[A speech delivered at BLM Sandbach, 29th August 2020]
A few years ago I stood on a TEDx stage and talked about KillerStereotypes. Killerstereotypes are undeniable, and often unconscious, and I discuss ways in which we can address inequality by learning to recognise and challenge them. It led to consulting opportunities with a variety of industries around the world in how to use inclusion to improve outcomes for all. I’m going to talk you all today but my message is mainly for White Allies: - Why You?
- Why Now? - What Next?
My work has taught me that in order to work effectively, to save time, money and stress, we must work together. Why you? Because when working with clients, I demand only that they commit to inclusive leadership. Why you? Because inclusive leadership doesn’t stem from your job title. Being a leader comes from within. Every single minute of every single day you lead yourself. You lead yourself to action or apathy. You lead yourself to learn or ignore. You lead yourself to Do or to Nothing.
To lead others, you must first lead yourself – to identify your strengths and use them. Don’t focus on the barriers you face or what you can’t do. Focus your energy on what you can do, because inclusive teams with their inclusive leaders overcome barriers together. Their diversity ensures collective teams have the skills isolated individuals don’t. United, WE are all that we need to reach our anti-racist objective. Why YOU? Why not? And I ask this sincerely. We don’t need white guilt and burnout. We need sustained micro-progressions to counter the impact of macro & micro-agressions. We need to acknowledge that without each of us leading ourselves, we will continue to leave the emotional, unpaid labour of dismantling racism to the people affected to fight alone. So why not you? Identify the barriers you have to leading your anti-racist journey. Is it time? Knowledge? Fear? Identifying barriers is how inclusive leaders overcome them. Know you’re in good company, a united group who are here to support you.
Why YOU? Because you matter. Your voice, your skills, your energy, your experiences. You matter.
Why NOW? I haven’t known Katie and Keelie for long. And I wouldn’t know them at all had they not spoken out about the racism they’d experienced here and – more importantly – then been told they were wrong. My mind still reels that a town such as this feels that silent acceptance of this bullying, harrassment and discrimination on grounds of skin tone is “Up For Debate”. That a 98% white town gets to decide whether the 29 black people’s racist experiences are significant? That referring me to the demographic data was in some way justification for silencing the voice of the minority?!
Why now? Because this 98% white town could seem so limited in it’s outlook, so busy looking for peaceful ignorance of the beauty and benefits diversity has to offer that “I’ve never experienced racism” has become a genuine rebuttal FROM WHITE PEOPLE to those who have. Why now? Because in the words of James Baldwin: How Much Time Do You Want For Your Progress? We know this fight didn’t start with George Floyd’s murder. But what has been done before hasn’t worked. Who did all the work? Black people. Can we fix it without working together? No! But it’s clear that now it’s time for this 98% white town to do some work.
What work? Well let’s look – What NEXT? Look, listen, learn. Look to your left and look to your right. Look at the friends you have here today. Connect. We are unstoppable, when we work together.
Then, Listen. Listen. Listen some more. Listen to the pain, frustration and disappointment within this community. Listen again. To the positivity. To the unity. To the hope. When we hear the challenges facing our friends and neighbours, when we understand their aims, we can use our strengths to Engage, Educate and Empower those we meet. In our homes, in our schools, in communities and workplaces. Listen – on your TVs, on your radios, in your papers and newsfeeds. Engage, educate and empower those you meet. Then… I need you to Listen AGAIN. To the agitators. The resisters. Those reducing racism in front of their black and white buildings to colour blind claims and all lives matter. Listen to their lack of empathy, lack of knowledge, lack of understanding. To exclude them from the conversation is to negate their significance in sustaining inequality. To know their reasons is our opportunity. Currently, their reasons are a barrier to our success and what do we – inclusive leaders – do when we face a barrier to meeting our shared objective? We work collectively to overcome it. And to know their reasons, along with doing the reading, the research, the work, here we have an opportunity to LEARN.
And learn, we will. But we won’t all be perfect. Mistakes have and will be made. Our reactions to mistakes and our ability to learn – for ourselves and our others – will define our success. Nobody became racist overnight and becoming anti-racist will take time. So I ask that we are forgiving of ourselves, as I know Katie and Keelie have been. You see – we have an opportunity here. In a town sadly famed for playing down racism, mollycoddling racists to save face of a town I don’t care to recognise, we can now become a famously inclusive, anti-racist town. Working together, learning with Black Lives Matter groups across rural and urban areas, we will identify allies and continue to garner strength until the silent compliance is deafened by a sustained and successful roar of progress where we can say with confidence; Black Lives Matter.