by Poku Osei: 9th June, 2020
As a father, person of colour and a leader of an organisation that works with many young people of colour, it has not been a surprise to see the deep outrage across the globe in recent weeks. The impact of seeing someone who looks like you being slowly murdered for nearly 9 minutes on film was harrowing. Especially if you have experiences of being treated as less than a human, as I have at times.
I would, therefore, like to send a personal message regarding the recent incidents of racism and brutality that have affected us all, and some of the things we can all do to help build a just, equitable and inclusive society.
First, to all people of colour – The brutalisation of black people is one that conjures a mixed emotion of helplessness, rage and distress, but it’s on us to take care of our emotional health first and foremost. If you have been negatively impacted, I encourage you to speak to a trusted friend or family member; do a therapeutic activity or find a quiet moment to reflect on how you feel. For those of us with kids around, it’s particularly important to emotionally self-regulate, if we are to safeguard them from vicarious trauma.
I want you to know that your anger is valid, but do not let it suffocate your determination, hope and aspiration. If you want to talk or explore how to channel your frustration and energy into helping to create a positive change, know that Babbasa is there to listen and support you too. You can get in touch with our Engagement Team at email@example.com
With that being said, I believe every person of colour has to act. A more dignified life cannot be left to the peril of society. As Dr King said, ‘power will not be delivered in neat packages’. Any group seeking it needs to be deliberate in how they plan, organise and campaign for it. So the question I put to you is – what are you personally doing to ensure all people of colour have a more dignified social life; significant political voice; or the deserved economic prosperity going forward? Click here for educational resources, and actions that you can take.
Second, to the government and civic institutions – It would be shortsighted to think of the case of George Floyd or Christian Cooper, as just another ‘unfortunate American episode’. Sadly it isn’t. Brutalisation is only a symptom of a much bigger disease – racism – an experience that almost all people of colour would know about first hand in the UK too.
I, therefore, urge the management and leadership of civic institutions, big or small, not to divorce themselves from the visceral human stories of George, Christian and countless others. But rather use this time as a moment to reflect on your everyday decisions i.e. a) on whether they reinforce existing institutional norms that we know marginalise people of colour in politics, education and meaningful civic participation or b) whether you try daily to counter the toxic institutional protocols or peers who fuel racism, consciously or unconsciously, through persistent negative stereotypes.
You have the power to reassert that enough is enough. You have the power to propose a motion or convene a meeting about how your department or institution needs to develop a long-term plan to address systemic inequality. You have a responsibility to re-evaluate your trained attitudes, as an individual, to help create a more just, equitable and inclusive society for all.
Third, to employers and investors – We cannot jump out of the frying pan of this pandemic and into a regressive fire of inequality and social immobility. We risk social unrest and rioting become a feature of our cities that further disrupts business and society. We must integrate the solutions to both crises into a coherent response in the way that we recruit, invest and protect.
As leaders, we need to walk the talk and spearhead much more meaningful changes at the workplace that allow minority talent to thrive and prosper. We need to accept that focusing exclusively on the business case for racial diversity is no longer an option. It’s on all of us to better understand the impact of racism, revamp out-dated diversity programmes, and promote equal opportunity at every stage.
Finally, to all citizens, particularly my well-meaning white peers – the effects of racism on the emotional and mental health of people of colour are real. This is irrespective of whether your black and brown friends choose to understand it, acknowledge it or talk to you about it. The cumulative traumatic impact of every discriminatory experience, bias at work, negative media portrayal, and stories of hate crime on people of colour is one that neuroscientists and psychologists have identified to be no different from the PTSD experienced by a soldier returning from war.
In other words, your capacity to be kind, to listen, to understand and to act cannot be understated in these difficult times. As allies in the fight for common human dignity, it is equally important to note that all of us internalise racial bias at an early age – as early as 2 to 4 years old as studies show. So the need to consistently self-reflect and educate ourselves is vital if we are to root out this disease of racism. Click here for resources.
For now, recognise that you have the power as an individual to write to your employer, local councillor, public safety authorities, your alma mater, GP and any institution that you are connected to, to demand evidence of how they are addressing racial inequalities. You have the power to engage initiatives focused on equal opportunities to find out how you can be of direct help. You have the power to have difficult conversations with your family and friends about the role you can individually play to reduce the suffering of people of colour.
Similarly to how we show solidarity in other human and animal rights campaigns (gay rights, gender rights, terrorist attacks etc) – know that you have the power to use your digital platforms to send a signal too, to your networks, about the need for zero tolerance to racism or any form of discrimination. None of us can afford to do nothing. As Luvvie Ajayi said, “all comfort has done is maintain the status quo. So we’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable by speaking these hard truths when they are necessary”.