A few weeks ago I sat talking to a friend about belonging. Excitedly, she brought up PinkNews, a media brand that focuses on the stories of LGBTQ+ people around the world.
What followed was a walk into her emotions, an insight into how reading something on PinkNews could make her feel seen. It gave a real, tangible feeling that there is space in this world dedicated to her sexuality, her identity, and her home.
In a society where people are often pushed to the margins due to discrimination, dedicated spaces can help bring the marginalised to the centre.
The formula is simple: inclusive spaces are spaces of belonging. Belongingness comes alive through conversations and connections. And, what is journalism if not an arena of conversations and connections?
It might feel like a long connection — but it’s one I’ve seen friends excitedly talk about first-hand. It’s one I’ve felt myself. So, how can journalism help foster belongingness in our society?
“To ignore or overlook [intersectionality] is to do a disservice to communities who want to read about themselves and see themselves reflected.”
Suyin Haynes, editor-in-chief of gal-dem
Establishing Belongingness With Journalism
My own wish to find a sense of belongingness stems from living in a place which is not my home. Coming to the UK from a completely different country was not easy for me — wrapped in cultural differences, loneliness, and food nostalgia, one has to make changes within yourself.
In order to fit in, I started to close off major parts of myself that were not “British enough”, to the point where it felt suffocating. But during these times, there were small things that would give me a sense of community.
I had never considered being a part of something bigger than India, but then I entered a wider collective of South Asians through magazines. Through the pages of Clove, I found articles celebrating South Asian culture, which have helped me identify commonalities between South Asians, making me realise that our cultures share more than I thought.
It is work and conversations like these that create spaces where you can gain a sense of belongingness. You find company — even within a wider atmosphere of hatred, loneliness, and exclusions.
Juice Magazine (L) and Clove Magazine (R)
“Belonging is a sense of being heard, and as soon as you start performing voices in a magazine, you’re allowing people to be heard,” says Ellie Jackson, founder and editor-in-chief of The Movement Movement, a magazine encouraging women and non-binary people to enjoy sports-based movement in all forms, and to change its male-centric narrative.
The idea came from the frustration of many women who left sports during their teenage years, either because they did not feel particularly good at it or were not encouraged to participate after a certain age. Jackson reveals that it is “super common” for women to leave sports during their developmental years. In contrast, most men play sports through their adulthood.
“It just comes down to those kinds of conversations that are had with women in their teenage years, that don’t seem to happen around men,” she explains. “It seems like a little thing, but those conversations go on to cause such massive damage.”
But through The Movement Movement, women and non-binary people are encouraged to pursue physical activities and sports, regardless of proficiency. Jackson elaborates that belonging is achieved through generating conversations around inclusivity, which is why she built a community around those facing implicit societal exclusions.
Journalism acts as a starter for conversations and validates feelings and thoughts. For people who don’t see themselves reflected elsewhere, journalism can pave the way for connection. “Once you create a project that’s inclusive, you have belonging at the heart of the project,” she reflects.
“Journalism is more than just providing information; it guides one’s perception of reality and if used in [the] right way, it can make us feel less lonely in this world,” another friend of mine explained. Through the Aurelia article, my friend had found a new sense of solidarity, realising that her problems with establishing friendships don’t lie in her own personality, but in people’s prejudiced perspective towards hijab-wearing women.
That is the amount of power journalism holds: reducing pain and loneliness, of changing reality at an individual as well as community level.
“Belonging is a sense of being heard, and as soon as you start performing voices in a magazine, you’re allowing people to be heard.”
Ellie Jackson, founder and editor-in-chief of The Movement Movement
In a similar way, Juice magazine’s founder Evelyn Miller wielded her journalistic powers for good when she initiated a conversation on a lack of South Asian spaces. When Miller started the project in the summer of 2019, there were not a lot of magazines that created a space for South Asians creatives — and the ones that did focused only on a one-dimensional narrative of being a South Asian.
Since Juice was made for South Asian creatives by South Asian creators, Miller is confident that belongingness was embedded in the magazine’s very beginnings. She is a big believer in community spaces, emphasising, “You need to have your own space where you’re going to have a community that […] fosters collective care, mentorship, friendship, collaborative project”.
She also believes that belongingness comes from the freedom to write anything you want, rather than pigeonholing yourself to one race, which is often the case in other magazines — a sign that they may just want to orientalise and profit from the racial emphasis.
How To Build A Community
1. Centre Care
Evelyn Miller, founder of Juice magazine explains: “You need to have your own space that fosters collective care, mentorship, friendship, and collaborative projects.”
2. Listen & Engage
“We’re still learning so much, and want to be listening to our communities,” says Suyin Haynes, editor-in-chief of gal-dem. “Sometimes, at legacy publications, there’s not really that listening or dialogue element. But that’s how community-centred journalism works.”
3. Uplift Others
“You want to get to know people’s stories, and you want to platform people’s voices,” says Ellie Jackson, founder of The Movement Movement. Be led by the community on stories and angles.
Miller deliberately created a space where South Asians could write about anything, and not just about being brown. “Since people have the freedom to write anything, readers also feel attached to a space that is multidimensional [which leads to] the establishment of [a] bigger community.”
Suyin Haynes, the editor-in-chief of gal-dem, agrees. “Intersectionality is to hold multiple identities, people hold so many multitudes. To ignore or overlook that is to do a disservice to communities who want to read about themselves and see themselves reflected.”
She adds, “For us, here, there is still always a process of learning. It’s so important to stay curious and humble. To be thinking about that and never to be complacent or take it for granted.”
It’s an approach that resonates with readers. One Juice reader told us that the reason they read the site was “because [their pieces] were not only about being brown, but also about normal daily emotions that humans experience”.. This is the type of work that generates a sense of closeness within readers.
A Future With More Belonging
At their heart, stories are a conveyor of emotions. Our journalism has the power to represent true sentiments of a huge range of people — but often, swathes of narratives are ignored, appropriated, or dismissed by the mainstream media.
Of course, as discussed, dedicated outlets have done significant work by building communities in their respective spaces. But imagine the world if major publications put their minds to collecting authentic voices and stories on the ground — a media that departs from the traditional sensationalist stories, and instead focuses on uplifting their readership.
This will not only help people feel connected to one another but to empathise with each other’s experiences. When I look at my own relationship with journalistic writing now, I see hope for more communities.
Header image courtesy of Duy Pham via Unsplash
Part of the Journo Resources fellowship class of 2022, Paridhi Badgotri is a master’s student in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, with a passion for the art of organising things.
Paridhi splits her time between Edinburgh and Delhi, and has previously completed her undergraduate degree in India, where she re-started the department’s literary journal. Her most recent work can be found with Kunzum Books.