For the past few days, I like most people have been following the George Floyd murder case and the universal protests against racism that we have witnessed around the world.
And like many people I feel disappointed at the level of violence that has come alongside this, and although I get the frustration I fail to see why during important times of protest small minorities feel like handing those who need to listen to the protest the excuses to condemn it and force the argument back underground where they want it to be.
So in my frustration I thought I would drop down my 5 pence worth on this subject, to see if there is a wider discussion to be had about how we can use these protests to kick start a new dawn, resetting the horizon and focus on equality in society.
This current protest is not a new one, I remember as a politically motivated teenager attending anti- fascist rally’s and I have witnessed the Brixton riots occurring in my childhood, the 2011 London riots (after the death of a young black man at the hands of the police), Rodney King in LA, Steven Lawrence, Stop and Search, the rise of nationalism during Brexit, the list goes on. And it feels that every time the feeling spills over it becomes contained by the media and Governments, the real message is lost, either in violence or the suppression of the narrative because it doesn’t sit well, or is too hard to deal with.
As a white person I have grown up and lived in multicultural parts of South London throughout my life, it never occurred to me that I had a level of privilege that wasn’t afforded to my friends, neighbours and those who I call my brothers. Only as I got older did this become something to consider, that alongside the challenges we all faced in education, employment, sport, and on the street, I had it easier than some of those around me… because of the colour of my skin!
When I was 23 I walked into a conference hall, excited as I was at my first conference for my new found career in the Outdoor Industry….. only to find a room of all white instructors and academics, I was uncomfortable and I couldn’t work out why, so whilst sitting at the back it slowly dawned on me that this room, this new career, new industry that I was stepping into didn’t fit my own personal background. Over the years I have challenged this within the industry and every time I have struggled to get the voice heard, this is not because the industry in systemically racist, in fact it is in its majority incredibly accepting, it is because race is a hard subject to tackle if you have no experience or knowledge about the subject, and a majority of outdoor professionals have come from backgrounds that have been far from multi-cultural, therefore the might struggle to understand context, communication, history and the deep issues around racism in the UK to enable them to challenge themselves to make the industry more diverse.
I recently attended a European wide conference in Ireland, looking at diversity in the outdoors, and out of over 200 delegates from across Europe and the USA only 4 were from Black or Asian backgrounds!!! So 20 years after my first conference I was still in a room the room that didn’t reflect my own background!
But this article was not meant to be a rant against the lack of diversity in the outdoor industry, I just wanted to contextualise a very small part of a much broader issue, highlight it and try to assist if I can in helping.
So what can we do to ensure that the lives lost and the struggles that Black and ethnic minority people face can be reduced and that real diversity and equality can occur across society.
For a start I think that we should-
- Understand white privilege– white privilege isn’t about how we all struggled, it’s about recognising that because of our skin tone, we were treated differently, perceptions are such that people are seen differently and for white people this means that in our lives we have been subject to a level of privilege not afforded for those of other skin tones. We are stopped less by the Police (just look at the statistics!), people talk about and look at us in different terms(“he was hanging with a group of white lads v’s he was hanging with a gang of black guys”, we might get different questions in job interviews, we have different assumptions made about us and treatments based on the colour of our skin (50% of Young Offenders in prison are black, whereas only 14% of society are!!), and this has in some way meant that we are treated to a level of privilege.
- Understand our history– In the UK for most people I think we have not looked hard enough at the deep root causes of racism or black history. For some reason we only consider black history from the 1950’s onward,, where as we ignore the history of black cultures in the UK, in particular slavery, we consider it an American problem, without recognising that the plantations originally were owned by British landowners, and those of white British heritage, and slaves were transported originally by our own seafaring “heroes” like Sir Francis Drake, Hawkins and Water Raleigh. By seeing how deeply rooted the effects and impacts of slavery are we might be able to see the context to the first point above! The cities, the buildings, the families who all profited from the slave trade and are still in the highest positions in Society. Until we understand this and acknowledge it on all sides of the debate, how can we reconcile, move on, confront and dismantle these issues? I also think we need to understand our own history as a country and nation, what is our identity as a citizen of the UK and of the world?
- Recognise embedded racism in our thoughts, language and actions– I think its naive to think that we don’t treat people different. It’s ingrained in us as humans as a protective trait to distrust people not from our tribe, or our family, but we also react to people depending on our own experiences, good or bad with people and this influences our language and actions; do we cross the road to avoid certain people or situations? Do we avoid conversations or places because it’s too hard to confront? Do we feel guilty for doing some of these things? It is also about recognising the hidden, almost common place, ingrained use of language that we use; do we still go for a cheeky “Chinky” or call the corner shop the “Paki” shop? What assumptions do we make in our language or thoughts about someone’s heritage or culture? Recognising and being aware of these thoughts and actions is all part of us becoming more culturally aware, developing the right communication and in some ways freeing ourselves to have the hard conversations about race and culture.
- Do something! – We need to challenge ourselves and others about language and assumptions. Can we take action, personally or as communities to bring diversity to the fore front and have honest open debates, or can we actually do something practical to assist. I want to set up and run programmes and courses for people of colour to become outdoor instructors and expedition leaders of the future. Previously I have waited for large organisations to grip this, but now I am beginning to think that I need to take positive action. Also commit to learning about black people who have influenced your lives, friends, colleagues, famous sports people or actors, this way we commit to recognising and owning their part in our story.
- Talk about it– be brave and have those hard conversations, it’s scary and challenging for all involved, but this way we help develop ourselves and our wider society, which needs to become closer than ever, rather than continuing to deepen the gulf that although we don’t like to think about it, is always there!
As I said at the beginning I am angry this morning, but writing and thinking about this has allowed me to vocalise my thoughts and try to commit to do better in the future in a more constructive way. To commit to try and challenge myself, those around me and the industry I work in to do better….
For a fairer and more equitable future!