Difficult conversations - inclusivity, white allyship and anti-racism.

Not my usual kind of blog I know, but yesterday was our regional (Yorkshire and Humber) continuous professional development (CPD) session. As a brand new regional group organiser it was my job to arrange celebrant CPD and I went in at the deep end!

Topic: inclusivity.

I invited Alison Lowe (bottom of pic) to be guest speaker. Alison is CEO of Touchstone and the chair of the Leeds statues review. Alison was also the first black female councillor in Leeds.

I invited Audrey Simmons (top pic), a fellow humanist celebrant and organiser for the Association of Black Humanists.

I also shared two statements from ex-clients of dual heritage.

The result was a wonderful, open discussion around language, tokenism, cultural appropriation, the work of Touchstone and Association of Black Humanists and how we can learn as individuals and as an organisation to really be as inclusive as possible.

My own anti-racism

I can say I have been vocally non-racist since a young teen, however, I can only say I have been confidently vocally anti-racist since the Standing Rock DAPL protests in 2016/7. More on that in a moment.

As an 8 year old, the name Stephen Lawrence stuck with me. In fact, I was unaware for a long while of how young I actually was when his murder impacted my views on life and opened my eyes to injustice.

I was teased sometimes at school for liking "black music". I remember in the 90's listening to Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech on my Encarta encyclopedia disc whilst researching something entirely different for a piece of homework and getting goosebumps.

As a 16 year old I dated a young chap originally from Africa. We had bonded over our love of the same music and my deep interest in different African cultures and nature. I received racist comments that forced me to end the relationship (though the friendship has endured).

Also as a 16 year old, I kept the newspaper with the large front cover picture of Damilola Taylor in my bedside drawer, a reminder to wish for a better world as often as I could. If I think of Damilola Taylor now, it is that front cover image of him that my mind conjures up.

At university I studied psychology and criminology (2004-2007) and later criminal justice (2008-2009), which included learning about the police reforms that Lawrence's death had led to, about black deaths in custody, about the disproportionate amount of black and minority ethnic people stopped and searched, about mental illness in prisons and media bias.

In 2009 I became aware of David Oluwale. I didn't get to see the play about his death while it was on in Leeds and didn't realise at the time that the play was based on a book. So in 2013, when I did find out, I purchased The Hounding of David Oluwale by Kester Aspden and also the script of the play. Oluwale, was essentially killed by police in Leeds in 1969. BBC article>>

In 2013, we honeymooned in Morocco. It was a wonderful experience but I also came face to face with a lot of poverty (located right next to richness) and a lot of internal bias. I was scared for my safety in some parts of Marrakech despite the beauty. I was very aware of my whiteness and my tourist outlook.

Then next on my radar, as I said, was the Standing Rock DAPL protests.

I'd had a long love affair with Native American culture but had not realised the discrimination they still received. I was totally naive. Ignorant perhaps?

"Many in the Standing Rock tribe and surrounding communities considered the pipeline and its intended crossing beneath the Missouri River to constitute a threat to the region's drinking water, as well as to the water supply used to irrigate surrounding farmlands. The construction was also seen as a direct threat to ancient burial grounds and cultural sites of historic importance."

I'm also not ashamed to admit that, being a fan of Beyonce, I only learnt some of the issues in the U.S. after her release of Formation and the Lemonade album (2016) and about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Beyonce's song Flawless.

We live in a predominantly white area so I bought my son books with black central characters, we talk about how it is OK to be different. We look at maps and talk about different people. We watch CBeebies shows and they are often great at promoting inclusivity. He has started to develop a love for Africa and enjoys looking at his maps and where his fave animals come from. He notices differences in skin colour. The whiteness in me wants to shrink away from those conversations, but I don't believe in being blind to colour. I believe in open conversations, even the uncomfortable ones. Last year I made a mission of starting to read more books with black and minority ethnic characters and authors myself.

Time capsule letter to my son dated 5.4.17

Why does all that matter?

I hate the overused phrase "journey" but that is really what it is. All the little building blocks that have been piling up quietly influencing my own life and values and what I want to pass on to my son. I have so much to learn. I am willing to work harder. Seeing the racism and hatred stirred by Brexit and the impact of the global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have been a kick up the bum and I will no longer simply be non-racist, I will be vocally anti-racist. Hearing first hand the ways some of my black and minority ethnic friends are treated has been heart-breaking and even more heart-breaking is that I didn't even know. I didn't even consider it.

So this is me being transparent.

I know I am an ally in my heart. I also know I can do better in my actions.

I promise to do better and be a better ally.


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