RACE – The Week That Spoke Its Name

I am sure some of you have weeks were you are not sure what is going to happen, nothing has been booked, you have caught up with your administration and you are keeping one eye on your future. I had a week like that last week but it soon changed when I was very fortunate to be a guest of Diane Greenidge at the Investing in Ethnicity & Race 2017. This was a great event that highlighted the issues that many face within organisations about Race. It seems that organisations are not keen to have informed discussions with their employees that would allow for open and honest discussions to tackle the inherent bias that some organisations cultivate.

One of the workshops I attended was BAME Inclusion – Starting a Converstion facilitated by Melissa Berry. The workshop was very interactive and covered very interesting topics. One particular topic touched on the perception of racism vs stereotyping. It was argued that saying that someone from a difference race or country works hard is a stereotype and making a similar statement changing the message to be a negative one ‘these people are lazy’ could be seen as racism. I  do remember an occasion when I took a Director to task when he was talking about the cricket (England V West Indies) and said “those people always play well” I turned around and said “what do you mean those people”. I reported it to my boss the Company Director and he said, that I should pay him no mind. I had a friend in HR who informed me that this is not the first time he had been pulled up about his racial language. We have all heard the rhetoric of those who say Black people are lazy one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know these people are generally racist.

In the final part of Melissa’s session she spoke about a video which I had also seen demonstrating how white privilege worked ($100 Bill Race). A white lady in the audience raised her hand and said “we need to be careful about saying that there is white priviledge for all white people”. I became quite annoyed about her statement and raised my hand to reply to her comment. I stated that “white privilege is a systemic issue in society and within organisations, the term demonstrates that being white is a benefit at all stages of life because it seems to be the colour of preference.” I did not like her condescending tone either and I wondered why she was there. Having had a conversation with others about the comment I came to realise it is people like her we need to have in the room to widen their understanding of being BAME in this society. Sometimes we preach to the converted rather than aim at those who are on the boarder or just outright ignorant of the changes that need to occur.

The whole day was full of great nuggets of information and lots of nodding heads when it came to reflecting on experiences we have had in an organisational context being BAME. There was a shared understanding that something had to change and we must be the pioneers of that change. Speakers such as Dawn Butler MP, Mark Lomas, Paulette Mastin and others gave us insight into their thoughts about the lack of BAME representation particular at Board level. A particular take away for me was when Dawn Butler MP suggested that there should be a central place to find ‘best practice’ when coming to BAME engagement, development and progression programs in the workplace for people to review and implement.

My week became even more eventful when I joined the Silent March for Grenfell Tower. It was great to be part of this movement. When I walked with my candle around Ladbroke Grove a thought struck me, there was a parallel to the event I attended and the March because BAME people are being ignored and the rights to heard are being muffled. The pain I saw on Saturday was palpable and it moved me greatly. Societies behaviour towards BAME people are very reflective in the way some organisations treat their BAME staff that is a fact no one can ignore. Grenfell was an awful tragedy that should not have happened, people who survived and social commentators have regularly commented that if the demographics of those who lived in the tower where different this awful tragedy would not have happened.

We have had the Lammy Report, Race Disparity Audit, Parker Review, The McGregor Smith Review and others all saying the same thing. Why are we not seeing change? How many more reports/reviews do we have to have before real change happens. Organisations are still closing the door to BAME representation and getting away with it, why are they not being held to account? Equally Societal issues continue to show that discrimination can be seen throughout UK infrastructure causing BAME individuals to be treated unfairly almost at every stage.

We need to speak in a collective voice that will resinate with those in power and influence. Silence is not an option if you want real progress to be made. Being a disrupter is not a bad thing if what you are trying to disrupt is a negative force. Be proud that you have stood up for injustice and encourage the young to do the same.

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