As black history month draws to a close for another year, I have taken some time to reflect on what is different about it this time. We have seen wonderful celebrations of the contributions of great black people. There have been some moving accounts of real experiences. Attention has been drawn to inequities, prejudice and injustice which still exist and which in some cases, seem to be getting worse. There have been loud calls for action to put things right.
However, I sense something different this time. I believe that there were many more voices of white people speaking up. These voices contributed to a genuine, sincere and meaningful discourse, engaging in areas where they were previously conspicuous by their silence. These voices came from different quarters, no longer from the ‘usual suspects’ as white friends, supporters and allies. Some from people with power and influence. I believe that this represents a significant and important change. I believe that this represents a different level of understanding of the complex issues surrounding race. I sense a nervousness though and have heard, people express such concerns as
“What if I say the wrong thing?”
“Surely, it can’t be as bad as all that”
“I am trying to imagine what it must be like, but I can’t.”
“Is it like what I experienced as a working-class boy going to a top university?”
Over the last year I have engaged in different and challenging conversations with white friends and colleagues. It has been a revelation as to how many versions of equality and equity exist even amongst people who I identify with and have much in common with. It has made me reflect on how I myself must engage in this discourse in a way that helps move the narrative on and not alienate those who have the power to make change. I must be aware of the potential danger that my input might shut it down. To my fellow BAME friends, colleagues and family, I’d like to ask if you are mindful of this?
To my white family, friends and colleagues, I’d like to acknowledge the change in your commitment. You have been open to this, when you have the power not to. You are hearing and listening. Your active curiosity and interest make you different. You are able to accept a different truth and sit with discomfort which arises as a result of engaging.
Can I now please ask for more of you all? Can you share how these stories and experiences have affected and changed you? How do you perceive these issues from a position of power and privilege because of the colour of your skin? Why does this matter to you? What difference is it making to how you live your life and influence others?
I believe that there is much to do for the rest of the year and am hopeful that we can see a further step change in the discourse during black history month in 2020.