Keeping commitments to anti-racism alive in 2021

Our Senior Inclusion and Diversity Consultant Addison Barnett (Addie) talks about how we can ensure the Black Lives Matter movement, and wider commitments to anti-racism, don’t get left behind in 2020 but instead form part of what we do in 2021 and beyond. The events of the last week in the US, with far-right groups gaining access to Capitol Hill serves as a stark reminder that anti-racism should be at the centre of all of our efforts. Scroll down to read more...

Shortly after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in May 2020 me and three of my white friends set up a fortnightly anti-racist reading group. Every two weeks we talk through a chapter of ‘Me and White Supremacy’ by Layla Saad. At the rate of one chapter every two weeks it will take us around two years to complete the book. We deliberately chose to move through the book at a slow pace. In our initial discussion we all recognised the human tendency to only focus on what’s new and shiny, and to hop between new topics without allowing any learning and contemplation to take place. This is especially risky when topics require us to reflect honestly on our core beliefs, as a white person anti-racism will require discomfort. We can’t ‘fix’ racism in a day – it takes regular practice and work. Saad’s book is challenging, and rightly so, we need to be challenged to unpick the ways white supremacy influences how we think and what we do:

Perhaps you are wondering why I chose to use the words ‘white supremacy’ for this book and not something softer or less confrontational like ‘Me and White Privilege’ or ‘Me and Unconscious Bias’ […] White supremacy is an ideology, a paradigm, an institutional system and a worldview that you have been born into by virtue of your white privilege. […] Whether or not you have known it, it is a system that has granted you unearned privileges, protection and power.” (Saad 2020, 12-13)

Writing this now, at the start of January 2021, I think about Saad’s definition of white supremacy along with recent comments from by President-elect Joe Biden: “No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol.” We must name and confront white supremacy in all its guises. If we don’t see it and don’t name it, we can’t take action.

2020 saw organisations and individuals committing to anti-racist action. For many businesses this was the first time they’d made a public statement about any aspect of inclusion. These were necessary and important steps. The real test will be to see if those commitments carry on into 2021. The risk is that anti-racism falls down the priority list as we get distracted and challenged by the shifting sands of a global pandemic. The key is to ‘keep the good’ of 2020 – those commitments you made, the passion, the perspective change, and build it into your everyday. Find some time this month to reflect on the following questions:

  • What did you learn about anti-racism in 2020 – both individually and as an organisation?
  • How can you bring that learning into 2021?
  • What needs to change? How can you make that change sustainable?
  • Who can help you?

As I wrote this blog far-right protestors had gained access to Capitol Hill. These events, and particularly what appears (at time of writing) to be a stark contrast in the number of arrests and assumed danger of armed protestors gaining entry to a government building compared to last year’s BLM protests, remind us of the stark inequalities built into so many of our institutions. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the ‘size’ of the task ahead of us, but it’s worth remembering that institutions are made up of individuals, and as individuals we have power to make change happen.

Stay safe and well, and as always do get in touch with us if you’d like support in embedding anti-racism into your organisation at [email protected]

Addie