Recently there has been much conversation in the voluntary sector and the criminal justice system about white privilege, prejudice and unconscious bias. It has been a good start to a long overdue dialogue, not to say that we have not been speaking about racism and oppression but now it seems more en vogue and acceptable to have open talks. In order to make sure discourse is followed by action, we must also challenge the perceptions and attitudes currently at bay, even those said with the best of intentions.
It could be argued that we must also go a step further than challenging perceptions and attitudes, and that the key to diversity and equality in any sector, is about the giving up and exchanging of power. For example, if you are a white man in a space that is dominated by white men, would you give up your seat around the table in order to diversify the collective voice? If you are running a white led organisation and there is funding available that is specifically for working with young black men, are you going to bid for it or move out of the way so a Black community-led organisation can have a chance? These are the more difficult conversations that are yet to be had. Social inclusion is not just about the changing of individual attitudes, it is about market reform, economic opportunity and social security. In the voluntary sector and criminal justice system, it is about opening up opportunities for BAME organisations, not just in the form of partnerships but in some cases stepping out of the way entirely. To say in short, when it comes to diversity and equality, black mentors are good, but black owned businesses are better.
The subject of diversity and equality is not just about being self-aware and the diversifying of our leadership teams, it is about challenging the structures that create the problems and not being ignorant to the role we all play in an oppressive system, this is also true in the wider sphere of NGO’s and international development. It can be argued, that most of our charities and enterprises exist within a system that is ingrained with racism and oppression, therefore if we wish to combat these issues we must focus our resources on rebuilding the systems themselves. By providing opportunities for BAME organisations to not only survive but thrive and feel safe we begin to create a fairer and more balanced society. With the best intentions, white-led charity and voluntary organisations need to also understand they can represent all that is oppressive within our society, whether they mean to or not. There are many BAME individuals that do not want to work for white led organisations or form mergers, we like our independence and believe that our communities need to be self-sustainable to stand a chance; this poses the question, rather than being a CEO leading by example in your organisation, how can your organisation lead by example in society?
It must also be understood that there is a difference between a white led organisation that has diversified it’s teams and a BAME founded and led organisation. The differences will be subtle, at times unconscious and deeply rooted in the cultural understanding of the organisation but it is these differences that we can argue, matter the most.
To finalise, we all must remember that it can feel very good to help those in need and be part of someone’s journey to ‘recovery’ but this mind state is also part of the problem. We must not resolve ourselves to being ambulances under the cliff, we must strive to find real solutions that tackle root causes, that change systems and challenge social structures. True diversity and equality will come when there is a re-balancing of power.