As 2020 draws to a close, and for my last article of the year, I wanted to reflect on what a significant year it has been for black, brown & ethnic people and what I anticipate happening in 2021.
For months now, I have heard and seen the reach of huge corporations right through to the smallest of organisations, asking for help to understand the race, equality, and diversity rhetoric. Roles upon roles have been created and designed. A plethora of shout outs for ‘heads of equality and diversity, managers, experts and speakers’ etc. I have never seen so many black people projected into equality work roles. But is it truly meaningful?
As I have a predisposition to always look on the positive, I was heartened by the flood of opportunities. Positive changes flooded my mind and the possibilities seemed endless. The conversation had really started to open on race and why we as black people are still not equal in many areas of society, and particularly in the workplace. In light of current events, it seemed that there was a sudden global awakening and realisation by those in powerful positions that we are experiencing a real moment of history, where there is a sea change in attitude to get things right. Where the opportunity lay to make a real fundamental and tangible difference. Do not get me wrong, I know to fully shift the dial it will take years, but this seemed to be on track considering this seemingly new recognition.
But only a few months down the lie, I question the authenticity of these recognitions and demands for meaningful change. Tick box comes to mind. You see from what I understand now, the onus has been placed firmly on the people that are discriminated against to deconstruct the narrative. To prove it. You see we have been asked to dismantle the system ourselves. I cannot count the amount of times I have been asked to prove, justify, explain racism, and then come up with the solutions. All the while, white people are still are uncomfortable with the stark evidential truth. We are being asked to dismantle the system but in a way that is comfortable for the audience. As Judy P. D’Agostino, Guest Writer wrote in the Huff Post last week;
“I oscillate between elation that Black voices are finally being heard and anger for having to revisit and retell painful memories to legitimize Black experiences. I’m exhausted from having to package my words in a way that is both accessible (allowing room and grace for growth) and powerful, pushing the listener to honestly examine the ways they may have caused (and continue to cause) harm. More than anything, I’m just tired”.
And you know what, it is also a no from me. It is not good enough. It is exhausting emotionally and physically. Why should we have to prove what we have been through to date? It means I am still with every fibre in my body, consistently fighting the systemic and institutionalised racism.
I was so relieved at the start of this new conversation that I was finally brave enough to say, it has been fucking hard. To really be able to breathe and say it how it is. I have been breaking the stereotype since forever; one of the only black people in my school, being brought up in a market town in Berkshire – growing up in Windsor & Maidenhead brought its own type of hostility & racism, against the negative black single mother label, to bring up young black sons who went to an inner city London school, and studying for my law degree whilst living in social housing. At times so desperate for money whilst trying to ‘achieve’ as a single mum that I actually considered the offer of a substantial amount of money to be a drugs mule (well for a hot second). And whilst I am now successful, own a beautiful house and can afford to live comfortably, it has been a lot and internally I am scarred. The demographics of how we as black people must live sometimes, is so often overlooked.
After the murder of 21 Savage’s brother Terrell Davis in London last week, I found myself explaining the demographics of social housing to my 8-year-old (the murdered young man was bringing his granny food in social housing estate, that she probably never had the means to leave). You see it is easy to blame gang culture and black youth for these issues. But you only have to analyse the surface to understand the crime rate is a result of years and years of never really being able to reach our potential, as the system is designed to keep us down. It is steeped in history. Starting from the invite to arrive in this country courtesy of Windrush and equally in 2020 why only 6% of top management positions are filled by Black, Asian & Ethnic Minority groups.
I find it so gutturally upsetting, that the progression is this slow. You only need to watch the amazing Steve McQueen’s series Small Axe series on BBC iPlayer to understand how painfully protracted equality is, in this country.
So currently, I have an overwhelming angst because I am not sure that much has changed in attitudes. And whilst the world is having ‘these’ conversations and to pre-empt any ‘but at least we are having the conversation’ assertions, let us look in real time at the country we are currently living in.
This week public figures and campaigners have been campaigning to halt a deportation flight under the hashtag #StopTheFight, after the Home Office deported up to 50 people to Jamaica, some of which have been here since children. A move that is tantamount to the 2018 Windrush political scandal where Theresa May, the then Prime Minister, was forced to make a public apology to Caribbean leaders. Why? because after being invited to this country to work and having families here throughout the decades, in April 2018, the UK government began to deport Commonwealth citizens’ children for not having official paperwork. Crucially, The Home Office had not kept a record of those granted leave to remain and issued no paperwork – making it is difficult for people to prove their legal status. To add to this disastrous situation, in 2010, the Home Office destroyed crucial evidence of the Windrush migrants landing cards. Making it impossible to prove that they were here legally.
Even after the government set up an independent inquiry (the inquiry listed 30 recommendations which are yet to be implemented in full) who looked at the evidence and concluded that the situation could have been completely avoided and where it placed the blame firmly at the feet of the Home Office AND set up a compensation scheme to apparently compensate those affected. The deportation flight in December 2020 still took place.
There are heart breaking stories of broken families, parents torn away from their children. Having to leave the only country they knew. Some being sent to immigration detention centre in the UK threatened with deportation. Life changing NHS treatment for people who had spent their entire life working here being refused. And the burden of proof to prove their citizenship was focused solely on the individuals.
You do not need to dig that deep on social media to read the heart-breaking stories, some even resulted in death. The point of discussing this is to demonstrate how, if our own government has acted racially and has not learned any lessons, and who continues to mistreat black people, we really do still have a long way to go. Its demonstrative of how unequal the playing field still is in 2020 and a prime example of how institutionalised racism is still alive and kicking in the UK.
And let us not forget the disproportionate negative effect COVID-19 is having on black people who are dying at a far greater rate and numbers. As the ‘Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’ stated in July this year.
‘Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19. There is increasing evidence that some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Inequities in the social determinants of health, such as poverty and healthcare access, affecting these groups are interrelated and influence a wide range of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. To achieve health equity, barriers must be removed so that everyone has a fair opportunity to be as healthy as possible’.
Then there is Sainsbury’s. A Xmas Ad. They tried the equality narrative. They showed a black family (it was one of three ads) having Xmas dinner. Harmless you would think. But you only need to take to Twitter to see the hateful ‘this isn’t our Britain’ rhetoric spouted from the mouths of people in the UK. The vitriolic was breath-taking.
Cue the Football scene –Greg Clarke has resigned as chairman of the Football Association after using the term ‘coloured’ about black players. The Voice newspaper reported today (3/12/20) that John Terry is still in line for job as manager of Derby County less than a day after he was pivotal in the Football, Racism and Me showing where ‘Anton Ferdinand opened up for the first time during the BBC documentary which centred on Terry being accused of using racist language. Ferdinand has admitted he “fell out of love with the game“, after the high-profile racism incident’. I could go on and on with examples of the here and now…
So, whilst this has been a significant year for black, brown & ethnic people in terms of the conversation opening, the work for tangible change has only just begun. No amount of tick box workplace training, new job roles & positions, assertions and conversations are going to result in palpable change. The question remains ‘are you doing everything in your power, to honestly ensure equality and diversity in your organisation and also personally how you treat others?’. 2021 is going to be a toughie, as the realisation dawns on many that the work to equalize is hard and non-negotiable and requires active anti-racism actions.
We have such a long way to go.