Mymuna Soleman and The Privilege Café

Hi Mymuna great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi Guy thank you for this opportunity, my name is Mymuna, I’m of Somali origin and was born and bred in Cardiff, Wales. I have a huge passion for equality and diversity but most importantly equal representation for Muslim women of colour like myself. I studied Health and Social Care at undergraduate level and my Master’s in Public Health; both obtained from Cardiff Metropolitan University.

I set up The Privilege Café as soon as we got into Lockdown as I was frustrated with the lack of diversity and couldn’t express myself as a woman of colour in spaces filled with privilege.

To date, I’ve facilitated 10 sessions on Zoom covering various themes including mental health, ‘unconscious’ bias and privilege in the recruitment process. The level of engagement has been incredible and the speaker’s insight knowledge and expertise have brought nothing but positivity to all those who have attended the sessions. I’m truly greatful to everyone who has been part of this learning and growing journey with me; Diolch o galon.

The Café is an open to all, its a safe space for all to engage, learn and to use their privilege for good.

 As you have mentioned you run The Privilege Café, the Café is advertised as a place to discuss all things privilege. For those who have not yet attended how would you best describe the Café and its work?

I would describe the virtual Café as a safe, open forum whereas you say we discuss privilege among other topics which to date since starting on April 20th this year have included mental health and privilege, language and linguistics, ‘unconscious’ bias and various others. I created the Café as I was frustrated with this whole ‘systems’ approach which is very formal, agenda-based and wanted the Café to be the opposite of that. Once I decide on a theme and a title for discussion, I put out a call out on social media for anyone interested to speak for a 10-15 mins or so and then open it out for open questions and discussions. Like I said it’s a very informal space so anyone is welcome to come, learn and discuss ‘difficult’ topics but most importantly how people can use their privilege for good.

To discuss specifics White Privilege is an overarching topic in every Café. Why is this such an important area of discussion in the Café?

I think the words white privilege hold a very strong and weighty meaning for so many people not just people who are non-white. White privilege is a difficult concept to take on board and is not something you can pinpoint onto one individual. The unearned privilege or superiority white skin gives people is wider and deeper than something a lot of people deem to be ‘individual finger pointing’, you know the whole ‘I’m not racist’ sentence which usually takes up the space where more meaningful conversations could be had. This is why I have the mindset that white privilege will not be tackled in one session or ten sessions, but that it is the foundation and base of all conversations had at the Café. Positive mindset change takes time and it would be disingenuous and frankly hypocritical if I expected people to come one session and then I ‘ticked off’ the white privilege element. White privilege is a deep thread embedded in society and the same goes for the café. That thread will be untied, hopefully, through various discussions, themes, conversations and questions as the café evolves.

The Café is a space where contributors can share real points or lived experiences that many people find difficult. The Cafe is a safe space for these conversations. As the meeting host you frequently state it’s OK to ask questions. How did you decide how to format the Café and the conversations that take place there?

Its always OK to ask a question in my view, the Privilege Café being on Zoom doesn’t make that approach any different for me. As I said above, I didn’t want to have a ‘format’ so to speak, it’s much more of a safe, open forum which naturally involves asking questions to learn and engage more. I feel that the more I reinforce that it is OK to ask a question, the less intimidated people feel and if that’s what it takes for me to help educate people then that’s what I’ll do. Learning is always a two process and open questions, for me, give that relaxed, open atmosphere which is part of the DNA of my Café.

Has this changed as the number of Café’s have increased and the number of your guests?

No this approach hasn’t changed nor has it impacted the number of guests. I guess the more guests there are as in speakers the less time to answer questions but again I try to answer as many questions as I can though the chat as well as the open forum discussions with the help of my incredible speakers. The number of panel members really does depend on the interest after I put the call out and so again this reinforces my approach for my Café to be very informal, space and open to all.

During Lockdown the murder of George Floyd and worldwide public demonstrations under the Black Live Matter movement have highlighted institutional racism, inequalities and discussion around Privilege. Do you feel The Café has a role to play in tackling some of the areas above?

Yes, I feel the Privilege Cafe does have a role to play in terms of raising awareness of the issues you raised in the question and it is the exact reason why I created the Café in the first place. I felt that these topics were always seen as ‘add-ons’ in every space I went to and they were always on the ‘menu’ until I as the only person of colour the  majority of the time brought them up during discussions and so with The Privilege Café I hope these issues are on the table and open for debate, discussion and hopefully positive change.  

I first became aware of your work in The Privilege Café on social media. I found the Café and format to be a revelation in terms of the conversations in which you could actively participate. You bring together a broad range of people, providing new perspectives and the opportunity to learn.  There has been a great deal of discussion during the Lockdown of a rejection of the “Old Normal” and embracing the “New Normal” For me personally discovering and attending the Cafes has been one of the most positive outcomes of Lockdown. Your attendance’s can be as high as 300 people, which is staggering. It’s evident your work is hugely important, what would you like to happen next?

Thank you for your comments and an excellent question. Ideally, I would like to take the virtual Privilege Café I have created online and take it offline, in the ‘real world’. I’d love to have a ‘Centre for Women’ where the Privilege Café takes up the main holding space. I’d love the Café to have separate rooms just like it does online where each room has a different speakers or panel members tackling a different theme each week. These rooms would cover topics similar to the ones I’ve covered on zoom which include mental health and wellbeing, education and employment.

Get the Chance supports the public to access and respond to arts activity, if you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

I would fund Somali folk dance classes as this is a huge passion of mine as a Somali-Welsh female living in Cardiff; a city with a huge Somali population, one of the oldest minority ethnic group in the UK. Somali folk dance is exciting, fun and most of all its an amazing way to keep fit and healthy; yet this is not included in the ‘arts’ in Wales and this needs to change.

During Lockdown a range of arts and third sector organisations and individuals are now working online or finding new ways to reach out to audiences. Have you seen any particularly good examples of this way of working that you would like to highlight?

I don’t think there’s a particular way to engage or work with people, it’s about your network and how you use them wisely, transparently and honestly without trying to better yourself or achieve personal goals. I think what some organisations have found difficult is that they haven’t engaged as they should have prior to Lockdown and so now adapting to the new way of working has meant that those challenges will be that much harder. Advice I would give to these organisations is to be as honest as possible and openly admit that this is not tokenistic and that they haven’t done as well as they should have but this is the long term sustainable goal we want to achieve, oh and we will pay you for your time as we value your input.

Thanks for your time

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