By Johanna Beresford, CEO
The US is not alone, racism exists in the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia – across the globe. The horrific murder of George Floyd is sadly not an isolated incident or the only one that we’ve seen in recent times, we can no longer be shocked by these events and seem surprised, that is to be uneducated on the topic of racism. Institutional racism is present in so many societies, across public and corporate sector. I find it hard watching some corporate responses to the events of last week about their solidarity to black lives and what happened to George knowing they’ve had legal cases against them on the exact topic.
The violent events sometimes spark media attention (although many not get reported), I see lots of talk and then no action, no change. These events occur because for so long we’ve accepted so many incidents of racism; a black women is 5 times more likely to die during childbirth in the UK than a white woman, you are 25 times more likely to be pulled over in your car as a black man in San Diego than a white man, recent research by Oxford University found a black person in Briton has to send 80% more job applicants to get a job (based on having the same qualifications as a white person) – this statistic is unchanged for 50 years, the law in the UK discriminates against black children who choose to wear their natural hair.
Racism happens not just to those that are black, across other minorities – my daughter, Millie (7, she is mixed race) came home when COVID-19 started to spike in the UK to say children wouldn’t play with her friend Natalie because she is of Chinese decent – she was brave enough to tell these children why this was not okay and how this was an act of racism. Yet, so often people don’t speak up, don’t acknowledge incidents of micro aggression – why is that? Why are we afraid to say something that is wrong? Why have we stayed silent for so long? Unless we call the small incidents out, this will never change.
I talk about white privilege regularly – it exists, those of us that are white must use it for good and not power and recognise our privilege. We must educate our children on this topic, not be scared to be honest with them, it is no longer acceptable to not be racist, we must all strive to act and be anti-racist. It should be a basic human instinct to treat all people equally, history has led that not to be the case.
D&I strategies have been around for many years, yet the progress is so slow – this isn’t an issue solely of representation, but corporate cultures must shift significantly to get the value of diversity. It’s not just about increasing numbers but including all voices and perspectives and to look at the underlying system and structure that supports racism. An example, technology platforms that are racist due to the AI being biased. Behaviours, attitudes, and systems need to change.
There needs to be systemic change – I hope that this attention isn’t short lived, we don’t stop talking about this topic in a week and that corporates and institutions try to really unpack what’s happening and look at the small behaviours, the subtle ones as well as the large mistakes and act on these. Talking and having strategies is no longer enough.
I feel so saddened on this topic and the little progress we’ve made after so many have fought for rights of black men and women. We must all take responsibility on this topic, think about our everyday habits and actions that may not intentionally be racist, but are – note these down, share them and most importantly change these behaviours and actions. Our leaders must show commitment to this topic, investment and vulnerability, they might not have all the answers and cultures will only change if all voices and perspectives are listened to. Whilst we listen, we are likely to hear things that make us uncomfortable, make us respond defensively – don’t, take the time to pause and really listen to the voices of black men and women about how we need to act and be different.
Some actions you can all take to acknowledge, own and act upon your white privilege.
- Educate yourself – there is so much information out there, but do not expect a black person to educate you, seek out the information, read, absorb and listen.
- Educate your children – talk to them about anti-racism, ensure they learn about black history, make sure they learn about all those powerful black men and women who have shaken the world, answer every question.
- Support black owned businesses, charities, read a more diverse range of social media feeds (does your current feed reflect your demographic, or a broader one), read books written by black authors.
- Speak to your black friends – ask them about your behaviour, is there anything small you’ve ever done, said, acted that has made them feel uncomfortable.
- Dive deep – think about your previous actions, behaviours and acknowledge previous mistakes, note these down and don’t allow yourself to ever do them again.
- Observe – watch others behaviours (verbal and non-verbal), call out any incidents of micro-aggression, don’t be afraid speak up and loudly.
- Review your policies, processes, structures, design of products, strategies in your organisation – are any biased to white people, or any demographic, if they are change them.
- Be kind – treat all others equal to yourself.
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