Words of Colour's director of creative wellbeing and people, reflects on four decades of anti-racist activism and explains why amid the Black Lives Matter protests globally, she is optimistic that change will come.
Now is the time for change, as the world is forced to bear witness – yet again – to the pain and injustice Black people suffer day to day, and over a lifetime.
We’ve been here before. I am an elder, in my early 60s, witnessing this landscape. I am taken back through my own journey, one of Black consciousness raising and activism over four decades, working in the social work sector to embed anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practice in the profession.
Time spent developing Black workers and promoting Black women’s rights in the public and civic spheres, choosing to work with white institutions who wanted to improve their anti-discriminatory policies, each time collaborating with others (Black and white). Throughout which we hung on to the hope that we would bring about change. Each time we did make a difference, but not the revolutionary change I had hoped for.
Today, as we see Black Lives Matter’s peaceful protests across the country in response to George Floyd’s death, I once again feel I am witnessing the energy for change and an urgent need to harness this unique moment. And once again I hope this time it will be different.
What does feel different for me this time round is that this anti-racist uprising is happening in the digital age – where everyone can bear witness. The speed at which information is being exchanged – locally and globally – is astounding. There is less space and less opportunity to hide from and deny the reality of racial discrimination, inequalities and their often brutal consequences on Black people’s lives (though some still try).
Young people are taking up the mantle and have their own analyses, like we did. But what must be kept at the forefront of their minds is a keen and laser-focused examination and understanding of how structural discrimination and racism really works, both overtly and covertly, and dismantle it. Unless this happens, we will keep being forced to revisit and experience anger, despair and disillusionment.
Somehow, I believe we can come together to create new ways of living and relating that are just, respectful and life-enhancing for Black people and people of colour.
While the death of George Floyd is shocking and heart-breaking, in the aftermath we have been gifted a transformative power, if we chose to engage with it.
As Black people, we need to continue to build our understanding of self, hold tight to our values, use our knowledge, skills, creativity – and our economic power -strategically to be the part of overdue change.
White people now have to take ownership of their individual and collective responsibilities for how their power has reshaped our history – and not in our favour.
The state and corporate and arts institutions have to own their responsibility in the change we need to see with a root and branch self-examination, and not the window dressing that often gets whipped out in response to being called to account.
We all have a contribution to make. For me, at this time, it is centred on nurturing Black people and people of colour’s wellbeing. To strengthen their resilience, enabling them to be all they can be and to be part of a sustainable change that includes us and enriches our lives.