Black Lives Matter

Written by Martin James Admin

Black Lives matter. It’s a simple as that and I am not going to apologise for saying this or worry about offending people. If you agree with this statement, then I would urge you to become more active in the fight against injustice and inequality both inside and outside the workplace. To those who feel aggrieved by this statement, I am going to assume it’s because the sentiment is ‘why are we prioritising one community over others’, ‘we are all important’, ‘we all matter’. All lives do matter, that of course is true, however this statement implies there is a level playing field to begin with, which of course there isn’t. Until black people are free from the discrimination they face on a daily basis purely because of the colour of their skin, we cannot confidently say all lives matter, because clearly to some people they don’t ALL matter!

As a network we actively stand for positive mental health in the workplace. In addition to promoting positive working practices for everyone, we have services that focus on those individuals who are suffering the most with their mental health. Does this mean we don’t think everybody’s mental health isn’t important? Absolutely not! It just means there is a subset of the workforce that are more at risk and disadvantaged due to various factors, and we need focused attention on them to make sure they can access the same opportunities as everyone else. We are not going to stop actively supporting them just because we are afraid, we might offend everyone who has mental health (and we all have it!). We are going to name it and we are going to do something about it, because we stand for equality and inclusivity. This goes for our support for disadvantaged families and young people, ‘children in care’ matter, ‘families in need’ matter to us and no one would bat an eye lid if we used these strap lines. By having named campaigns, schemes and services targeted at these communities, does it mean that all other ‘families’ don’t matter? Of course it doesn’t, but we know we have to do more work to help certain groups of children and families whose outcomes in life would be significantly poorer if we didn’t! Equality is not about treating everyone the same, it is realising that we do not all have the same privileges and opportunities.

Watching the heart-breaking murder of George Floyd at the hands of a policeman, will have affected all of us. This man died purely and simply because of the colour of his skin, and there have been many others who have experienced a similar fate. If people do not call this out for what it is, if they don’t create movements to fight it and bring about the change that is so desperately needed, then they are also part of the problem. Staying silent is no longer an option. And before anyone thinks I am supporting the rioting and looting I am not, there have also been many peaceful demonstrations many of which haven’t been publicised but then they wouldn’t make a good news story! What I am saying is, by dismissing this by saying ‘it could have happened to anyone’, ‘all our lives matter’, ‘we are all suffering somehow’, or by focusing in on just the actions of the angry rioters, we are diminishing the harsh reality that many black people face fear and anxiety of negative judgement on a daily basis just because of the colour of their skin! They are even murdered because of it and we must start by raising our voices against this and redressing this imbalance if we have any hope of healing the whole of humanity.

I won’t apologise for making a stand against murder or anything else which supports the status quo of ongoing structural oppression, but I am well aware of the need to take people with us on this journey – no one likes to be made to feel guilty or responsible for bad things happening to ‘other’ people. So, we have to find practical ways to work together to be part of the solution. But the first step is to challenge our thinking, stop thinking well I have black friends so it’s OK, or there are plenty of successful black people so what’s the problem.

We should all google ethnocentrism because It doesn’t work like that. To help make it a bit easier, I want you to know I am guilty, I am guilty of not speaking out against my employers years ago when we were asked to follow black people around the fitting rooms and to ring a bell if they spent longer down there than anyone else, guilty of not challenging members of my own Asian community when they have used derogatory language, guilty of not doing enough to promote more inclusive recruitment policies and practices.

Again, I am not talking about tokenistic box ticking, I am talking about ensuring we are doing everything in our power to have a rich and diverse workforce with representation from all communities. We simply do not have enough from the black community. What are we doing about it?! Not enough. These are just a few examples. The point is there have been many opportunities for me to take a stand and yet I have been passive. Not good enough. I have been silent for far too long, silent for fear of judgement- look at her ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, ‘playing the race card’, ‘using her position to further her own agenda’ etc. All completely unfounded, but worries, nonetheless. But not anymore, I will not let my fears of being judged stop me talking out anymore. I have a voice and I am going to use it to do whatever I can to bring about more inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Please join me in supporting this, every voice that can help challenge discrimination, and is active, visible, and vocal in its support to a community that has experienced far too much pain and injustice, will make a difference. TalkOut because Black Lives Matter.