Becoming visible in the fight against racism, discrimination and inequality.
As a young black female business leader, I wanted to share my experience of stepping out of my comfort zone to Face-up and Voice-up on current and continuing racial inequality.
STOPIT! It is time for positive action with pRESPECT
Here in the uk it is clear that systemic racism is throwing a shadow over every area of our lives. For some it’s micro aggression for others a full blown violent or threatening experience.
In the USA, the catalyst nearly four weeks ago that activated a global protest - the Knee-necking that killed George Floyd, leaving his young family fatherless, and the murder, by the police, of Breoanna Taylor in her sleep, meant that #blacklivesmatter was trending within hours.
Then the digital protests with black squares appeared, and brands who genuinely cared released statements but then, of course, opportunistic brands jumped on the band wagon!
Media reporting has swayed from supportive to more typical lazy race reporting - BLM = 'rioters' but EDL = 'protestors' - and turning the story into one about the need to protect statues instead of listening to the basic human requirements: EQUAL RIGHTS TO LIVE!
In the past I used these news items and deadly events to work towards changing attitudes and mindset by supporting others and myself to show what we minorities can and are contributing to society.
This attitude has sometimes lead to me being labelled token or not black enough. Lucky for me I know who I am and will continue to do my part to put our own seats at the table instead of waiting politely to be offered them. I'm working to make the change we need to live and thrive!
However for the first time in my life I felt such a rage that made me all at once hate the world and wish we could reset 2020. At the time I blamed exhaustion... mental exhaustion. We have spent the past 4 months supporting minority ethnic and other diverse job-seeking individuals to navigate through COVID lockdown. We were seeing first hand the level of inequality experienced by black minorities:
No recourse to public funds
No access to furlough when eligible
Even food hunger.
We quickly adapted our service to include food support and well-being check-ins while still maintaining focus on after-lockdown opportunities. Because this too will pass.
I developed and created pRESPECT with the aim of supporting minority ethnic people to access high quality career coaching that looks at their skills and capabilities and uses online or affordable learning, drama technique and technology to boost areas they were lacking, so as to level up their chance of being seen for the value they bring to the company.
The focus is to support the Scottish government to reduce child poverty.
I love what I do and the people I meet. My small team of three are full of creativity, energy and care.
However two weeks ago I found myself questioning my purpose, the world, my interactions and even what side of history I was on! I wondered what’s the point of supporting marginalised & ethnic minority talent if all they will be judged on is the colour their skin or their accent!!
The ripple effect of reading social media posts
Seeing videos of black people being casually murdered without a care for the consequences - because there usually aren't any
Hearing that the UK Prime Minister did not know the meaning of NRPF and how it brutality affected families.
Then the news that black Asian minority ethnic people are the most affected by COVID and the government deciding it was best to hide the facts of the report.
School children in England expected to go back to school
Working people expected to go back to work
No recommendations on extra protection for ethnic minorities.... do we not matter!
Are black and brown people expected to be content with Thursday evening claps or being called 'heroes' instead of being given PPE?
The weight of managing my own emotions while continuing to support our participants with employment opportunities, building on strengthening their mindset and continuing proactive and motivational coaching, while also providing partner organisations with information to support their own understanding of the sensitivity of the situation, was affecting my own mental health.
Thank you to the one person outside of my family who showed genuine concern and asked me if I was ok at the earliest. That question opened the flood gate that was containing the tears, stress, and mental pressure I needed to let go. That simple question - acknowledging my own humanity - allowed me the opportunity to reflect and take time out (at the week end, of course) to care for my self.
I listened to Reni Eddo-Lodge “Why I don’t Talk to White People About Racism”. I read snippets of David Olusoga Black and British. I watched other influencers share their own experiences. But I still felt unable to share my own. Aware that my position as a Government Funded community service provider meant I had to be considered, un-threatening, un-angry for fear of offending the sensitivities of a culture that doesn't care if I die or not.
At the same time I had a freeing conversation with my coach Lydia Amoah, who is a seasoned professional in coaching large creative organisations and big advertising brands. She had already experienced the very thing that stopped me from publicly voicing my own experience, from supporting the cause and from offering suggestions to improve the current situation.
Five or six weeks before the George Floyd & race protests, Lydia had experienced horrendous online racial abuse via a Zoom session that was organised by someone else. As the only black person in the call and the main speaker in the session, among many other ethnicities, Lydia was targeted.
The experience left her feeling upset and shocked. instead of hiding away Lydia has personally funded and created a policy called STOPIT to provide employers, freelancers and entrepreneurs with the policy and procedures to put in place to protect against 'Hate Hacking'.
Lydia defines Hate hacking as 'activity which involves intrusion to digital interfaces and assets by unauthorised, threatening individuals who act with an intent to abuse or cause distress to the target on grounds of invidious prejudice (i.e., race, ethnicity, religious belief, sexual orientation, disability, and gender identity).'
For the reasons above and with the STOPIT policy in mind, I am now writing, filming and will start sharing my voice to fight against inequality, racism and other discrimination that is holding back people who should be simply living their lives, working and contributing in the same way as everyone else.
My acting training did not prepare me for this!
But seeing the courage from Black individuals and organisations who have bravely walked the streets in protest to shout "Black Lives Matter", I can not remain silent. I have also spoken privately with others who are still finding their voice and working out how to be heard.
It has taken me time to come to the decision to be more outspoken with the support of my family. So I ask that people are considerate to others who are in a similar position. It’s okay to show genuine concern and ask genuine questions of them, but it isn’t ok to use every black person in your organisation as a free race relations consultant or to front your corporate response to Black Lives Matter without concern for their welfare and even safety. Since everyone is online at the moment, a good place to start would be to implement Lydia Amoah‘s STOPIT policy.
Lets make this a change for the better.
We proudly endorse the #STOPITProtocol and firmly stand against hate both online and offline. www.lydiaamoah.com/stopitprotocol/