Black History Month aims to celebrate the important people and events in the history of people of African and Caribbean descent.
As a privileged white lady, I wasn’t totally sure if Black History Month was an appropriate event in the calendar to contribute to in any way. But I’ve learned that allies have a critical role to play in keeping the conversations going and ensuring the Black Lives Matter movement (and other equality movements) remain front of mind.
I wrote about ‘leaning into uncomfortable conversations’ a while back. In that blog I touched on the everyday realities of systemic racism for black people and people of colour. I only learned the term anti-racism this year. My 29th year on earth.
One of the key things I learned about the daily challenges faced by many black people and how to stop them, was that to be a genuine force for good requires proactivity. Learning, talking, acting. Otherwise you are somebody who sees bad things happening and does nothing to stop it.
We’ve had some really good, honest conversations about racism and anti-racism as a team. Having acknowledged that we were not a diverse team, we have begun to address this through our recruitment strategy, so we reflect the world we communicate with.
Now that it’s Black History Month, I asked the team if they wanted to share anything that would inspire others to read, listen or reflect...
I started this year with the same attitude as always, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn’t racist. But I’ve come to realise that just because I’m not racist doesn’t mean my job is done or that I don’t have any responsibilities to make a difference.
I recently read ‘Why I’m not talking to white people about race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge and came to realise that just by being born into the world I live in makes me a lot more privileged than a huge number of people in society. I went to good schools and a good university, all without a second thought that so many black people don’t have the same opportunities, even though it has nothing to do with ability.
After reading the book and following the news on the Black Lives Matter movement I wanted to educate myself further on the small contributions I could personally make. I discovered social campaigns such as ’Share the mic’ - where celebrities handed over their Instagram accounts to amplify black female voices - and Black Pound Day which encourages ways to support small black owned businesses through various initiatives.
I have discovered some really inspirational people with great knowledge and advice that I’d not heard of before. I consider where I can make purchases, researching and supporting local black owned businesses to help make the retail space more inclusive and empower my local community.
Much like my co-workers have said, I started this year secure in the knowledge that I was an open minded, definitely not racist, person. Something that, as the year comes to a close, I realised meant I was part of the problem.
The journey started for me when I spoke to a friend who I have known for nearly 15 years and whilst it wasn’t her place to educate me, she and I had an incredibly open conversation that left me shaken. I realised that I had let her down within our friendship. I hadn’t noticed how differently we were treated in the same situations or how people tailored their language when speaking to us individually. Then it dawned on me, she was just one person. If I hadn’t been actively anti-racist in support of one of my closest friends, I needed to know how to rectify my position within the much wider context of racism.
I’ve not really posted much on social media over the past few months and instead I’ve been trying to use my platforms as a space to listen and learn. The process of actively looking for black voices made me realise that all of my recommended posts, suggested accounts to follow and, shamefully, my feed were dominated by white voices.
So I’ve been reading more, listening more and actively seeking out what I didn’t already know and equally as importantly, acting on it. It feels uncomfortable to look at yourself as part of a problem, especially when you belong to a minority group yourself, but I also know that feeling uncomfortable isn't an excuse, it’s necessary.
I’ve learned that I have a responsibility to speak up, educate and call people out whenever derogatory racial comments or actions are made, even if I wouldn’t normally think to do so. Whether it’s a friend or family member that makes what they think is a ‘harmless joke’ behind closed doors or seeing a comment on social or a news article online. It’s not enough to ‘not be a part of the obvious problem’ and for change to happen, I along with the rest of society need to continue to improve their awareness of and admit to the issues that still exist. Everyone needs to speak up and come together to fight against racism and educate those around us in order to take meaningful steps forward.
I’ve picked up two new books since the start of the year. The first - ‘Why I’m not talking to white people about race’ - Laura has talked about and the second is called ’Taking Up Space’, written by Oxbridge graduates Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi. Their first-hand accounts of battling through educational institutes systemic racism delicately unraveled the complexities that can damage black young people’s lives from the very start. What I appreciated most about this book (and why I’d recommend it) was the ability to digest it as a fellow young woman. It gave me a completely ‘other’ perspective on education and life from someone just like me, which made for a stark contrast. It's also part of Stormzy’s curation of books for Penguin which means double supporting black British creatives.
I learned about Harold Moody who was celebrated as the Google Doodle on September 1st. Another black leader I’d sadly not heard of before, Harold was also featured in Eddo-Lodge’s early chapters. Harold was a Jamaican-born physician who emigrated to the UK to study medicine and campaigned against racial prejudice, establishing the League of Coloured Peoples in 1931. That means black people have experienced another 89 years of prejudice in British society since his efforts, and that’s not close to all of it. You can find the blue plaque marking his home at 164 Queen's Road, Peckham.
I spent some time reflecting on the tragic death of one of my favourite Marvel actors, Chadwick Boseman aka Black Panther. Not because of his fame but because of the countless stories that emerged from across the world about the strong black role model he was for so many. His incredible kindness and his commitment to making the world a better place was extremely well known to many.
Finally, I connected with Cephas Williams recently on LinkedIn. As the Founder of 56 Black Men, he’s a powerful voice for the black British community and the negative depiction of the black community especially in the media. He has now launched a crowdfunding campaign through which he writes a personal letter to his newborn son, Zion. The campaign is support of his new organisation, Black British Network.