A long journey ahead

We’re sharing a blog written by one of our colleagues Jada for Black History Month Magazine, published earlier this month. Jada writes about the fire that was ignited with the tragic killing of George Floyd, and highlights the work we are doing as an organisation to address racism. October has been recognised in the UK for over 30 years as Black History Month – originally founded to celebrate the contributions of black people across the arts and culture.

We all have a long journey ahead, a lot of work to do and by we I mean all of us.

Your neighbour at number 22, your boss who does the hiring and firing, your local shop worker, the teachers at your child’s school, the places you spend your money and seek entertainment, your family and friends. All of us are necessary, integral, in making this change that’s been a long time coming.

I’m tired of people thinking racism doesn’t apply to them because “I’m not a racist” or “I have black friends” or better still “I’m not a racist but …”

Racism is institutional and it affects all of us, not just those with melanin. How can we live in a world that’s not equal, live in a world turning a blind eye, staying silent, crossing to the opposite side of the street as fellow humans continue to fight for equality? We may not have the signs “no blacks allowed” displayed in shop windows but silently we are still battling the quiet, unseen restrictions set up and established by the society we have been raised in.

The killing of George Floyd lit a match and we saw cities ignite. The world caught fire, as years of pain, anger and despair bubbled to the surface. It was awoken in many who had buried it deep, or lived nurturing the lie that the world was a fair and just place for all.

Watching a man killed before our very eyes as a white officer knelt on his neck for 3,5,10 seconds, as though his life was nothing, and therefore as though our lives were nothing, threatened to break something in me that day, or maybe just weakened those cracks glued together and plastered over. This however was not kintsugi, known as golden joinery in Japan, where broken pottery is mended with gold, thus making that which was broken a thing of beauty. No, these fissures and fault lines, were ugly and raw, threatening to make the entire body crumble and crack. They weakened more as justification of the killing was voiced by some, as we were told “if you just show some respect,” or “if you aren’t mouthy”. But this time it was every skin shade that felt some measure of pain, fresh eyes could see our silent trauma resurfacing and new voices rose up to say enough is enough.

Since the match was lit I have read more, written more, taken a stand more and spoken out to a wider group. I realise what I really always knew, that I would censor myself, scared, scared of the delicateness of others, gagging myself and stifling my voice for fear of others fragility. But no longer lest I too become part of the problem. This moment, this renewed movement, became something that establishments had to acknowledge, recognise and yes take ownership of their part to play. Institutional and systemic racism is there at the very foundations of society. 

I started a new job at Second Step, a leading mental health charity, during lockdown. Their ethos is something that I’m proud to be a part of. However when I asked to join the internal ethnic minority group during the tumultuous period of protests, I found out that it had disbanded. With the right support, the right positioning and recognition within the organisation this might have been preventable. As a mental health charity, wellbeing is at our very core and so to realise that some of your own staff, colleagues and teams’ wellbeing and mental health is suffering is a hard pill to swallow. Yet it’s what you do next that matters and it bolstered me to see the steps being taken, the reports being written, processes and procedures being looked at and action being taken. Words only go so far but actions speak volumes and to see them set up a steering group specifically to address racism, ready to do the work that will at times prove “uncomfortable” and challenging felt like allyship.

You see, what your company does next is just as important as what the world does next. Organisations need to take stock, to look at themselves and be honest as to whether they measure up. Establishments looking inward and recognising their own failings, looking to restructure their organisations and to advance racial justice are taking the first necessary steps along a very long road.

The workplace is a microcosm of the wider world we live in and although it may seem a drop in the ocean this is how change begins and where the change makers can often be found. It is necessary to address the systemic racism in our societies and it’s a sign of strength to do so. However I would not call it brave, for bravery lies in those that take to the streets to march in the face of hostility and blockades, those that have seen their mother, brother, child’s life snuffed out due to hatred yet get up every day and still speak out and still hold their placard high. That is the true face of bravery.

Now is the time to hold up the weary and join in the fight, take a stand by your colleagues and create the change in your sphere of influence. It has to start at the top, it has to start in the educational systems, it has to start in the home. It’s a mammoth task but all the more reason we all have to chip away at it together. This needs to be done so not one more person thinks they can wield hatred as the world watches – for the world is watching and no longer will it stay silent.

Jada with her family

Thanks to Jada for this moving and thought-provoking blog post, you can see the article in situ here: https://bristolblackhistorymonth.co.uk/

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