Playwright and commentator Bonnie Greer OBE launched the 15th anniversary celebrations of the Three Faiths Forum last Tuesday when she delivered the Undergraduate ParliaMentors Annual Lecture. The lecture ‘Identity and its Discontents’ drew on experiences from Ms Greer’s own life to highlight the fluid, changeable nature of identity.
Speaking to a house-full audience at the Human Rights Action Centre in East London, Ms Greer said: “There is something about being a foreigner that I really like. I like the window that it gives me. Not in the voyeuristic sense, but in the sense that I can see little things, tiny things, that if you aren’t a foreigner, you can’t see. You can’t see the shape of a society, because it’s part of you.”
She spoke about how despite being a citizen of this country for almost two decades, people still see her as an American: “At a recent debate, I pointed out when called American that I have been a Londoner longer than Boris Johnson has; and yet, this is how people see me, and that is okay, because it reminds me to see through the window.”
Ms Greer also looked at how leaving the safe and familiar can be a path to a more genuine identity: “We are in a time now, once again, when identity is becoming highly fluid. I think one of the keys to attacking the discontent of identity is quite simply to leave home. Not only literally, but figuratively and spiritually. Venture forth, walk into the unknown. Maybe we don’t take enough chances, maybe we don’t go further. But this is how our species advanced: we went further.”
At the Q&A following the lecture, Ms Greer was asked what she thought it means to be British.
Ms Greer replied: “I don’t know what it means to be British and I think it’s a very positive thing that I don’t know.”
She continued: “I think Britain is the right sort of template for the 21st century in that it is a multi-national state that isn’t at war with itself, that isn’t tearing itself apart, and is actually showing the world how to function as that as I think more and more countries will become [multi-national].”
Commenting on the topic of race, Ms Greer said: “Scientifically the notion of race does not exist. Darwin is put forward as the great atheist, but for me Darwin was a great abolitionist. He was a Wedgwood, and absolutely devoted to the abolition of slavery because he knew that, as human beings, we are all the same.”
The lecture was attended by members of the public as well as participants and alumni of 3FF’s leadership development programme Undergraduate ParliaMentors. Michael Sternberg QC, Chair of the 3FF Trustees, told the audience that 3FF had succeeded primarily “because of people like you who were prepared to put in thought, commitment and effort to what we do.”
At the reception after the lecture 3FF co-founder Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke and 3FF Director Stephen Shashoua spoke about the organisation’s accomplishments over the past 15 years and the need to continue to build understanding between communities.
The 15th anniversary celebrations will continue with a number of public and private events throughout the year.