Inaya Folarin Iman: Facilitating Discourse
Whether you’re in the United States or across the pond in Britain, discussions about race, privilege, and politics have become increasingly volatile. To avoid stoking our tribal human tendencies and facilitate real and productive conversations on difficult topics, Inaya Iman, a Britain-based print and broadcast journalist, founded The Equiano Project in August of 2021, with FAIR as an affiliate.
According to Iman, she was interested in FAIR from its inception, citing other members of FAIR’s Board of Advisors she admires, such as Glenn Loury and Douglas Murray, as people who initially grabbed her interest. “It must have been me who reached out saying, perhaps we can have a discussion because we both have organizations that are wanting to do something in this space, but at different places, across the Atlantic,” remembers Iman.
Once the two organizations were put in contact, the similarity of their missions and values became readily apparent. The Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, which soon became international, gave Iman a sense of urgency to ensure that a platform was available to discuss these important issues from a wide range of perspectives. “From the media, from academia, we were hearing one perspective about how bad racism was in society and how different people should relate to one another,” she says.
That perspective, explains Iman, is one that puts the concept of race at the center of our social and political dynamics, and insists that societal progress can only be achieved by viewing all interpersonal interactions through a lens of power and privilege mediated primarily by that construct. But Iman, herself from an ethnic minority background, does not agree with this popular narrative and instead favors a “common humanity-centered approach” that she believes has been central to the undeniable progress American society has made.
“I think we really forget that there was institutionalized racial segregation in the lifetimes of many people. There's people in our society that, in living memory, were not allowed to sit next to people because of the color of their skin,” explains Iman. “It was the rejection of a racial worldview and the insistence that America must stand, or meet its own claims of being about freedom, that challenged subjugation and oppression. The fact that that sense has been lost or has become unfashionable is just catastrophic.”
In the current fight against racism, many well-meaning people appear intent on delivering historical narratives that dwell on America’s past evils while glossing over the subsequent triumphs over those same evils. In many schools, children are being taught an incomplete and cynical view of America, and Iman is worried that focusing obsessively on a country’s wrongs may adversely influence the attitudes of our youngest generations.
“I think this war on the past is creating a huge sense of disconnection and displacement amongst young people in particular,” says Iman. “How can you move forward if the legacy that you inherit from those that are meant to educate you, and those that are meant to raise you, is framed as inherently evil and corrupted? Then you are left alone with no tools to guide you and take on the world.”
Iman believes that when a system is presented as irreparably flawed or damaged, attitudes become less about amending that system and more about giving up on it entirely. “I think what we're doing is very destructive. It's very nihilistic. I think it makes people feel that, you know, what's the point? There's no hope,” she says. “We should view the path as we view ourselves, which is [with a] multifaceted capacity for good and evil, the possibility of triumph and horror, but we work within the context in which we find ourselves—just as the people in the past did then.”
This picture is further complicated by the fact that although the history and culture of America and Britain are closely intertwined, they are not the same. Given America’s immense cultural influence, its social movements frequently become mirrored around the world—but due to fundamental historical and cultural differences, America’s social movements seldom fit comfortably within other countries’ social and historical contexts.
“There are very important differences,” says Iman of Britain and America. “Obviously, one is America basically having slavery since its founding, and racial segregation, and many of the famous figures in the civil rights movement. That's very different to Britain [which] never had slavery on British soil, never had racial segregation, and interracial relationships were never illegal.”
In order to delve deeper into British politics and facilitate the discourse necessary to move society forward, Iman began work on “The Discussion,” a weekly television show on GBN. On the program, popular narratives concerning culture and politics are frequently challenged and appraised, and multiple viewpoints are considered.
“When we think about television, we think about it as very quick sound bites and reactions, but I don't think it necessarily has to be that way. The show is almost an attempt to take the good bits about television and also the good bits about the podcast world and merge it into something. And I think news doesn't just have to react. I think it also can really understand and really engage with, from an intellectual level as well as the common sense level, these issues.”
One of the first topics of the show was about “race.” What is “race”? What does it mean? Where does it come from? How did it become such a focus?
“Since this racial fixation, I have not seen a single shred of evidence that anyone's life has been improved by this,” she says. “I've not seen evidence that people have become more understanding. I've not seen any evidence that education has improved amongst poor black people. I've not seen any evidence that this worldview has produced anything good, whereas there is a ton of evidence that the pro-human perspective has been successful.”
A commitment to the pro-human approach to civil rights is why Iman so strongly supports FAIR—“That is the [approach] that I share. That is the one that I champion. I think they're doing very good things.”
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