Following the death of George FIoyd on 25 May 2020, I produced a blog that perhaps understandably received a mixed reaction. The sentiment was well received, but there was some scepticism about whether my words would be backed up with action. There have been calls for me to reveal the percentage of BAME employees and trustees across ISBL as an organisation – and it’s a fair question. As an organisation, we enjoy relatively high levels of diversity amongst our paid staff, and over the last five years across our team of 12, we have employed staff with North African, South Asian, Bangladeshi and Hispanic backgrounds. Across our trustee board, we are less diverse and need to reach out more effectively to the BAME community.
Last week, I read an article from the Harvard Business Review (Zheng, L., October 2019) that really resonated.
The article talks about well-intentioned business and charity leaders outwardly supporting diversity and inclusion but doing very little to actively promote change.
Zheng goes on to talk about why some leaders feel defensive about diversity and inclusion.
“For individuals who have experienced marginalization, […] comments [that identify the existence of identity-based discrimination] can feel empowering, giving voice to their experiences. Others may respond empathetically, even if they haven’t had the specific experience referenced. But for some people, especially those who have never faced marginalization for their identities, these comments can land the wrong way.”
She explains that one of the functions of privilege is rarely having to think about privileged identities as “identities”.
Historical power inequities mean that women, black and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community are constantly reminded of their differences while members of society who are men, white, able-bodied, and/or straight can go their entire lives without thinking actively about their masculinity, ethnicity, abled bodies or heterosexuality.
So, for many of us, the first thing to do in tackling race inequality is to recognise our own privilege. We then need to challenge our own assumptions by understanding what discrimination real feels like, and we can only do this through the lived experience of others. That leads me to my final point – one of education. In order to really understand, we need to read the accounts written by those who have experienced racism and discrimination at first hand – we must resist the temptation to guess for ourselves what this feels like.
A few must-read books that will challenge your thinking and perceptions:
- The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin
- The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison
- The Miner’s Canary – Lani Guinier & Gerald Torres
- The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics – George Lipsitz
One must-watch documentary:
- I Am Not Your Negro (Netflix)
I don’t want to make false promises or commit to actions that I can’t deliver on, but I can say that I continue to push the issue of inclusion and diversity high up the agenda in my ongoing conversations with other sector leaders and indeed SBP stakeholder groups.
I have been encouraged by the appetite across these groups to effect meaningful positive change.