Race Towards Change
We are seeing a global movement playing out in light of recent, significant events, namely the untimely and unjust death of George Floyd at the hands of the very agency whose job it was to protect him. For many who support anti-racist/anti-oppressive stances, the time for action now, should supersede the time for talking. It has taken the horror of seeing the final minutes of George Floyds life ebb away, under the unyielding, inhumane and seemingly detached manner of the Minnesota Police officer who appeared so sure of himself – his arrogance, a seeming air of superiority and confidence of being unaccountable for the outcome – that he continued his heinous action, despite George Floyd’s and other witnesses identifying that he could not breathe.
This Police officer’s actions and failure to listen and take action on what others were communicating to him, ultimately resulted in the death of another human being. This whole incident was captured on camera under an international gaze, and for those of us who think this kind of thing couldn’t happen here in the UK, it can, and it has on far too many occasions.
Jimmy Mubenga – a ‘Heathrow deportee’ who was ‘unlawfully killed’ in 2010 on a flight before it took off, when security guards attempted to restrain him. He too asked for help and complained of breathing problems – however, his pleas were disregarded by the G4S security guards, which resulted in him losing consciousness and he was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital he was taken to.
David “Rocky” Bennett, an in-patient who died being ‘restrained’ in a mental health setting in 1998. These are only two of the numerous unjust deaths of Black men at the heavy-handed, wholly disproportionate responses of so-called ‘non-racist’ individuals.
Despite a plethora of inquiries and recommendations, it appears that lessons are not being learned. This begs the question, what kind of society do we live in where it has increasingly become the norm for this to happen to Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals. Have we become so desensitized to such injustices and oppressive practice that inertia prevails? Despite the consistently overwhelming evidence and data that reminds us that many BAME people are continuing to experience inequalities in access, experience and outcomes, within Health, Housing, Education, within the Justice system and economically.
These are the areas that consistently mean the difference between social inclusion or exclusion, gaps of which do not appear to be closing – in some cases, the inequality gap is widening – which indicates that whatever action is being taken (or inaction) , it appears to be exacerbating these inequalities for many BAME communities.
The notion ‘structural inequality’ describes the construction of inequality that has been designed into the way we operate as a society, largely that we interact in a system that was designed by individuals within it, who have traditionally held, and continue to hold significant power/resources, and as such, the design of services i.e. healthcare, housing, education and continued operation of such services, that serve to suit the ends/needs/narratives of those who traditionally hold the power and resources. Unless we recognise that one size does not fit all, and the need to do/try something different to shift the balance of power and begin to reconstruct a more egalitarian society, then we’re unlikely to make any real dent in reducing the inequalities that have, and continue to exist within society.
Inequalities within the workplace also evidences that there is disproportionate, adverse impact on BAME staff experiences (including discrimination, racism, bullying, disproportionate outcomes from grievances and disciplinaries etc. to name a few), which begins to paint a picture of the lived experience /reality for many BAME people. Discrimination and harassment – which is also a lived reality for many BAME individuals within the workplace, can significantly impede staff’s ability to display the best of their skills and talents within their roles.
‘Wherever Racism is alive, it must be defeated’ – Dr Martin Luther King stated during his acceptance speech for his Honorary degree awarded him at Newcastle University in 1967. But how do we begin to defeat the ‘racism’ that can seemingly morph into so many guises (overt and covert)? Particularly when recognising racism precedes any attempts to confront or challenge it. There are no end of voices that are keen to play racism down and try to explain discriminatory experiences and outcomes in all sorts of ways which only serves to diminish and devalue the narratives from those whose lived experience of discrimination continues to blight their lives. I have known organisations that have made conscious decisions not to reveal findings from organisation climate surveys because they indicate disproportionate discriminatory workforce cultures that prevail with adverse impact being felt by the BAME staff. However, if we cover up the blemishes, or if we say nothing, by our silence we are saying it is ok for discrimination to be the continued reality for many.
In the words of Meghan Markle, ”the only wrong thing to say, is to say nothing!” – Yet, for many of us, we are so fearful of saying the ‘wrong thing’, that we do exactly that – ‘say nothing’. Saying something, no matter how uncomfortable or insignificant we perceive it to be, can be powerful. Simply asking a question can be a very powerful thing to say if it prompts someone to reflect on their views. It is clear that avoidance of the subject matter, or shutting down conversations because we are ‘uncomfortable’ or ‘weary’ has in part contributed to the situation we find ourselves in today.
However, I admit that I may not always appreciate or understand how others perceive the reasoning and rationale behind movements such as ‘Black Lives Matter’, and that it might be viewed as a challenging notion. This was brought home to me when my friend whose daughter defines as dual heritage, had the unfortunate experience of, having two white women shouting to her whilst she was with her young children in the park “Black lives matter and no one else’s does!...” This overt challenge, indicates that these women took the stance of ‘critics’ or ‘saboteurs’ of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that they were prepared to challenge (although I suspect they may not have been inviting healthy debate).
Perhaps we can start to reflect on the times when we too become the ‘critics’ or ‘saboteurs’ of such/similar movements that we may not buy into or actively work against. Arguably, being a bystander also might indicate that by saying and/or doing nothing, this sends a message that inequalities are acceptable. However, to champion such a movement as Black Lives Matter, by standing up and speaking your truth (similar to what these two White women did), this clearly reveals one’s position. Once revealed, conversations can then continue to facilitate mutual understanding of the diverse view points. The challenge now, is how do we listen to something that is hard to hear, whilst making an authentic attempt to understand, and to take action in light of what’s been heard? Despite the plethora of voices that articulate notions that the time for talking is now over, the need to continue talking is in actuality what is required, as well as to keep on listening. In this way we can begin to understand that the Black Lives Matters movement would not be necessary if we lived in a society where everyone’s words and deeds (whether conscious or unconscious), would be enacted in ways that demonstrated that all lives matter. The lived reality is that behaviours and actions within society, frequently enact the opposite of this. The reason why the need to articulate a notion of ‘White lives matter’ is unnecessary, is because this is taken-for-granted. For many White people who were born and grew up in England, they do not have to go to work and wonder if they are going to be verbally abused by someone they don’t know purely for the colour of their skin on their way to, or at work. For many White people, they may not need to consider how they should respond, in the event they are stopped by the police in order to survive or whether they risk their loss of life at the hands (or knee) of the police (as in the case of George Floyd). The volume of data and evidence that harks back centuries tell us that Black people have been on the receiving end of discrimination and oppression and often their lives have been devalued , in order to profit the privileged groups, So I invite you to stand up and become a champion and say Black lives matter too.
If you are interested in starting conversations on how we can co-create a better, fairer and more inclusive workplace and society, and you would like to express your interest in taking part in a facilitated ‘virtual’ event around diversity, equality and inclusion, please send your name and contact phone number/email address to Kate Goodall at firstname.lastname@example.org by 20 August 2020