Introducing The Othello Project created by actors in the current RSC company. This new writing endeavour seeks to highlight the life and work of five incredible Black and Asian forgotten figures from history. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Othello, as a study of the outsider, they are using art to challenge racism by creating a platform to champion the life and work of their ancestors, whose voices have been largely erased from history.
The task of finding a figure I wanted to write about was more of a struggle than I had anticipated. It seems that when it comes to British history, South Asian contribution is prioritised to the few. The requirements involve absolute excellence or a life defined by trauma. Think Gandhi or Malala Yousafzai.
But the history of Britain is inexorably tied with the history of the Indian subcontinent, and I could not comprehend how an area with a population of over 1.7 billion, and with a further 4 million living in the UK, had its experience, culture, diversity and voice reduced to a handful of individuals.
So it came as a relief when an Asian friend of mine told me she’d recently come across a green plaque in London which read: “The first Asian elected to the House of Commons was DADABHAI NAOROJI.” Not a bad tagline to hook me into reading further.
A man from humble beginnings in Bombay during the height of the British Empire, Dadabhai Naoroji’s life was peppered with quiet groundbreaking moments that very few people today know of. He promoted women’s education in Bombay, opening several of its first schools for girls. He worked with Irish Nationalists and promoted Home Rule in Ireland. He vehemently supported the Suffragist movement. He was a founder of the Indian National Congress that would eventually lead the Independence movement. All of these were prior to the headline-grabbing moment printed on the green plaque.
My parents came to this country from Bangladesh in the '80s. My siblings and I were born and brought up in Newcastle in the '90s, amongst a wealth of brown immigrants. My formative education was filled with the history of the World Wars. Of the expansion of the United States. And a term on Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
There is an assumption that there weren’t that many Black and Brown people making history. The Othello Project would like to destroy that notion.