Lorraine Mighty - Reflections on Black Lives Matter

Sadly, the overrepresentation of BAME people in the Covid-19 statistics did not come as a surprise to me. Whilst I was pregnant with my second child in 2019, I found out that, as a Black woman, I was 5 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than a white woman.  

To say it’s been a challenging return to work from maternity leave is something of an understatement! Notwithstanding the wonderful support I’ve received from the team, there’s been much to contend with beyond adjusting to working from home, learning the ropes in my new role and attempting to ‘home-school’ my kids. You see, within the first few weeks of lockdown, we lost 4 members of our black family and friends to Covid-19. Two more were hospitalised, and thankfully are now back at home and recovering. Not being able to say goodbye to our loved ones and support each other through our grief as we would ordinarily, has been hugely upsetting.

Sadly, the overrepresentation of BAME people in the Covid-19 statistics did not come as a surprise to me. Whilst I was pregnant with my second child in 2019, I found out that, as a Black woman, I was 5 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than a white woman. Since then, I’ve discovered that health inequalities within BAME communities are prevalent. The reasons behind them are complex, and include tropes of strong, black people who can bear pain more than others, racism leading to people being ignored and medical training being white-centred so that the visual signs of illnesses are just not noted in black skin. So, whilst unsurprising, it has been deeply, deeply upsetting and unsettling.

Think of a community you belong to - whether personal or professional. Imagine members of that community dying disproportionately and those in a position of power to affect change, not proactively helping your community. Imagine members of your community, being consistently paid less than counterparts from a similar community, and being underrepresented in positions of power. How would you feel? You may feel like the lives of those in your community don’t matter.

I often feel helpless, hopeless, unsure of where to begin and what to do to try to affect change. That’s certainly how I felt when I first heard about George Floyd’s brutal murder. It took me a week to bring myself to read the details of the case. I still haven’t watched the 9-minute video. I’m not sure if I will. Because, I’ve seen and heard similar horrifying accounts before. The first one that I remember watching was about Rodney King in the LA riots of 1992. I was 14 when I watched that video of him being beaten by police officers played out repeatedly on the news. I’ve been witnessing similar acts of brutality consistently for nearly 30 years. I’ve witnessed the protection of the perpetrators of that brutality, and I am constantly bewildered by the complete lack of injustice. The Black Lives Matter movement was set up in response to such protectionism and injustice highlighted in the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. But the phrase itself speaks to the ongoing struggle for race equality. Equality of opportunity, of access, of success which links back to the everyday issues I’ve raised on working and living as a Black person in the UK.

So, what is being done? You may be aware that the university recently secured a Bronze Race Equality Charter (REC) award. As one of only 15 universities across the UK to secure an award, this is quite an achievement. Following consultation with staff and students, the REC team have created an action plan spanning the next three years for improvement. I am hopeful that this will result in meaningful change across the institution.

If you’re wondering what more can be done on race equality and how you can get involved, I’d recommend joining the BAME Staff Network. I was moved last week by the testimonials on Allyship which offer useful signposts to additional reading. Another network I am involved in is BAMEed, which has a really useful reading list alongside statistical reports.

Race equality, and anti-racism is a daily challenge. It means checking our privileges and setting aside our fragilities moment to moment. The work involved can sometimes feel exhausting but I am hopeful that we are living through a pivotal moment. A moment which will see individuals recognising the power we each have to disrupt and dismantle systems across society that unfairly disadvantage people based on race.


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