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Dear business leaders : Black people are tired

Opinion

Published by:

15 June 2020

Author: Nyasha Pitt

Image: Come As You Are; Interconnected by Alexis Tsegba

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Remember your humanity, suspend your disbelief and work to become anti-racist, writes Nyasha Pitt, chair of Coventry Pride’s board of trustees.

Being black is exhausting – from managing your behaviour in order to conform to the mainstream and dealing with the widespread appropriation instead of celebration of your culture to protecting yourself mentally by becoming numb to constant racist tropes, stereotypes and biases.

Then there are the beliefs perpetuated in society, politics and the media, and the suffering from the constraints of a system that is designed to value proximity to whiteness. It’s all exhausting.

And, for the first time in history, it feels like most of humanity is tired too.

All over the world, people of many colours have shown their support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, following the murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020. For many people, this horrific incident was a watershed moment, even during a time of global lockdown.

But, when people of all colours joined together to protest against this injustice, government leaders promoted violence against protestors. They deflected attention away from the root of the problem: that the UK and other countries continue to try to deal with the outputs of racism, rather than the institutions and structures of racism itself.

To understand the challenge and how industry can lead transformative change that delivers true equality for all, white and Asian business leaders are going to have to get comfortable with some uncomfortable truths.

The first conversation is about how the UK is indeed institutionally racist, as it is institutionally sexist; otherwise women would be paid the same as men for the equivalent role, right? Right.

The current BLM movement is a direct response to centuries of pain. And because we, your black workforce, wake up and go to bed black every single day; we carry this burden of trauma with us when we are at work too.

Toward a Racially Just Workplace by Laura Morgan Roberts and Anthony J Mayo
‘Remember that it is the structure within which we all operate that is racist – so work towards becoming anti-racist yourself’

Having spoken to a wide range of business leaders, the refrain I hear is almost exactly the same. We’re witnessing a chorus of well-meaning social media campaigns, usually created by overwhelmingly white teams, proclaiming support with catchy straplines and emotive imagery.

It’s a pledge to ‘improve diversity and inclusion’, legislation that has systematically destroyed any real focus on the institutional racism suffered by black people by lumping us into a BAME box, from which our voices are never heard among the throngs of other, lighter or whiter voices.

It is the pledge to have even more Black History Month events this year, with no intention of ensuring that your mainstream workforce attend at least one event in order to further their own learning.

My advice to business leaders seeking to make real change is to remember your humanity and suspend your disbelief. Otherwise you risk negating the lived experience – and subsequently the trust – of your black employees. Just because you have not experienced something doesn’t mean that it does not exist.


As a business leader…

: Have you communicated your feelings, thoughts and empathy to your black employees with regard to the Black Lives Matter movement?

: Are you listening to black voices in your company and within the wider zeitgeist and do you believe, without question, what you have been told?

: Have you invested time in reflecting on your own privilege and thought about how you can use it to benefit others?

: Do you challenge racist tropes and beliefs with your children, your family and friends?

: Do you call out and tackle inappropriate language among your team?

: Is your company lumping distinctly different races into a BAME category?

: Have you thought about launching your own ethnicity pay gap reporting, even though you don’t have to?

: Can your black employees reach out to you in a way that is both comfortable and confidential?

: Do your black employees even feel safe enough to highlight issues of race internally?

The most important thing that any leader can do right now is really, really listen.

And you can also reflect on the fact that the reason you may not recognise your privilege, your fragility, your negative biases or your racist beliefs is because the system was rigged way before you were born. So, you might just find, once you educate yourself more, that you’re a little bit racist too.

But don’t beat yourself up too much. Remember that it is the structure within which we all operate that is racist – so work towards becoming anti-racist yourself. Because being legally compliant and woke in your head is not enough.

The magnificent BLM movement has created a groundswell of shared lived experience of black lives around the world. Now is the time for real leaders to take the initiative and quite simply, do better.

Nyasha Pitt is a leading communications expert and recognised diversity and inclusion (D&I) professional, specialising in women’s equality, race and LGBT+. Alongside her role as founder of agency Living Content, Nyasha is chair of Coventry Pride’s board of trustees, vice-chair of Warwick Students’ Union, and an accredited neuro-linguistic programming practitioner.

To support black communities, see our collection of resources to read, reflect, open up discussions and enact positive change as we work together for an anti-racist future in all societies.

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