is prepared to dehumanize large segments of society politically, socially and economically. I think one of the best ways to get people to think about any “˜ism’, privilege (or lack of it) and to understand how systems of domination operate daily is to address identity and power relations. Identity defines who we are, where we are placed and where we belong, be it politically or personally in a global hierarchy; privilege and domination reify our position in society and therefore how we understand others.

Power becomes the core of this, shaping how these relationships are constructed, sustained and reproduced between people and systemically. I think when we share our own experiences, when we begin to critically engage with systems of domination not just as institutionalized phenomena but as things that shape our daily life and everything around us we can gain a better understanding and help challenge them. I really do believe that encouraging these spaces allows us to humanize one another, to value one another, to recognize that we have both personal and social responsibility to simultaneously enact.

People often forget that what seems abstract and far off theory is really transformed into realities we can see all around us. I recently wrote a piece exploring men, sex and power through porn. I had a huge, positive male response from those who I could describe as quite sexist namely because I was talking about something that they could relate to, visualize and grapple with personally. They were willing to think about sex and sexuality within a broader framework. I am an entire sucker for hope in humanity so I do believe critical thinking and honest, open discussion really can give way to change in human behavior that is currently used to sustain inequality even at an institutional level.

Systems of domination place people differentially and experiences will shape ones perspective. By creating spaces to engage with how they intersect, converge and shape people’s lives we create the foundations to dismantle them.

PM: You recently wrote a great piece called “Decolonizing Spaces: Women at Work.” It examines your experience in the office environment and the way that “isms” often go unchecked or called out.  Can you talk about what led you to write that piece and your experiences in the work environment?

HR: Being put in that position really shocked me! It was the first time that I was really made aware of how difficult it can be to challenge sexism and how in particular spaces, like the workplace, it really is a privilege to be able to do so. It is so much easier to speak out against it theoretically, but when faced with it in real life it is a whole different ball game. I hoped that if I shared my own experience, other women would share theirs and help me to address my own paralysis on that day. I am comfortable enough to say I do not know all the answers and that through my writing I hope to gain some.

PM: How did you get into writing? Was it always something you cared about?

HR: Even at the age of 7 or 8 I was passionate about justice and would be scribble my thoughts down or get lost in writing short stories. It was only after I graduated did I realize that this was really my vocation and purpose, something I would ultimately love to be doing all day, every day ““ my little contribution to change.

During university I really got to grips with my identity as a woman of colour and began to see just how important it was to write myself into existence as an authentic agent. It has been crucial for such a collectivity, a global majority that have been subjected to oppression, marginalization and silencing by White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy, to challenge and resist, to breathe and survive. Our stories, our voices have been our strength and I come from a legacy of women in my family who have used their talent and craft to evoke change and empower. Writing is one way that gives us agency, to undo the silence and address personal, political, local and global issues that we face in everyday life. For me it is fundamental that writing encourages others to do so, particularly as we are not monolithic, we are complex beings that need to be addressed holistically. It helps to build bridges where silences, gaps and misunderstandings exist. I’m grateful that I have the liberty and privilege to be able to.

PM: What has been the biggest obstacle in your work?

HR: Whenever we talk about issues that involve any “˜ism’ we risk being reductive and I’m terribly paranoid of limitations, of leaving out really important information or explorations because of word count. I want to stay relevant though, to retain complexity, to keep pushing boundaries and to be more solution orientated. Activism is key, we can’t afford to just critique if we really want to see change and I want to make sure my work leads to action and growth. I want to be progressive or else I won’t see the purpose behind my work.

PM: What awesome work can we forward from you in the not too distant future?

HR: You will definitely to continue to see me write about race, gender and class and the ways they intersect. I’m also working on another project called Critical Collective that is set to launch later this year. It will be an online magazine/blog dedicated to solution-based commentary on issues that affect people of colour in the UK and internationally. We have the aim to encourage critical thinking, dialogue, empowerment, education and most importantly activism. It’s going to be really exciting and something anyone and everyone can be involved with who wants to work for change ““ not just writers!

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