How does finding out about our collective past empower us?
Why do we need to see ourselves in plays, tv shows and books? Relatability is so important and anyone who says it doesn’t matter is denying the part that ancestry and culture plays in identity.
Whether we relate to someone because they look like us, sound like us, have the same values, or do the same job as we do is irrelevant. What is relevant is that we will always seek out similarities because we find comfort and belonging in similarity. Now I believe there will be those who read this and think codswallop. But unless you want to sing the virtues of a life of reclusiveness I suspect at some point you are going to need to deal with Joe Public and a life of relatability is more agreeable than dissonance to most.
What does this have to do with feeling empowered? Because there is nothing more disempowering than invisibility. If you cannot see yourself in the stories that are told of the world we live in then you will feel very dislocated.
It’s easy to see then why some people can feel totally disengaged with historical references when they refer only to white, wealthy, privileged men or entitled royal females. English Heritage have already admitted that they are on a mission to bring more blue plaques into central London which celebrate women but the main issue is that many of these stories have been hidden or lost and it is just not that easy.
I dig deeply into streets and history. It’s a bit like focusing in on the red cars passing by. Until you do that you cannot possibly understand that there are more than you think. My ears prick up when I hear of a woman I have never known or read about before. I instantly start delving.
I have been on tours where I have mentioned people from all walks of life and I watch the walker's eyes light up when I tell these stories. Recently I took a group of women from Cheshire round London. As I stopped outside Lady Hamilton’s house I barely got the name Emma Hart out of my mouth before they broke into big smiles and said ‘our girl from Cheshire’.
When you delve into the past and find people like you, people who have come before you. People who identify as you do, then you can finally lay claim to the development of the past and the foundations on which our culture is based.
If you don’t believe me then try this for yourself. Decide on something you want to research. Whether that is Jamaicans in London or disabled athletes from the capital, gay authors or women of religion, Scots in London etc and when you find that person see how it makes you feel. I must say when I first discovered an uncle who lived in London four generations before me who never married I felt hugely emotional. I know he left his family and the west country like me and I also think he left because like me, he was gay. That alone fills me with a sense of belonging to this city. Because I know my DNA was here before I came.
London belongs to all of us. Come and hear herstory!