To paraphrase the banner I carried at the Women’s March back in 2016, “One person can make a difference, but together, we can rock the world”. This could be true of so many things, but it feels especially important when it comes to redressing injustice and unfairness, and in particular the systematic injustice experienced by our friends, colleagues and loved ones who have Black, Asian or another Ethnic Minority heritage.
I’m a white, cis gender, straight, Christian woman without a disability in my mid-thirties, recently married and prefer the pronouns she/her. I come from a working-class background and put myself through University at an ex-Polytechnic, spending my Erasmus year living in Düsseldorf. As far as the ‘privilege hierarchy’ goes in the UK, I only have one protected characteristic which might cause me any negative issues, and no significant compounding intersections.
I recognise that this background, largely a result of luck, places me in a position of privilege. It is a position I am keen to use in order to make a difference and influence others so that together we can rock the world. I am, however, mindful of not wanting to be a “white saviour”, and I fear ‘getting something wrong’ which may cause unintended harm or upset. I understand that this is all part of my learning experience.
I am a well-practiced feminist, but only became aware of intersections when hearing Prof David Williams speaking about the impact of racism on health, who outlined the hierarchy of privilege in terms of race and sex: white men at the top, followed by white women, black men, with black women at the bottom. Which got me thinking, what about black lesbians, or black trans women? What if a black lesbian also had a disability? Just how many hurdles would she need to overcome?
Opportunities to learn about the experiences of others tend to present themselves when we make the effort to create safe, inclusive spaces to share a little more about ourselves as individuals.
I wrote some guidance about Financial Health and Wellbeing in support of the H&WB response to Covid-19. In a team meeting I raised a memory from school that interventions involving interest may not be appropriate ways to support Muslim colleagues. This led two colleagues with Jamaican and Nigerian heritage respectively, to introduce me to the concept of ‘pardner’ and ‘esusu’.
I asked another colleague about her preparations to celebrate Diwali. She showed me some beautiful garlands to decorate the house and described the sweets she would make. I shared my enjoyment of learning the story of Rama and Sita. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation.
Curious exploration of what other norms might be out there began a domino effect that has very much left me feeling richer in my awareness and that I hope helped my colleagues to feel heard and recognised.
I love the #MyNameReallyIs campaign that Tanya Carter started at East London NHS Foundation Trust. This feels like a wonderful opportunity to learn more about a different culture and a way of expressing who we are. It never occurred to me that colleagues took on a different, more anglicised name to the one they were given by their families at birth in order to help them feel accepted or to ‘fit in’. Movements like this give me hope that the beautifully rich tapestry of cultures will soon be felt, enjoyed and seen by others too.
This very much feels like a journey of exploration, learning, empathy, pain and hopefully understanding. I am learning to recognise my own privilege, but haven’t always seen what that affords me, or understood how my experience differs from others. I feel guilty for thinking I was doing the right thing to support inclusion in my work, but reflecting that it wasn’t nearly enough. I’m seeking out my blind spots. I realise that I won’t always ‘get it right’, but my intention is to absolutely do better. I want to use my voice and position of privilege to help amplify the stories and experiences of the people of colour that I know, helping to generate the space for them to share it themselves, and recognising that some people might be more willing to hear their stories from me, a white person, rather than the person who had the experience.
My hope is that by sharing these brief reflections, others will feel more comfortable doing the same. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, and many of our friends and colleagues have waited too long to see or feel that change. Twitter handle @SussexLouiseP
John Amaechi OBE in conversation with Nico Lutkins: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/activity-6722823258229481472-PwIg
Black Classical Music – the forgotten history: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000n18w
BBC Radio 4 Word of Mouth – The language of power and inequality in education and leadership: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000l0s0
Angela Davis: women, race and class in the post-Trump era: Angela Davis: women, race and class in the post-Trump era by Southbank Centre: Think Aloud
The Kings Fund – Professor David Williams on racism, discrimination and the impact they have on health: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/audio-video/podcast/david-williams-racism-discrimination-health
The Guilty Feminist – Black Trans Lives Matter: https://aca.st/6da5e2
Reni Eddo-Lodge: “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” (https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Reni-Eddo-Lodge/Why-Im-No-Longer-Talking-to-White-People-About-Race–The-/21140288)
Robin DiAngelo: “White Fragility” (https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Robin-DiAngelo/White-Fragility–Why-Its-So-Hard-for-White-People-to-Talk-About-Racism/23286943)
The Guide to Allyship: https://guidetoallyship.com/
The Anti-Racist Starter Pack: 40 TV Series, Documentaries, Movies, TED Talks, and Books to Add to Your List: https://parade.com/1046031/breabaker/anti-racist-tv-movies-documentaries-ted-talks-books/
Black is Beautiful: The Emergence of Black Culture and Identity in the 60s and 70s: https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/black-beautiful-emergence-black-culture-and-identity-60s-and-70s
75 Books about Extraordinary Black Mighty Girls and Women: https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=14276