PRESENTATION: Learning to unlearn – Journeying beyond performative allyship and the transformative power of anti-racist work.
In her presentation, Pavi will talk about the barriers she has encountered as a grassroots activist and Brown womxn in Scotland, detailing some of her and her family’s lived experiences and what performative allyship looks like and how this impacts POC . She will also talk about effective allyship and reflect on the ways in which white people benefit from and contribute to racism, both consciously and unconsciously, and how this can be challenging but is much-needed transformative work.
She will explore the importance of reflective anti-racist work in mental health, the impact of racism on people of colour, and why this reflection and action is key to dismantling structures, pushing back and ultimately paramount for the benefit of communities, society and humanity.
She will also do a spoken word piece at the end about her thoughts on racism.
About Pavi (Pavithra)
Pavithra Sarma (aka Natarajan) is a Brown, cis woman from the city of Chennai (the capital city of Tamil Nadu) in the South of India who considers herself to be a new Scot now having lived in Scotland for a while. She is an anti-racism consultant, activist, community engagement facilitator and researcher based in Edinburgh. She is also a writer, doula, birth educator, musician, an ethical entrepreneur and home educating parent whose interests are varied but very entwined as she writes and explores racism and different forms of oppression across many spheres and disciplines. Her research and work have been inter-disciplinary across the fields of ecology, environment, maternity, sociology, social justice and human rights. She also loves writing poetry and is a comics buff.
Pavi’s love for languages and being multilingual has helped her greatly in research and community engagement in India and across the UK, and especially, while facilitating support groups for people from various ethnic groups in Edinburgh for around eight years.
Pavi is one of the co-founders of an online intersectional anti-racism learning resource on Facebook called ‘Scottish Anti-Racism Education’ (SARE) with other women of colour (WOC). This initiative was launched on the 21st of March, 2021 to commemorate The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This space was set up due to their collective frustrations and experiences in anti-racism and equalities activism and due to a deep, burning desire to see a shift in mindsets around ‘race’, racism and equality in society. They use specific online community engagement strategies and exercises to engage with members via written resources, activity posts and discussion threads. Members have access to their learning units and resources to reflect and ‘unlearn’ their biases and racism on their journey towards being anti-racist. This is a link to their group on FB – https://www.facebook.com/groups/saretruith and their page – https://www.facebook.com/ScotArEdu
Pavi is also one of the co-founders and co-directors of the ‘Anti-Racism Early Years Collective’ (AREYC) that is looking at challenging and addressing the barriers impacting racial justice and systemic change within the Early Years in Scotland. The AREYC are a collective of teachers, practitioners, academics and activists who are very passionate about Scotland being at the forefront of anti-racist practice in the Early Years.
As an environmental researcher by profession with a background in ecology and environmental law, she started to see the intersects between climate change, the demands made on developing nations and racism early on in her career. Her observations, learning and unlearning around systemic racism, anti-Blackness and analyses have deepened over the years.
Pavi first started working in community engagement when she lived in India and was an ecologist working in the forest areas within the Western ghats 20-21 years ago. The privilege of staying with the tribal communities within forest areas and participating in discussions, listening to their perspectives on gender, governments, corruption and allyship, deeply impacted and influenced her as a then 20-21 year-old. It further deepened her understanding of the power and privilege she held as an upper caste woman in India & made her question, reflect and delve deeper into her own privileges and biases.
Pavi also experienced a lot of institutionalised racism during both of her pregnancies and births and it spurred her to explore her maternity rights and research all of her childbirth options in the UK. Her experiences as an immigrant mum who was and is passionate about women’s rights, autonomy and wanting to provide a support system for other migrant and immigrant women and femmes, led her to qualifying as a birth / antenatal educator and doula. She has witnessed and dealt with systemic racism in education, academia, NHS / maternity, community engagement, within the government and, needless to say, came to understand while combating it that, as much as she has wanted to stay positive and not ‘see it everywhere’, racism is all-pervasive since it is so deeply embedded within structures and is systemic. As a doula and birth educator, she has often witnessed overt, interpersonal and systematic racism unfold right in front of her, not to mention the different forms of racism and oppression she and her family have experienced.
Pavi believes in never forgetting her roots, remembering and paying homage to the anti-racism activists who fought for their present and future, paving the way for activists today and in the recognition that change is possible with a lot of reflection, willingness to be open, hard work and how we want to shape humanity for our children and future generations.
CERES podcast on the 12th November, 2020.
Dr. Kristina Konstantoni: “How can we be effective white allies?”
Pavithra Sarma (detailing feedback after an anti-racism and equality training she had delivered): “….. what people wanted from me was a solution to a problem that I hadn’t created and this is what white people need to recognise….. allyship is not self-proclamatory…you don’t claim allyship…allyship is witnessed…….”