What progress has been made on anti-racism, a year since the murder of George Floyd?

On May 25 2021, it will be a year since the murder of George Floyd. Here our Special Project Inclusion and Diversity Consultant, Sandy Sohal, reflects on the UK's response to his death, how we have progressed and what steps we can take next.

We are almost a year on from the murder of George Floyd, a horrifying (and yet depressingly unsurprising) incident which led to global protests against racism. For the first time in my lifetime, it felt like a constructive conversation was being had, that included everyone – not just those who experience racism. We were cautiously optimistic that the change we have been wanting for so long was finally within reach. Companies found themselves under the spotlight from employees and customers alike, and began to look at how they could remedy the inequalities they saw in their data. Commitments were made, learning began, and many people and organisations began a long journey towards anti-racism.

A British conversation?

…And yet. I believe that we in the UK have yet to have a real and tangible reckoning on the racism within our own society and the part each of us plays in perpetuating it. Here’s why: almost every conversation I have heard about race in this country in the past year has started with “following the murder of George Floyd”, (for which Chauvin has just been convicted) or, more often, a ‘palatable’ or euphemistic version of that sentence. This seems a very neat way of compartmentalising the issue as something that happens ‘over there’ in the USA and not ‘over here’ in the UK. And, I do wonder how we can make any progress on anti-racism in the UK if we’re only able to discuss racism in the context of another country.

As it goes, I think this is the reason why we saw such a furore over the Harry and Meghan interview: we had spent all year pointing the finger at America over their racism, and now an American was unequivocally pointing the finger at us! There was nowhere to hide, and the defensiveness of the national reaction seemed more pronounced than what we’d seen last summer. This, along with the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities’ much-contested report, shows me that we still have a lot of work to do to reach racial equity in this country.  

Where are we now?

That said, we should acknowledge that progress has been made in the past year, individually, within organisations and as a nation. I’ve had the privilege of talking to lots of people across a variety of industry sectors over the past few months, who have generously given their time and experience to help me shape our anti-racism toolkit.  One of our key takeaways is that everyone is in a different place: as with anything else, organisations come to initiatives and strategies with different approaches and at different paces.  Some have done lots of impactful work already and others want to but just haven’t known quite where or how to start.

We saw some actively and publicly stand against racism – the major supermarkets clubbing together with Channel 4 last Christmas being one example, and fund managers like Legal & General insisting on racial representation on boards being another. The less said about those who have made public statements that haven’t been backed up with action – or even internal communication in some cases (the ‘black square’ brigade), the better.   

Join us for our upcoming events

Inclusive Employers turns 10 this year, and our birthday coincides with the anniversary of George Floyd’s murder.  We felt it really important that we mark not only his death but the work it inspired here in the UK. With that in mind we have added the following events to our schedule:

We hope that these will not only be interesting, but also equip you with some practical tips and new ideas and perspectives for your anti-racism work. We look forward to seeing you there – click on the links above for full details and to book your place.

What I’m reading: ‘AI is increasingly being used to identify emotions’ – a fascinating, and scary, exploration of the bias in Emotion Recognition Technology (a type of artificial intelligence). Written by academics for The Conversation.

What I’m watching: Dreaming Whilst Black – Adjani Salmon’s 2018 observational comedy now has a one-episode pilot with the BBC (iPlayer)

What I’m listening to: https://www.theguardian.com/news/audio/2021/apr/06/why-the-governments-race-report-sparked-a-furious-backlash-podcast a thoughtful discussion on the Commission’s report and the reaction to it, recommended to me by my colleague Aminata Pungi

Click here to find out more about our anti-racism toolkit