The reaction to racism has sent the UK, along with much of the world, into gestural frenzy. Well, it’s less a reaction to racism and more a reaction to a fear of pointing fingers. Unless, of course, they had never have heard of racism before? Seems unlikely.
Now, everybody seems to be checking themselves into social virtue Kwik Fit for a re-tune. Ex post facto soul-cleansing at its starkest.
A quick abracadabra, and it’s all sorted.
CEOs banging out endless tissues of desperately poor and insincere social media content on why black lives matter, all from their white-only boardrooms.
Football authorities who feel that a mandatory Black Lives Matter banner on shirts will be more effective than a movement of 27 years standing, Kick It Out. Maybe it will be. It’s hardly been a roaring success, has it? 27 years of t-shirts and slogans.
Knee-taking police officers who feel that gestures of humility will wash away their sins, or the sins of those whose allegiance to ‘the job‘ trumps black lives every time.
And those cops misread the room with that one and subsequently had to deal with an emboldened crew of extremists who had sniffed out weakness, blocked an attempted arrest and had chased all the little piggies home.
For so many, it truly is more a case of ‘appearances matter‘.
Whether it’s business, policing, or life, people are going to have to walk the walk. They cannot hope to pony up a quick PowerPoint presentation and sell a new world. It actually has to happen.
But in institutions throughout the country, equality has never really mattered, and people block progress. They don’t promote an agenda, and they’re not out on the streets. They simply do what they do. And they’re very difficult to stop. They are indeed the antithesis to the current protests, and they have been getting results since the year dot. Namely the current world order.
I used to work in recruitment and if you consider this to be a central valve to progress, it won’t surprise you to learn that this artery for black people remains largely clogged.
Diversity initiatives and policies and are largely for the end-of-campaign reviews. It’s all window dressing that ticks boxes and closes the lid on obligations.
There are indeed well-meaning folk who blend art and science into progressive plans, but initiatives are invariably spiked or diluted, ostensibly because of budget. That’s a helpful safety net for opposition because the bottom line is the bottom line.
Amazingly, within organisations, those who promote diversity initiatives are viewed rather like internal protestors. They’re allowed to have their say before being kettled and shunted off to their day jobs. External recruiters who are called upon to magic them up do so to get the gig, but they know that any plans they submit will get filed to be diarised at an unspecified point in the future.
That means canned and bureaucratically poked into oblivion.
In other situations, matters are somewhat more indirect. Favoured candidates are simply slotted in to senior roles, which means that strong minority candidates never reach the starting gate. In over 30 years, I never saw a Black British person handpicked for a role. Never. But plenty of others, who also happened to be abjectly hopeless, most certainly were and were destined to remain in post to continue the process and consolidate the status quo.
Me? I’d just prefer to see fair processes. You would hope that organisations would prefer to inject talent in to the ranks and achieve more success, but that’s not how many of them see the world. They would prefer to preserve their boys’ club businesses that do ok but do especially nicely for average people who just want to cruise in comfort.
Even when minority representation in recruitment is tracked in all sincerity, there is a tendency to lump every non-white candidate under a BAME (black and minority ethnic) label. In review meetings, BAME can become synonymous with ‘Black‘, so when the BAME number in any context increases, everyone shouts ‘success!’ and inaugurate a mutual backslap. However, the true status of Black British representation remains buried, as do their prospects for progress.
The PowerPoint is usually uplifting and very positive, though.
So, there are some real obstacles to overcome that require more risk and commitment than some online posturing.
The boldest step will be to acknowledge that most interventions to unseat systemic racism have not worked. In fact, they have failed atrociously in terms of both their project objectives and what that actually means for black people in the UK today. Their careers, their lives, and those of their children.
To effect change, there must be a reprioritisation that puts equality before profit. There need to be processes and accountability, together with informed risk. We have after all just tanked the economy to battle coronavirus on the basis of a lot less evidence.
The investment and the depth of change now will reflect just how important this issue is felt to be. Then we’ll understand whether black lives really do matter.
There are no quick fits with this one and no magic wand. And definitely no more illusions, please.
We’ve worked out how the last ones were done.