In her bestselling book about multi-cultural London ‘White Teeth’ author Zadie Smith describes hindsight as always being viewed in 20-20 vision. Reflecting on the year 2020, many of us can now see clearly how unprecedented the year has been.
The ravages of COVID19, combined with the public killing of George Floyd – PLUS – the tidal waves of lockdown, have converged to present us all with a tsunami of conscience. Indeed, this perfect storm has revealed and laid bare a deeper insight, a virus within a virus which impacts all of society……..institutional racism. The damaging and often drowning effect of racial inequality, as each of us charter these ever choppy waters, means that whilst we are all impacted, some of us find ourselves in different boats.
For some, today’s climate is a familiar one. Yep, we really have been here before. Consider the racially motivated murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959, or study Paul Stephenson’s Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 and who can forget the heart scorching New Cross Fire which stole the lives of 13 people who were simply enjoying a house party in 1981? Each of these milestones serve as a stark reminder of the disparities and lived experience of British Black people, alongside their white friends, colleagues and enemies.
Yet, incredibly for some, today’s attention to racial inequalities arrive as new and unpredicted waves crashing up against an otherwise comfortable shoreline. Even as Black voices are being amplified, there are those who have responded to a discomfort within, by expressing surprise, disdain and even denial. We have heard elected leaders in positions of relative power attempting to declare generations of legitimate study and established theory, illegal. This intellectually lazy attack on robust research has given rise to a tide of rejection with hierarchical instructions to ditch terms like ‘white privilege’ and ‘anti-racism’.
Ultimately, of course, ‘wicked problems’ will never be relegated. The negative impact of racism on our society i.e. the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, cannot be navigated unless they are challenged and dismantled. As the writer and civil rights campaigner James Baldwin put it “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”.
So, as this unpredicted, unforgiving, unprecedented year of 2020 closes and we prepare to drop our surfboard into the water for 2021, let’s set our sails for the wind of change, committed to a new normal that will be more equitable.
Let’s start by nurturing psychologically safe spaces at work. Let’s further demonstrate our ability to care about each other by welcoming greater openness and building deeper trust. Let’s be bold enough to invite healthy challenge and brave enough to bridge empathy gaps. Let’s embrace the things that really matter; leadership that listens and hears, activities which educate and act, strategies which eliminate injustice and inspire wider inclusion……BECAUSE LEADERSHIP MATTERS!!!