On 26th October 1966, the United Nations (UN) proclaimed that 21st March was International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a day that is now commemorated annually. On that day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid ‘pass laws’. The UN insisted that the global community intensified its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination.
Much action has been taken to address racism and equality since 1966 but yet we still live in a world where people face barriers to employment, education, and justice all because of the colour of their skin.
In the UK alone:
· Black children are 3.5 times more likely to be excluded from school (The Independent 2020),
· British citizens from ethnic minority backgrounds must make 60% more job applications to get a more positive response from employers (BBC 2019).
· Black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth (BBC 2021).
· Black and minority ethnic people are more than twice as likely to experience deep poverty
Statistics like this prove what we as black people know already. Racism is everywhere; it feeds its way throughout society. In the UK racism is a problem that nobody is willing to talk about.
In my view, racism and discrimination are caused by ignorance and an individual’s fear of what is different. Their inability or reluctance to open their eyes to learn how things are done in a different way. To recognise that where they have grown up, the way they live, their norms, and values are not superior to that of others. That their way is not the only way.
My only understanding of racial discrimination has been gained from experiencing it first hand or through the experience of friends and family members. I saw and experienced racism from the day I set foot on British soil aged 13. My most memorable experience of racism happened to me at age 15 on the streets of Liverpool. Two friends and I were approached and then attacked by at least 10 to 15 adult males all screaming profanities at us. The N-word was used more times than I could count. It was following this incident that I realised that no matter how or what I did, there would always be someone that would hate me simply because of the colour of my skin.
One of the reasons why I think that racism is still so prevalent in the UK is that it goes underground. People know what not to say, what words and views are not socially acceptable, so they keep them to themselves. Because the views are not aired, they are not challenged, and they, therefore, don’t change. I recall a time that a white colleague asked me to ‘go and see the coloured lady over there’ for help. Surprised, I immediately responded by saying she’s not ‘coloured’ she’s black and the term ‘coloured’ is offensive. She asked me why it was offensive, and we had a deep discussion about it. Feeling confident, the same lady grabbed me later that day and asked me if I could explain to her why it was offensive to say the word ‘half cast’. Again, we talked it through. The colleague thanked me for helping her to understand why these words were offensive. She told me how she had known that she shouldn’t use these words but didn’t know why. She wanted to understand but had never felt comfortable to ask the question. I can only hope that she shared my insights with others who maybe too, had been afraid to ask why.
I believe that the growth of the use of mediation in UK workplaces presents the opportunity to tackle racism and discrimination head-on. Mediation presents the opportunity for individuals to really talk in a safe place without fear of repercussions. We all know that only when we feel we can speak without fear do we really open up and voice our ‘underground thoughts’. In mediation, we often have the most honest conversations and complete the deepest self-reflection.
In this safe environment, the mediator can then work to help individuals separate perceptions from reality and identify their assumptions and replace them with facts. To help individuals to listen to each other and gain a shared understanding. Only through changed thinking and shared understanding can we make the workplace a more inclusive place for all.
I’m proud of the work that I do as a workplace mediator to support individuals to challenge their thinking and change behaviours. I believe that we can make a good stab at breaking the cycle of racism and discrimination one mediation at a time.