Girl Bosses of St Andrews: an interview with Instagram activist Taiyba Ali

Taiyba (@taiybaali_) is a Scottish-Pakistani 19-year old economics student from Glasgow. Over the summer, she began creating infographics to share on Instagram about social issues, racial equality, current events and more. Those infographics, created with the intention of sharing information with her friends, have since been shared, viewed and liked by hundreds of thousands of Instagram users. Taiyba now has 27k followers on the platform and posts regularly. In her interview, Taiyba stressed to me the importance of researching her sources to ensure that everything she posts is verifiable, and that the resources and petitions she shares are trustworthy. Her first infographic post was shared on 2nd June, and was pointing users in the direction of a petition to put racism, slavery, the British empire, and white supremacy into the British school curiculum. This was followed by a viral post sharing information about various racial slurs. Since then, she has made posts addressing white privilege, Islamophobia, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, religious appropriation, and dozens of other important social justice issues. 

Can you tell me about how this all started for you?

St Andrews is very international, and understandably there are a lot of people here who don’t know about different issues. So, I decided that I wanted to start sharing my perspective with friends, just simple things, and it went a bit crazy. The response that I got was really overwhelming, because not only did I then have a responsibility to make sure that everything was really well researched, there was also a lot more pressure to speak out and post about more issues. There was a lot that came with it.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by taiyba🦋 (@taiybaali_)

Were you at all reluctant at first, or did you embrace this new platform?

Growing up, my mum always called me a radio station because if I have an opinion, I will give it! So, naturally this is a really great platform for me to share my opinion and for people to engage with it. But at the same time, it is obviously a lot of pressure and I didn’t go into it thinking it would grow or become what it is now. To this day I still think about making my account private. Just because with all the attention comes a lot of negativity as well. I’m going to keep going just because if I didn’t have this platform, I would want somebody who had one to do the same things, and if I do care about these issues then I should obviously take full advantage of this. I just have to be careful, take some time away from social media and come back to it. I think at the start I was kind of going crazy with it, I was posting like twice a day trying to get all this information out, but I think I need to have a nice balance of it all.

Do you find it hard to deal with the negative comments and messages you receive?

I’m not offended by racist people. Honestly, racism and racist people are things that I’ve had to experience since I was a kid, so it’s nothing new to me. If someone says something racist to me, it’s whatever - they obviously have some of their own issues. 

What I do find hard to deal with, though, is when people tell me that I’m not using my platform properly. People put a lot of responsibility on me, and they don’t understand that I’m not BBC News, I’m a 19 year old girl who made these infographics for my friends. I very quickly had a lot of people messaging me saying, ‘you don’t talk about this’. I don’t want to talk about something that I don’t know enough about, because that is performative. What I try to stress is that I’m not above anyone, I’m not special, anyone can do it, anyone can speak on issues. 

I’m absolutely fine with people giving me recommendations, I am open to DMs if someone wants me to talk about something. But, I don’t like when they take away from the importance of another issue, or when they compare issues to minimize or diminish others. That is more to suit their own agenda rather than really caring. I really cannot talk about everything at once!

I’ve just learnt to deal with it. That said, I do really appreciate the lovely people who reach out and send me resources.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by taiyba🦋 (@taiybaali_)

Do you have any plans for your Instagram account?

So far I’ve just been making infographics, but I do want to expand into making videos and having discussions with people that I can share on my platform. I have a couple live-streams planned with other activists, which I am really excited about. 

Equally though, I love having conversations with people who have different views to me! In the past, if someone had a different opinion to me I would say ‘no, don’t talk to me, I don’t want to know, this is my opinion!’. But now, I’ve had conversations with people who have extreme right wing views, completely opposite to mine, and just persisting and having a conversation where we’ve been able to reach a middle ground. And it’s been amazing! Obviously, people do have the right to respond the way they want to, it's just my personal choice to be tolerant to those with offensive opinions.

I think it is better for me to open up and have this conversation with other people, because then I can understand how their opinion is formed. Then, I can change the way I speak to make it more accessible for everybody. I think it’s really important not to just shut people down, because I don’t think anyone is going to listen if you do that. I have friends who once had really offensive right wing views, and I’ve watched them progress. Not because of me, but just in general. And I think if someone had kept yelling at them, then that absolutely wouldn’t have happened. The way forward is not to shame people for their opinions, but to understand why they have those opinions.

So if I asked you to give advice for a fresher at St Andrews, would that be it?

Yes, my advice would be to keep your mind open and try to talk to people in a civil manner. Conversation is the best way to learn anything, so open your mind up and you might even make a new friend! 

Finally, which woman do you admire the most?

Emma Watson is my favourite activist. I really admire and respect that she is so open to everybody’s ideas. I always related to her, as a girl - obviously not a person of colour. Personally, I find it really interesting to see white women acknowledging their privileges, and I remember watching an interview where she talks about white feminism, how women of colour approach her, and how her feminism was very one-sided. I was really inspired by the way that she responded to the question as I think there is a tendency for activists to feel attacked - I feel attacked sometimes - when they are confronted, and so it is great to see her own it and respond constructively. I also admire the way that she balances being both an activist and an actress, amongst other things. To me, her success is truly inspiring.

There are so many negative stereotypes about female activists and women in power, and it’s so great to see powerful women in these spaces because they leave you feeling so inspired, like “I could do that too”! My overall takeaway is that representation is everything, and that is a large part of why I continue to share information and resources on my platform. 

Thank you so much for your time, Taiyba, we have loved talking to you and wish you the best of luck in the future!