GUEST POST: Why do we not have more BAME leaders in Education?

At a time when so much has been written about the importance of a diverse workforce, where does it leave institutions closer to home?

Take for example under- representation of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) teachers in leadership positions. An astonishing 92.9% of headteachers are white British. A meagre 0.2% of Headteachers and 0.4% of Deputy and Assistant Headteachers are Black African. Representation is no better for other ethnic groups. The extent of the problem varies across the country.

In one borough I looked into, only 22% of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) are from a BAME background. This might sound like a lot. It isn’t. 66.8% of the secondary school student population in the borough are from a British Bangladeshi background. Compare that to the percentage of white British children; 6.3% (Source: School Census 2017). There’s clearly a disconnect between the two sets of data. Could that be because of a lack of BAME representation in the classroom? Not so. The proportion of teachers from minority ethnic groups in the borough (i.e. non-White British) stands at 48%.


The data looks worse when you break it down school by school. In one school, which has an all-white SLT, roughly half of all the teachers listed on the website are from a minority ethnic background. Shocking, when put into context the community it serves. So why is it that schools across the country lack a fair representation of people from minority backgrounds in leadership positions?


A bias exists – Headteachers would rather appoint people who look and think like them. A glass ceiling exists for ethnic minority teachers. The black teacher ‘looks aggressive’ mentality permeates in our communities. Governors and Headteachers hold an irrational fear of ethnic minorities. What if, they hold extremist views?


BAME teachers are thought of as passionate people in the classroom, committed to the cause of delivering a better future for our kids, but never quite good enough for leadership positions. Where BAME staff do get promoted, they are told to pursue pastoral positions such as the Head of a Year group. There are disproportionate numbers of people being told to pursue this route. They are not given the challenging roles that come with more responsibility.


I recently came into contact with the Principle of a Multi Academy Trust. He became defensive when I raised the issue of under-representation of BAME teachers in leadership position. Surely the point is that our kids get a good quality education? Yes. But the point also, is that our kids see hard-work and talent getting rewarded regardless of the colour of skin, gender, religion, sexuality, beliefs.


Schools should be leading the fight against inequality and racism. If this is going to be the case, then Headteachers have a responsibility to get their houses in order. The solution is simple – they need to promote more BAME teachers to their team.

By, Annonymous

It’s been a year since…

So I left working at the university almost a year ago and started the consultancy work within a month of leaving. It doesn’t feel like a whole year but a lot has changed so i’m taking a moment to look back and look forward.

I’ve learned more about myself than I could have imagined in the last year, good and bad. It’s important to check in with yourself and so today I gave myself time to pause and reflect on some of the things I have learned.

[1] My faith is everything. Without truly understanding and believing in Tawakkal (trusting in God’s plan), and without an awareness of what it means to have peace, I don’t think I would have had the courage to make the move. As a person of faith I believe in discernment and it’s hard to explain but in the last few months at the university, I had a constant feeling of uneasiness. I saw bullying and management deliberately turning a blind eye, I saw blatant dismissal of student’s experience of racism and Islamophobia, I saw colleague after colleague go off on long-term sick. I would come home with a heavy heart and find myself at work tearful. I lost my appetite and had digestive problems, couldn’t sleep and couldn’t focus during my prayers. I felt guilty standing before Allah every time I prayed because I knew it was my choice to stay there, and that I would be judged for the harm I was putting my body through. As Muslims we believe that our bodies are an Amaanah (something that is entrusted to us) that must be honoured, and I knew that I could not truly say I was a person of faith whilst CHOOSING to stay in an environment that was unjust to me and those around me, an environment that was physically taking a toll on my body. Once I acknowledge this, the decision to leave was made.

[2] I AM a scholar. I was working in an institution where I felt my knowledge was treated as only lived experience. Where people who did not even know of my work would call on me for ‘expertise’ in race issues. The ‘Dr’, the ‘PhD’ title were regularly highlighted by colleagues but superficially (counting the number of ‘PhD’ holders or identifying people that could be ‘REFable’). Over time I found myself devaluing the weight of the work I had done to achieve my doctorate and all the work I continued to do since. It was more than imposter syndrome, I couldn’t see where my scholarship ‘fit’ in the academic space, or if what I had been working on could even be considered scholarship. Being actively blocked from writing made it even harder and towards the end I gave up fighting for opportunities to do research; resigning myself to the fact that all that was required of me was to talk about racism and I would be fine. When I left the academy and had to stand alone, I had to define my work. I had to be clear about what I could offer and what I could contribute. I reconnected with my scholarship, refined my specialism and carved a space for myself. My lived experience would always form part of my scholarship, but I finally was able to see it as an added strength. I found my voice.

[3] There is strength in community. One of my biggest concerns about setting up a consultancy was working on my own. I have always created with communities, worked in teams and collaborated so the thought of having to start something from scratch on my own was terrifying. I’m grateful that for the first couple of months my clients were colleagues/organisations I had worked with before but even then, stepping in with just me was strange. I knew that for the time being the training and development work would need to be just me in order to establish the company identity, but I was also acutely aware of how limited my knowledge of business and consultancy was. Without the networks of support I had around me during the first 6 months in particular, I would have really struggled to get the business off the ground. I had to pay this support forward and so created networks of consultants (new and established) to provide ongoing peer support, and created a talent pool of PoC experts in web design, marketing, finance, and consumer psychology to call upon for work and to signpost to others. I continue to create communities. I found strength in my ability to bring people together. I have been raised to know that ‘it takes a village’ and so I give thanks to my nomadic Somali roots for ingraining this wisdom in me.

[4] Money Matters. I had an awful relationship with money and can probably write a whole other post about this. As a child of refugee parents my relationship with money underpinned all my worries about security and responsibility. I have never been afraid of poverty, i’ve experienced it and have the resilience to know I can survive. My worry was not about survival. I grew up having two financial goals (1) to never be dependent on state support (benefits) if have the ability to work and (2) to give my parents and family a better life. When I got the university job I had the money to be self-sufficient, and to support my family here and back home, and this security was one of the reasons I couldn’t leave without being prepared. And so as I made plans to leave the academy, my thoughts focussed on earning enough to continue the things I had a responsibility to do. My inexperience in business showed most explicitly in my poor financial judgement. I continued to do a lot of things for free in the first month because it was for social justice and when I did charge it was for a small sum. I was grateful that work was immediately coming in and by the end of the month I would have enough to cover costs with a small amount left to keep the business afloat, nothing to pay myself a salary and so I would go into my savings. A friend who is an accountant and financial advisor sat with me on the third month and dedicated 4 days to talk me through all the financial mistakes I was making. I will forever be grateful to her for this. I was honest about my worries that a focus on money would distract me from the ethics of why I do the work, and she helped me to understand that (1) what you charge is a reflection of the knowledge and expertise you bring to a space (2) money doesn’t drive your ethics it supports it. This is still a work in progress but in taking the time to develop an understanding of business, I am learning more about the limited beliefs I need to work through.

[5] From exhaustion to invigoration. Maybe it’s the creative in me but I find it hard to just do one task at a time. I focus more when I have a number of things to do and have to be specific with my time. This is probably why doing only the PhD thesis was hard and I would do a lot of things alongside it like teaching, setting up networks and organising/attending conferences. I needed to have multiple tasks to feel focussed and avoid procrastination. I was extremely busy/overworked when I was at the university, like all my colleagues were but still tried to diversify my work by getting involved in institutional level change because I needed diversity of takes to focus. But rather than this create focus, I felt frustrated and conflicted. I was banging my head against a brick wall trying to influence anything at a departmental or institutional level, but I wasn’t given any leadership responsibilities in my day jobs and knew I would be bored if all I did was teaching and admin and more admin. This frustration would deplete my energy and I would end the week exhausted. When I started the business I wanted to work less, so that work wouldn’t take up as much energy as it did before. I found myself working just as much but noticed that it felt different. I was doing a range of things, ever aspect gave me sense of fulfilment. Even with the additional advocacy and community activism work, I wasn’t tired but invigorated. I had the freedom to create spaces, to influence change and make meaningful impact. Yes there are still times when I am tired and I haven’t quite got the balance right between work and rest, but i’ve realised that there is a difference between work that keeps us busy and work that keeps us alive.

I started this post by acknowledging my faith and i’ll close it with the same focus. All praise and thanks is to Allah alone, for protecting me from harm, for giving me the means and the opportunity to make a change, for clearing my path and holding me steady, for bringing good people into my life, for guiding me through it.

Alhamdililah Alaa Kulli Haal

White Allies MUST be Antiracist too

I have been thinking alot lately about the nature of the work I do. The training I offer centres on anti-racist and decolonial practice and continues to been bespoke to the organisations/clients I work with. This work always combines allyship with antiracist training because the two must work alongside each other. But what I have found over the last few weeks; in the wake of the George Floyd murder and BLM campaigns, is a surge in organisations wanting to ‘have the conversation’, about allyship… not about antiracism.

There seems to be a willingness now to ‘hear out’ Black people’s experiences and ‘do better’ to support them, and this is great, but it is only a fraction of the work that needs to be done. For structural and systemic change to happen, White colleagues and institutional leads need to carry the burden of racism. They need to openly and honestly unpack what it means to be White, to have White privilege, to work within a system of Whiteness. For White people to truly do antiracist work and to be effective allies, they have to look at their own encounters with the system.

Racism is not a Black problem, but more often than not it is PoC who carry the burden of both enduring systems of oppression and trying to educate those that actively benefit from these systems.  Antiracism work cannot and should not be the sole responsibility of PoC, this work requires active allies to work in solidarity with us and to carry this burden of responsibility. A Black person should not have to tell you of your own privileges.

Allyship is a lifelong process and a commitment to building relationships based on trust, consistency and accountability. It is not self-defined work and efforts must be recognised by those you are seeking to ally with.

Just as antiracism is a verb, allyship is too. It is dependent not on who we are but on what we choose to do, in every space and in every interaction. Someone who is committed to doing anti-racist work cannot guarantee that they will always make antiracist choices in the spaces and interactions they find themselves in. This is a human endeavour, we all fall in this work, we make mistakes and at times may be complicit in systems that oppress others. This is why the work requires a willingness to own our mistakes, to de-centre ourselves and resolve to change our actions, as many times as necessary… This work is never complete, as we learn more, the onus falls on us to do better.

A White ally MUST also be an antiracist. They have the responsibility of not only unpacking their own Whiteness and privilege to dismantle systems designed to give them advantage, but to also actively support and co-conspire with those whom the systems work against. This isn’t about doing navel gazing work. It is about understanding how racist systems have been designed to hold you and I apart. I cannot display my trauma for you in order for you to see the impact of racism, because if you have no awareness of your own positioning, you will only look at me through racist eyes.

One of the most common mistakes White allies make is to fall back into the habit of centring privileged perspectives. An example of this may be a PoC sharing an experience of racism in the workplace that you cannot as an ally, through your lived experience, recognise. If you then seek to use motivated reasoning to offer other ways to interpret an encounter (e.g. perhaps he didn’t mean it like…etc.), however well-meaning this may be, it often results in gas lighting the PoC, invalidating their experience and centring a privileged perspective . Take a moment to think about whether you have ever done to this a colleague… or perhaps to a student. Without a constant awareness of the traits of White fragility, these habits will continue to re-emerge.

The key to doing meaningful antiracist and allyship work well is to constantly be in a state of learning, to EXPECT discomfort, to LISTEN, to REFLECT and to ACT. There is no Allyship without action.

Some tips/suggestions to help you start and stay the course:

  1. Join an antiracist reading group that consists of both PoC and White people- have those conversations together in a way that is guided. (Note that power dynamics are still at play in these spaces, so there are some principles to consider- see my blog on White privilege)
  2. Do not invite yourself into PoC spaces. A sign of White privilege is feeling entitled to be in any and all spaces. Not every space is a learning opportunity for you. Recognise that sometimes your presence in a space can do more harm than good.
  3. Do the work. Try not to request reading lists, resources, guidance etc from PoC and expect it for free. This is labour (even/ especially if it is from lived experience) and takes time and energy. Reflect on how this is a practice of entitlement and privilege.
  4. Actively listen when people share their experiences and fight the urge to offer solutions or offer unwarranted help (White saviour).
  5. Don’t wait for the right time to act. It is a privilege to make this choice. Time and need for allyship will be apparent without you searching for it. Thoses moments are not artificial… and in those moments you WILL have a choice to make, whether you feel ready or not.
  6. Work through and with your discomfort, no matter what, SHOW UP… remember that trust, consistency and accountability are the things you have promised to those you have commited to ally with.

This work isn’t easy, but as someone eloquently said online “It is privilege to be able to learn about racism, rather than having to experience it”

GUEST POST: ‘The problem was me’

Sixteen years ago, as a Newly Qualified Teacher, I was preparing to conduct my first Parents’ Evening. Classroom ready, notes on each child, butterflies in the stomach – the full works! As if that was not enough, my Head Teacher demanded that I left my door open during a meeting with one particular parent. Why? The father was a member of the British National Party – the ‘leader’ within our local town.

“That’s alright, his child is doing really well. He won’t say anything to me.”

And I genuinely believed my own narrative. I genuinely believed that my great teaching would save me.

I saw the Head patrolling outside my door during the meeting with the parents. The mum sat giggling nervously in her seat, twitching every now and then, while her husband, like every other parent, asked me about his child’s progress. There was no hostility, no animosity – just a professional conversation about the education of their child. 

So, why does this incident still come back to haunt me? Simple. The issue wasn’t the parents, it wasn’t the way the Head Teacher had dealt with anything, no. The problem was me!

For years, I genuinely believed that my great teaching could override any prejudices people may have against my race or sex. I genuinely believed that if I worked my fingers to the bone, that I would somehow have proved myself to be worthy and their ‘equal’.

Fast forward six years. I’m still working, only now I’m working my fingers to the ligament. I worked in a toxic school, bullies weaving their own agendas in various pockets of the school. Again, foolishly, I thought I could be the change – the caped crusader! What an idiot!

One lunchtime, I sat in a classroom with five teachers, one of whom was the Deputy Head Teacher, and two Teaching Assistants. Somehow the conversation unravelled into me being the worst teacher in the world, and what did I do? I sat there, throughout the whole conversation and listened. The Head Teacher then congratulated me and said it was wise to stay quite because “walking out would have caused more arguments.” Those people weren’t the problem. I was. I did not even need to say anything, I just needed to walk out. But I didn’t and so proved to them that I was at their disposal.

I stayed in that school for four years listening to racist slurs as if they were part of the school’s policy. Eventually, I plucked up a little courage to write a letter to the Head Teacher. I listed everything that I did in the school, from extracurricular activities to attending courses in my own time. This was not about my teaching anymore, the class data spoke for itself, this was about how I was being treated completely differently from my white colleagues. In the end the Head Teacher decided I was not worth the argument, so when I handed in my resignation, he just said “I understand.”

My journey does not have a fairy-tale ending. I am still finding my voice within a Borough whose Head Teachers, Leadership Teams and Advisors are all white. But one thing I do know is that the education of the future generation is vital if we are to change the world that we live in. It is because of this passion, that I refuse to stand down.

By Anonymous.

Nomadic Footprints

The Nomadic Way

Nomads are a source of wonder, and threat.

With no settled home, no single identity, no adherence to man made boundaries, they exist through periodic movements. No space is theirs but they claim it (temporarily) as home. The ‘other’; whose transient presence is impossible to contain, is a threat to ‘order’ and regime. To be a nomad is to find comfort in the spaces in between, to understand that ‘home’ is not a tangible place and that places are produced by mobilities.

My nomadic footprints guide me through the world, as I learn, teach, move and stay (temporarily). The lens through which I see the world is informed by faith, bloodline and education.

In faith….

“Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a passing traveller.” (Al-Bukhāri)

In Islam this world is referred to in Arabic as al-dunya, which comes from a root meaning closeness

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GUEST POST: Template letter to share. #BlackLivesMatter

This template letter has been written and shared kindly by Amina Bana, KS2 primary teacher. Please follow her on Twitter: @itsamow and continue to support the work of Black educators.

Dear respective colleagues,

This past week has been a challenging one for many of us as our world bore witness to the aftermath of the tragic and unlawful death of George Floyd- an African American man who lost his life at the hands of a white police officer. With Black Lives Matter protests now being seen in countries and cities around the world, it is clear that there is a far deeper, more important message rising up to the surface. What Black people have been; and still continue to experience the world over, is that they are victims to the systemic racism that continues to permeate many countries across the globe.

It is no longer enough to label these events as the globalisation of a specific American racial issue. We know that here in the UK, systemic racism persists in our schools, offices, court systems, police departments, and elsewhere. Studies have shown that people in Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in 21st-century Britain, are consistently more likely to face negative everyday experiences in various settings, many dealing with the terror, confusion and violence these experiences bring.

For many of us, our own personal experiences mean we know first-hand the impact racism can have on us as individuals, on our families and friends, and on our wider society. For all of us, our work and practice signify our commitment to fight inequity, inequality and injustice in all its forms. Recent events do not dissuade or alter our course of action, in fact it will only make us more firm in our cause.

As classroom practitioners we need to be conscious of our vital role in addressing this in the classroom for the safety of our children and the long-term well-being of our communities. We share the pain felt in the United States after the death of George Floyd and stand with our black communities and those who acknowledge our shared humanity. As we empathise with predicaments our fellow black educators and pupils face, we remind ourselves of our mission statement:

[INSERT SCHOOL/INSTITUTION MISSION STATEMENT/ANTI-RACISM POLICY HERE]

Let us use this moment in time to not only empathise with our fellow African American citizens across the pond but to also reflect on our own beliefs, our unconscious racial biases and our duty of care to our children. As a proud team made up of diverse members, let us reject any forms of complacency in the face of injustice to truly move forward in solidarity and ally-ship and build a better world for all. As we remain in lockdown for the time being and do our part in slowing down the spread of COVID-19, we stand together in solidarity with an open heart and know that together, we will get through this.

“Our human compassion binds us – the one to the other – not in pity or patronisingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Nelson Mandela

Sincerely….

[Name]

GUEST POST: This week | breathe

by Amira

This week.


He couldn’t breathe.

Nor could She sleep.


Stand firmly against injustice,

My Lord warned;

even against your own-selves.


So I prayed quietly to Al-Adl;

The Most Just to stand me firmly in the face of this evil,

lest my silence thuds on the dead bodies of my brothers and sisters.


Louder I scream to myself.

Bolder I scream to myself.

You don’t have the privilege of giving up.

Our Blackness is from The Divine Creator of the universe;

so is Our Humanity.

Equally moulded through flesh and bones,

but this evil is also known.

Not unfamiliar. Overfamiliar.

Like white knees digging into the neck of Black life.


We always knew.

What they did. What they do.


Right now

We can’t breathe.

And Our sleep evades us

as if the deep night has asked us to watch over her.

Keep me safe too she whispered,

for I can no longer find solace in the day.

They’ve taken every shadow of mine and defiled it.


Their pain lives within us.

Their families.

Their cries.

Their Blackness woven so delicately into Our own that We too absorbed the trauma.

We’re just flesh and bones

Our bodies weep.

But Our souls, like empty wells echo the finality of death.


Our mortality has never intimated us.

We are righteous, patient people.

And Our Lord is The Most Kind,

The Most Merciful.


What We fear is Our dehumanisation.

The collective amnesia of consciousness that has circled Black people,

Our people, since


Since.


This week.

Another week.

Another week.


I can’t be weak right now.

Written in loving sisterhood, dedicated to the memories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Belly Mujinga, Shukri Abdi and the other countless Black victims of systemic racism and white supremacy.

We carry you with us.

The BAME Leadership Pipeline Discussion Series

Discussion One: ‘White Privilege- A challenge to Leaders’  [Part ONE]

On the 7th May 2020, I hosted the second in a series of discussions around the BAME Leadership Pipeline, with a focus on White Privilege. Given that over 90% of the leaders and decision makers in the city are racialised as White, it felt necessary to address issues of racism and privilege as a starting point for the discussions that we would come to have.

Before the session formally begin, I explained some key principles that would need to be respected within the room to ensure that the space remains as respectful as possible. I do not believe that spaces for uncomfortable dialogue can ever be safe for everyone in the room, but It is always important when creating spaces for dialogue, that guidance is set to create respectful boundaries.  These principles will be referred to as a reminder at the start of each session and they are outlined here:

  1. Be consciously aware of your privilege in the space (race, gender etc.) and know when to take a step back so that marginalised people can engage and lead.
  2. Believe people’s accounts and respect their vulnerabilities. It is not your responsibility to verify, question or judge their experiences. Keep in mind principle 1.
  3. Take care of yourself. If at any point you feel unsafe or uncomfortable in the space, message the host (me) privately and if you need to, leave the room, and come back when/if you are ready. As the organiser and facilitator, I commit to taking the necessary steps to address issues should they be brought to my attention.
  4. Do not say other people’s experiences outside of this space without their permission. I encourage everyone to continue the dialogue offline and on social media, but respect people’s privacy and do not share or discuss their accounts. Some of these sessions will be audio recorded (not the chat), so when sharing please bear in mind what you choose to contribute.
  5. Be mindful of your language. Reflect on what you are going to say before you say it and if you are challenged on your language and presented with a preferred alternative, please be mindful and change it.

For this session I invited four individuals to offer provocations that would guide the discussion- Dr Jo Shah, Mr Lincoln Tapper, Dr Alex Mason and Dr Shona Hunter. Each of the speakers offered provocations for 5 minutes each, leading to an open discussion with attendees. In this post (part one), I’ll be focussing on the first two provocations and the discussions that emerged in response.

Shona started us off by sharing the premise of Whiteness and how the enactment of White privilege serves to preserve power and domination. She argued that in order to challenge White privilege in practice would be to ‘flip’ leadership completely. She highlighted institutional dynamics of privileged and the role of leadership in maintaining or challenging these dynamics. Shona stated that leadership needs to involve both “leading against the institution, its culture and dynamics, and also leading against the self- the ego”. She explains this further by noting the institutional commitment to White values, White measures and White judgements, and calls for a look at ‘radical relationality’, where the lead is not one way but always negotiated.

Shona argued that there needs to be a shift from individual efforts, to institutional accountability, stating that “commitment needs to be demanded from institutions. Not from those ‘in’ them”. This point was particularly apt for the reading of the room, which had 35 attendees, only 3 of which being organisational leads. The last of leadership presence in the room was noted by several attendees who worried that the discussions would be ‘preaching to the converted’, with one attendee asking “what change can we expect to see from organisations, if leadership can’t even be in these spaces?”

The second provocation by Jo, looked at the conceptualisation of Whiteness and its positioning within an anti-racist movement.

“Terms such as ‘white privilege’ seem to have become an intrinsic part of the anti-racist lexicon. It is however important to ask, how this new lexicon is being used and understood in the context of racial oppression. There seems to be two parallel micro narratives that have emerged within the anti-racist movement in its use of whiteness concepts, manifesting in a polarised tension between how whiteness is understood and used. It could be argued that for a significant number of black and brown bodies within the movement, whiteness represents oppression and colonial trauma that still percolates in our social systems and interactions. While for those racialised as white, a consideration of whiteness appears to have become a preoccupation with the self and one’s own negotiations and processing of whiteness and what that means for them.”

Jo argued that an over-emphasis on White privilege, could simply serve to re-centre Whiteness, further distracting from the violence and trauma experienced by people of colour. She also spoke the overemphasis of the discourse in institutional EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) work, despite the poor representation at leadership level, highlighting the disconnect between the rhetoric that accompanies this discourse, and the accompanying practice. This was later picked up in the open discussion, with a number of White attendees in particular, who were leaders in their organisations, reflecting on their own experiences of self-reflective work around Whiteness, and the dangers of self-centring in allyship work.

Jo stated that “the challenge for white leaders committed to meaningful change is to critique and challenge the incentivised legalised narrative and to understand their positionality in broader racially oppressive social dynamics”. 

Jo continued to reflect on White privilege through its relationship with space, knowledge, and power.

“White people have historically operated on the assumption that they have the right and ability to enter any and all spaces, especially when seeking to satisfy some curiosity and/or preconception regarding an exoticised and objectified Other. Whatever the expressed intentions of the individual might be, this almost always serves to reinforce and re-entrench a racial hierarchy.”

She spoke candidly about the ways in which ‘well meaning’ and ‘liberal’ White people often ‘take up space’ without consideration of how this reinscribes racial power dynamics and negatively impacts people of colour.  She spoke of the danger of using spaces like conferences on race, as opportunities to ‘offload guilt’ and the impact this has on people of colour. Jo reminds us that proximity to people of colour, can often position White people as anti-racist and implored us to see beyond this to recognise the need for active, meaningful allyship work. These words chimed with many of the attendees, with responses by attendees of colour during the open discussion, echoing these same concerns.  There was a consensus that spaces were needed for meaningful dialogue but also worry from some of the people of colour attendees that the burden would once again be on them to create these spaces or initiate this work.

….Part TWO coming soon.

Shona and Jo’s work can be found here:

Shona: White Spaces https://www.whitespaces.org.uk/

Jo: The Social Performance Academy https://social-performance.academy/

GUEST POST: Belonging – beneath the colour of our skin – we all bleed the same…..

I was struck by the imagery of this cover of Time magazine from 2015.  Maybe it was because I was born in 1968 and I was struck by how there was so much anger during what was the civic rights movement in America – or maybe it was because back in 2015 similar events were happening.  Fast forward five years to 2020 and NOTHING has changed.  It is soul destroying.

While we in the UK are collectively arguing about two white men that make the laws, where one of them has broken the law but he is adamant that he hasn’t  –  and let’s not forget that the most important white man is strongly backing up the other law breaking white man –  a black man was unlawfully killed by a white man in the US.  And it CONTINUES to happen.  We get outraged, sign petitions, demonstrate, rant and rave.  But nothing else much happens to change the fate of black people. 

There have been many books and papers written on the oppression of black people.  So much has happened for the advancement of black people during the past four hundred years.  Sometimes, when I am feeling reflective, I think about my life and how different it was for my grandmother, who I never met as she died the year before I was born, but I was named after her.  She looked after my half-brothers (one of my brothers sadly died before I was born) and half-sisters in Ghana in one room while my mum was living and working in London – she had left to try and start again to have a better life for my half siblings and for me and my sisters that were born in London.  My grandmother told one of my half-sister’s that she prayed that we would all live in London one day and that we would all be successful.  By God’s grace this has come to pass – but it still makes me shudder to know that it all could have been so different – and in some ways the progress made by me and my family (and thousands of others) is negated by events like the Floyd killing in Minneapolis.

My belief is that black people have been marginalised for so long that our sense of belonging is now distorted.  There are periods when everything seems ‘great’ – but invariably it is not.  Why?  Why are people so threatened by us?  Are they threatened? 

My own journey of wanting to belong is, as it is for many BAME people, complex.  Growing up in an area that was predominately Caucasian, I learned from an early age that I needed to ‘fit in’.  I loved that I spoke English to my parents, but my parents spoke to me in Twi and I understood everything that they said.  It was a secret language!!!  And I loved West African food – fufu, gari and plantain – but I also adored fish and chips and roly poly pudding with custard!   I felt like a double agent and it was fun – until access to one of the worlds – the white world – began to feel more exclusive and did not want my membership. 

My first tangible experience of racism occurred when I applied for Saturday jobs.  I would walk into a shop and ask if there were any vacant positions, and I was told that there was nothing.  My white counterparts literally had a choice of what they were offered with regards to Saturday jobs.  They were encouraging me to continue to apply – but they were not aware of the side glances or the whispers that took place as you asked the manager if there were any positions.  It really upset me, and I never forgot the feeling. I have experienced it in my professional life, but the challenges have been subtle – at times not so subtle.  My drive to be better and to represent has driven me forward.

The comedian and actor, Lenny Henry was speaking with Louis Theroux in a radio interview and discussed how his childhood was punctuated with racist episodes/name calling and his rise to fame included his involvement with ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’.  The show was a variety show that involved songs sung by white men in blackface.  Lenny told jokes before the songs were sung and was advised to be involved as it would be ‘good for him to learn his craft’ – and it commanded a large TV audience.  Lenny obeyed his manager – although he had misgivings.  When I heard this interview, I recognised this conflict in my own life as a black professional woman.  I wanted to be recognised for my uniqueness – not that I knew what that was when I started my career- but it was always going to be at a cost.  The cost was ‘selling out’ – or something akin to this.  Like Lenny, I allowed it to happen.  And like Lenny – it got to the stage where there was a reckoning – recognising that there was no need to give away my integrity. To allow the banter to continue even though I bristled when I heard it.    I could and do live my life in celebration of my uniqueness and ‘Otherness’ without feeling ashamed.

The world is in turmoil – Covid-19 is ensuring, whether we like it or not – that we all review and reset.  Covid-19 has also claimed more BAME lives than our white counterparts and the reasons why this has occurred are still unclear and will no doubt become clearer over time.    We have had to adapt to belong, but we do not need to sell out.  We have and continue to tolerate so much oppression – and I know that our forefathers endured much – but they would be horrified and saddened to know that things have not changed. 

Anonymous

The BAME Leadership Pipeline Discussion Series

This discussion series has been developed to initiate dialogue in the lead up to what will be a conference on the BAME Leadership Pipeline. This is a local call to action that stems from the release of statistics that reveal the appalling low levels of representation at all level of leadership and decision making in the city in Sheffield.

For a city that has a Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population of over 23%, it is disturbing to see less than 4% represented in leadership and decision making, and with less than 1% Black representation. The issue goes beyond representation at just leadership levels and raises serious questions about what we need to do as a city to respond to the barriers BAME people face along the leadership pipeline.

Due to Covid19, all large group gatherings like the conference, have had to be postponed. Therefore, the series of discussions we will be having on zoom; will each be followed by a blog post summary. These will focus on highlighting key issues, having difficult conversations and working towards a shared vision for the city. These are action and solution- focussed discussions that will form the basis of a report that will be made publicly available in Autumn.

These blog posts will be summaries and reflections on zoom discussions that have taken place, some of which will be recorded and also shared on the page.

If you engage in any of the discussions and would like to share your reflections as a guest blog, please just let me know by emailing: drmunaabdi@gmail.com