Recently the devastating death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in the USA has caused tidal waves of grief to ripple out over the whole world. This tragedy has galvanished protest and anti-racist movements to demand the dismantling of embedded systematic racism in police forces and Government.
Given the extraordinary changes in the current climate, driven by heartfelt calls for social justice in the Black Lives Matter movements, it is hard not to engage in, and be touched by, these issues. As a researcher in human resource management (HRM) at Birmingham Business School, issues related to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are my main area of focus, and I would like to add my voice.
I will speak frankly in this piece. I have to hold my hands up. While I have been researching on these topics, reading journal articles on the lived experiences of individuals from minority-ethnic backgrounds and conducting fieldwork, I cannot claim to fully understand the hardships, upset and traumas of those I engage with. Apart from some hurtful remarks made at school due to some aspects of my own identity (visible or less so), I cannot say that I have ever been frightened, made to feel unwelcome, been held back in any way, marginalised or felt any form of distress because of my skin colour.
So much can be learned from speaking with people who are from minority-ethnic groups about their experiences, the cases of discrimination and often hatred which they have endured in their lives. A poignant experience for me in particular was listening to stories told by regional minority-ethnic police officers of harrowing, abusive encounters with the public. While listening to their stories was an emotional experience for me, I was not the one facing such experiences every day. Most upsetting was knowing these people are serving and protecting their communities and are confronted with such prejudice. These types of stories are echoed by our UoB colleagues and friends from minority-ethnic backgrounds.
Think about that for a moment.
If you take time to take stock and realise how different and unique all our experiences and stories are, how through media and wider society, over time, we have become conditioned to believe in hurtful stereotypes, once you realise that all of us are vulnerable in some way and how we all need and want to feel a sense of belonging and community, then you are on your way to becoming a better colleague, friend and ally for everyone.
Being an ally is to have compassion and consideration for others, to be mindful of other people’s experiences and not to form assumptions based on face value. People are so much more than their aesthetic bodies and outdated stereotypes and judgments based on aspects of our appearance are unhelpful and hurtful. In the case of race and ethnicity, these stereotypes are even more despicable. It is important to highlight #EbonyintheIvory and #BlackLivesMatter but to embed long-lasting change, all of us, regardless of our upbringing or cultural backgrounds, need to take time to realise how we are all whole people, not individual parts, and that we all have a role to play in fighting injustice and discrimination in all forms.
I encourage you all to reach out to a colleague or friend, actively listen to them without interrupting or adding your own stories. We are all unique. Read more on these EDI issues; not simply because they are in vogue right now but because you want to proactively help. Do not simply pay lip service to these issues on social media and do nothing about organisational inequities going forward. Learn about intersectionality theory and seek to better understand how societal inequalities are maintained by wider power structures and systems. It will open your eyes.is a life-long practice of unlearning and re-learning to review, reframe and recalibrate the society we are actively participating within. Allyship is a journey of self to serve those around you, to tackle injustice. Allyship is seeing difference.