By virtue of being white I’m in a kind of club.
A club of fellow Brits who take credit for the invention of the flushing toilet and the discovery of penicillin.
A club whose members made their mark on the world without having to navigate persecution, discrimination or illiteracy.
And I now live in a country that was the first to allow women not just to vote, but also to stand for parliament. So, through no effort on my part I find myself on various different winning teams.
But has the match itself been fixed?
I have the luxury of not giving much thought to my ancestry. Of not having to be aware of the struggles or triumphs of those who preceded me, because it has little impact on my life today.
Or little negative impact, to be more accurate.
I take my right to freedom, an education and a vote for granted. I’m in the club after all.
I see this position as one of neutrality- the baseline for everyone else’s lived experience, the bare minimum.
But recently I’ve discovered that this assumption, made from the security of my comfy white armchair, is incorrect.
The amplification of the Black Lives Matter movement has taught me that my friends, colleagues and peers of colour do not view their life through the same lens.
I am in fact in a position of privilege, and this privilege is not defined by getting a leg up in life, but by having an absence of obstacles to overcome.
That a sense of entitlement is not thinking I’m better than anyone else, but assuming that everyone else is just like me.
I reached adulthood and gainful employment without having to consider whether my whiteness might reduce my social currency or my opportunities for professional development.
And why would I?
My reality is based on what I know of where ‘people like me’ have come from- and it isn’t a bad place at all.
In the UK, October is Black History Month (held in July here in Australia)- 31 days of acknowledging and celebrating the historical achievements and experience of People of Colour.
Alongside other officially sanctioned ‘days’, ‘weeks’ and ‘months’, it’s a sorry state of affairs that Black History Month even needs to be a thing.
But it does.
Because before George Floyd and Breonna Taylor became household names earlier this year, many of us gave minimal thought to alternative cultural interpretations of what we consider to be the truth about world events- both past and present.
And until the national curriculum makes black history a mandatory and significant inclusion within the education of British history, we’re providing children with a predominantly Eurocentric perspective.
One they will carry into their lives as leaders, employers, friends and humans.
Australia does a slightly better job with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures in their cross curriculum priorities. But for as long as people pat themselves on the back for saying ridiculous things like ‘I don’t see colour’, we need to spend a month every year taking a good look at how we perpetuate the complexities of racism in our workplaces and wider lives.
I can see how it’s easy to inadvertently invalidate the lived experience of others if we aren’t properly informed about the people and events who transformed the struggle for racial uplift and inspired future generations to do the same.
But not wanting to be that person, I accepted that I had a choice:
1. Educate and challenge myself to develop an informed opinion, have uncomfortable conversations, and grow as a result of them.
2. Continue to duck my responsibility to advocate for others, remain ignorant, and become increasingly irrelevant in a modern workplace.
I opted for door number 1, and asked to join the Hunted group Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging committee.
Launching myself headfirst into no holds barred look at the state of our own DI&B, and an ongoing project to practice what we preach.
So what do we preach?
In short: transparency, accountability and consistency.
Because we can’t be faithful to our value of ‘Progress over perfection’, if we do not investigate and acknowledge our current weaknesses.
We cannot ‘Speak up, speak openly, speak often’, if we don’t create a culture that enables vulnerability.
We’re unable to ‘Never stop learning’, if we don’t provide the team with the tools and resources to engage with this critical aspect of their personal and professional development.
We’re not ‘Stronger together’ if don’t provide a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
And we’ll never ‘Change the game’ in a people- centric industry, if we don’t hold ourselves and others (both internally and externally) to high standards regarding what is essentially Human Rights.
Some of this process is no more complicated than producing a glossary of terms, so that we each have the appropriate language to discuss all areas of Diversity & Inclusion with confidence and clarity.
Other elements have been trickier to navigate- such as anonymously surveying everyone’s sense of belonging, in a business small enough to identify one another from the syntax we use.
So Black History Month has been an invaluable opportunity for us to share knowledge and have discussions that stretch us.
Acknowledging the power of stories, we have taught one another about key figures in black history and modern black British icons, through informal peer learning sessions.
We’ve exchanged book recommendations on literature that has had an impact on us, and we’re enjoying regular film nights together- connecting via Zoom to experience seminal movies that give a popular culture voice to black history.
Our digital black history learning resource is now bulging at the seams- full of TED talks, articles and YouTube videos that we’ve been keen to share with one another.
At the end of the month our regular online Friday drinks is becoming a black history pub quiz.
And we’ve committed to using the visibility of our brand to include others on our journey- taking time to craft social content that reflects our stand on black history.
We want to celebrate the diversity of our cultures, acknowledge how our differing racial histories influence us, and harness that for the good of the business.