Race Matters

Fri, 29 May 2020
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#UnleashInclusion – Race Matters by Dee Jas, colourfull

Another sunny Thursday and another workshop on Race Matters. And phew, did we get into it (an hour didn’t feel like we did the topics justice). Today we examined 3 distinct concepts: Whiteness as a default, Privilege and Institutional Racism. They are heavy words, yet incredibly important if we want to talk about race with purpose and authenticity.

For those who read our previous blog, we talked about the racial hierarchy at work (Kandola, 2018) and how this mirrors society at large. Often, when we talk about race, our first instincts make us think about people classed as BAME or People of Colour (POC). But if we don’t examine all parts of the hierarchy, no change or progress can be made.

Starting wide, we looked at Whiteness as the default (underpinned by Whiteness theory, an offshoot of critical race theory). This simply means that Whiteness is centred as ‘normal’ be that in terms of behaviour, culture and appearance – but having something as ‘normal’ means that anything else is regarded as ‘other’ and trust me that when you’re not the norm, you know!

We examined privilege, namely how different parts of our identity can give us different advantages. In the context of race, being White is considered a privilege. There has been pushback from people who identify as White, who believe that their lives have not been easy. I hear ya – I’m not saying you haven’t struggled, it’s just that your skin colour is not making it harder.

Speaking eloquently without the astonishment of others is White privilege (I’ve been told I speak English so well on more than one occasion despite being born and raised in London). Seeing all types of media and seeing your race represented well is White privilege.

Is this a call for people to feel ashamed or guilty for being White? Absolutely not! It’s to invite White people to reflect on to what extent race has shaped their life. And to acknowledge that having such privilege does not mean you’re racist, but that it is a product of historical racism (as shared in Workshop 1).

What has this got to do with work? If we accept that being White is the norm and where power lies, then if you’re White, you’ll see yourself reflected in the office and senior leadership team. You’ll be viewed as normal, without the stereotypes that exist for POC. In turn, this shapes the way an organisation works, often unintentionally in creating barriers that hold POC back – be that attitudes, behaviours, actions and/or processes.

I’m often asked what does institutional racism feel like, and I compare it to the glass ceiling for women. It’s invisible. You know it’s there. And together, we can smash through it.

Looking forward to the final workshop of this series next week!