Learnings from Black History Month 2020 – Representation Matters

Written by on 02/11/2020

As Black History Month comes to an end I can honestly say this year has felt different! The authenticity in the delivery of it by organisations across the UK, the opportunities that have been given to Black professionals, creatives, individuals in media has shown me one thing – there has always been a budget but until recently there has simply not been an appetite for it. But why is this? Well…

On the 25th May 2020 George Floyd, an African American son, father of 5 children, grandfather to 2 children and community organiser was abhorrently murdered by 4 police officers, following an allegation of him passing a counterfeit $20 bill in a store. Due to the global pandemic, the world had no choice but to watch on as these officers, explicitly or implicitly, caused his death by exercising their privilege, power and bias for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Thus the world began to reflect on the grave inequalities that exist in our institutions. However this was not the only murder of an innocent Black person during the global pendemic: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and plenty more before the world went into lockdown; Elijah McClain, Trayvon Martin to name a few. 

The publicity of the many murders or black men, women and children, compelled the world to virtually show where they stood with regards to racism with what became the international campaign of #BlackOutTuesday. Following the thundering outcry of support socially, it became clear that there was an overwhelmingly deafening silence from institutions, thus soon after, came calls for organisations to do the same and depoliticise the notion that Black. Lives. Matter. In the want for these displays to be seen as progressive and not preformative there were calls for institutions to assess themselves and define where they were on the road to being anti-racist – “an ignorant well wisher” or an “active ally”. But more notably to put processes in place to make lasting change. Thus what started as a conversation about the overt racism of the policing and crime culture in America, soon became a conversation about the covert racism which exists across the globe that equally contributes to the fragility of black life, by creating an atmosphere of merely surviving rather than thriving. The latter is Britain. An unspoken awareness of the structures, stereotypes and media imagery that contribute to the understanding of the Black Brit. 

I have often said we have an unhealthy culture in the UK that calling out racism is more offensive than racism itself; and for the first time in history the unspoken awareness is being spoken about. How un-British! This is all to say that we are at a pinnacle moment in history, where individually we have the ability to allow this moment to lose momentum or continue as a movement. I for one feel like the latter is more likely. But the real question is how do we ensure that this exists outside of the 31days of the Autumnal month of October? 

The answer to this is representation. Put simply we need to reestablish the image of a Black Brit as being whoever they want to be and this can only happen when examples of this exist. It is not only important for young Black boys and girls to see Black role models working in STEM, Finance and Property, it is important for White Britain to see it too. 

Think about it this way: 

  • If a Black boy walks into a football club and wants to play, there is an assumption that he is either great or has the ability to be, rarely would a coach not see dollar signs. 
  • If a Black woman says she would like to transfer from Nursing to Midwifery, the question would be why not. 
  • If a Black person walks into a music studio and says I have the next hit more often than not he will be humoured. 

This is the success story of a Black Brit, everything else is an exception: at best this is insulting. The idea that structures, the media and people’s perceptions have propagated your life story before you get to live it, because of your skin at times not even your class, is disgraceful. 

We have heard it before that we have unconscious biases and these are maintained by the things we continue to see and the images that are continuously perpetuated. So we need to start perpetuating new ones. Black Historians. Black Teachers. Black Police Officers. Black Bankers. Black Barristers. Black Politicians. Black CEOs. Black Board Members. Black Business Owners. Black [Insert Role Here]. We have heard it plenty of times,but  you need to see it to believe it. The truth is these people already exist. But we don’t showcase these people enough. 

The effect of this is Black boys and girls feeling like certain roles, schools, universities aren’t for them, and hiring managers assuming by someone’s name, or within the first 10 seconds of an interview, that this role isn’t for them. 

Unconscious Bias is innate. But you know what isn’t? Working at it! I am a firm believer that those who do not reflect do so because the current state of play benefits them. In a world where the history of Black people is being heralded as lesser than, and a present where people are finally coming to this understanding. The future must look different. It must be representative. It must be reflective of society. It must see colour and it must actively work to see people at the same time. 

Black History Month once upon a time meant to me that it was the one month I could be proud about the great “Black” story of overcoming hate. 2020 has made me realise that I deserve to be this proud all year round. And you want to know why that is? It is because for the first time ever it wasn’t only people that looked like me who spoke about it, got it or were on a journey of understanding. It was people in general. Representation Matters. Join the call.


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