By Shirine Koury-Haq, Chief Financial Officer
As part of our Black History Month activity many colleagues, including myself, were lucky enough to hear from John Amaechi OBE about what it means to be anti-racist and an ally.
The session was extremely powerful and to hear from John, who is a respected psychologist and public speaker, about how we can all educate ourselves and become allies for Black people was really inspiring.
John and a number of our colleagues shared their own personal experiences. While some of us will have experienced some aspect of racism ourselves, or been with friends/family as racism happens, or heard from our friends and family about their experiences after the fact – it’s always difficult to hear about the racism that occurs every day.
The impact on individuals confronted by racism is profound. Children impacted by racism when they don’t have the tools to understand or deal with it is heartbreaking, as is the anguish of their parents having to explain what’s happened and how to manage it to their children. The coping mechanisms that people have to adopt is a waste of energy that could be better spent on enjoying their lives.
We all know that racism is wrong but hearing stories about how people’s lives are affected on a daily basis because of the racism that exists in society, consciously and unconsciously, cements how it truly has no place in our society.
Nobody should have to think twice about putting on a hoodie when it’s cold and raining outside, but sadly many Black people do – out of fear of being stopped and searched – simply because of the way they look. This is just one of many examples. The impacts on education, social and career progression are grossly unfair and while my children are not Black, they are of BAME backgrounds, and I do not want them growing up in a society that treats them or their Black friends in this way.
So how can we all be allies?
- Embrace the wince – John is an advocate of ‘embracing the wince’. This means if, in your efforts to engage in topics of race or the particular issues faced by Black people in our organisation or society, you do or say something that doesn’t land quite right, don’t forget about it – learn from it. This will help you to think before you speak in future and also give you the confidence to continue to be fully engaged in being an ally.
- Call it out – if you do witness overt racism, unconscious bias or micro-aggressions, make a point there and then. This is what it means to be anti-racist. All too often things aren’t said in the moment which means things that aren’t right, aren’t addressed. This doesn’t mean an argument, it can be as simple as steering the conversation back to a colleague who has been overlooked by someone but who is making a relevant point/thought.
- Create a culture of inclusion – related to the above, one key point that John made in his session is that the culture of an organisation is defined by the worst behaviour that it tolerates. We must have a zero tolerance approach to any kind of racism. Calling it out is a good start. Being a true ally and actively doing something to help fix the issue is another good step.
- Create authentic relationships – create relationships with Black people in your work and personal life. It helps to truly understand what people go through every day and fuels the fire of wanting to make the world a better place for them and for all of us. It leads to authentic, brave and consistent action when it comes from within rather than on a superficial level. If you are in a place of trying to understand issues of race, please get to know people on a human level while trying to understand their lived experience.
I learned a lot from this session and I was delighted with the passion with which our wonderful colleagues of all races came together in the discussion. Please do watch the video if you haven’t already and I hope you all find it useful too.