Great video from the West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network. We are lucky to have them on the patch.
What IS stopping you?
Great video from the West Yorkshire Racial Justice Network. We are lucky to have them on the patch.
What IS stopping you?
To, Those who would ‘engage’ us,
We are already engaged.
We may not be engaged with you, or in what you think we should be engaged with but we ARE engaged. The things that we are engaged with offer us what we are looking for, perhaps consciously, perhaps not. Our chosen ‘engagements’ give us some combination of love, power and money.
There is a fourth thing that some of us get from our preferred engagement, and that is freedom from pain. Freedom from the pain of hope denied. Freedom from the pain of optimism dashed. Freedom from the humiliation of yet another ‘failure’. This pursuit of freedom from pain is what you label ‘apathy’.
We may choose to engage with you, and your agendas, if you offer us what we want. Unless we see possibilities for this our engagement with you is likely to be short lived and will change nothing. It might be enough for you to tick the box called ‘community engagement’, but little more. Love and fun might attract us for a while, but it is making us powerful that keeps us engaged.
Many of us who you find ‘hard to reach’ or ‘difficult to engage’ have ‘been engaged’ with people like you before. We have been sold false hope and have suffered the pain of having that hope dashed when you let us down, or when you run out of funding. Your reputations go before you. Sometimes even your promise of cash can’t persuade us to engage…we know that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
You might pay us to move our muscles, or answer your questions, but you cannot buy our hearts and minds.
If you want to encourage us to change what we engage with, then you need to understand us, understand what we are looking for, and understand where our engagement is likely to take us. It is this ‘where it leads’ that is often the hardest part of the story for us to explore. Some of us have learned to live for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. But, if you can really offer us something that provides us with a genuine shot at a better future…
Often your approach appears to us to stand on the premise that you have the right to engage us in what you believe to be good for us. You impose your sensibilities and priorities. Or you impose the policy objectives of those who pay your wages. You force us into a parent child relationship.
Imagine that a powerful outsider came and tried to persuade you to live your life differently. To give up some of the things that you enjoy. To ‘persuade’ you to work on a project of their design. How would you respond? With enthusiastic compliance?
Perhaps instead of seeking to engage ‘us’ in your decision-making processes, or in co-creating your services, or in spending your budgets, you should instead seek to engage yourselves in our agendas, our decisions, our opportunities. You should put us as individuals and communities at the heart of your endeavours.
Before you seek to engage us in your agendas, perhaps you ought to spend a bit of time trying to engage yourselves in ours? Not by pushing your way in with your authority and your money.
But by winning an invitation. By being ‘helpful’.
So, the next time you sit down to write your engagement strategy, just think about what you might need to be like for us to invite you in.
John Varney, from the Centre for Management Creativity, read this to start off our third dialogue on Leadership Development and how we might transform it for a better future…
“So I’m quoting from Isaac’s book Dialogue.
“To listen, is to develop an inner silence. This is not a familiar habit for most of us. Emerson once joked that 95% of what goes on in our minds is none of our business”.William Isaacs – Dialogue
Then there is a quote,
“I do not know if you’ve ever examined how you listen, it doesn’t matter to what, whether to a bird, to the wind in the leaves to the rushing waters, or how you listen in a dialogue with yourself, to your conversation in various relationships with your intimate friends, your wife, or husband. If we try to listen, we find it extraordinarily difficult, because we’re always projecting our opinions and ideas, prejudices, our backgrounds our inclinations, our impulses. When they dominate, we hardly listen at all to what is being said. In that state, there is no value at all. One listens and therefore learns only in a state of attention. The state of silence in which this whole background is in abeyance, is quiet. Only then it seems to me is it possible to communicate”.William Isaacs – Dialogue
So the other bit I want you to read from the same book was about respect.
“To be able to see a person as a whole being we must learn another element in the practice of dialogue. Respect. Respect is not a passive act. To respect someone is to look for the spring that feeds the pool of their experience. The world word comes from the re-specsere, which means to look again, its most ancient roots mean to observe. It involves a sense of honouring or deferring to someone. Where once we saw one aspect of person, we look again and realise how much of them we had missed? This second look can let us take in more fully, the fact that here before me is a living, breathing being”.William Isaacs – Dialogue
So, there are various other principles that Isaacs’ goes on to spell out in dialogue, but we’re trying to get past just conversation. If you look at the people present in this dialogue, there is an extraordinary spread of expertise of life experience of knowledge, that we can pool, we can bring that into relationship, if we, if we listen and if we respect.”
And one of the things that I have learned recently about the etymology of leadership is that it shares the same roots as regard and respect…
If you would like to book a place on a future Leadership Dialogue to help us explore how we can transform the business of leadership development to shape a better world you can book on here…
In many ways. If I am at a meeting, especially of senior leaders, then most of them will share my gender and ethnicity. When I see role models in the media many of them will be white. If I apply for a job or bid for work it is highly likely that those selecting will be from my ethnic groups. Since childhood to be white was to be ‘the norm’.
Growing up in the 60s in the rural home counties any skin colour but white was seen as a rarity. I had to choose whether to be racist or anti-racist. Arthur Ashe or Buster Mottram? National Front or Anti Nazi League and Rock against Racism? It was not a choice my black school mates had.
When I go through Peggy Macintosh’s list of the items that structure white privilege in a day to day and very practical way – yes they all apply. All the time. And they work differently in different contexts and at different times. Even when I lived in a rural village in The Gambia in sub-saharan Africa my white privilege was still with me.
The fact that I can afford to take my own skin colour for granted is an enormous white privilege. It was never a source of worry or fear. Or pride for that matter. I could safely ignore it. However by ignoring my skin colour I was also blinded to the power of whiteness. To my own white power.
I thought white power was a ridiculous, white supremacists’ chant rather than something that directly and unfairly benefitted me.
I have always had easy access to the culture of my own ethnic group. Even when I lived in sub-saharan Africa, while I physically did not see many white people in the village I could easily tune the radio to access my own culture. So I never felt that my culture was denied or absent in my life. It was always the dominant culture. The successful culture. It has only been in recent years that China has emerged as a global power to seriously threaten the dominance of Caucasians.
I was in The Gambia for just over a year, and for much of that time it was quite difficult to meet another white person. There were a couple of Peace Corps in the village and generally The Gambia was full of ex-pats, but generally I lived and socialised with Gambians; Mandinka, Wolof, Jola, Serahule and Fula. And I learned that Gambia is the shape it is because of the way Africa was divided post war, largely using rulers and compasses, ands how the imposition of borders in the Sahara had made apparently made very little difference to the day to day life in tribal West Africa. I remember walking one day up to the border with Senegal. Just sand. But even here my whiteness protected me from some of the racism that black Africans from other countries received from Gambians. I remember one teacher had walked from Cameroon to the The Gambia to take up a teaching post and he got a hard time because he was not of the Gambia or from one of the local tribes. I was protected from all that because of my association with power and money that came with my skin colour.
I don’t think I have ever been discriminated against unfairly because of my ethnicity – again even in West Africa to be white was seen to bestow power; education and access to networks and resources.
I have never been subjected to violence because of my skin colour. For my politics and football allegiances yes – but never skin colour.
I find this question hard to answer. I know I have often been invited to speak with BAME networks and feel guilty when I am the white man at the front of the room teaching the BAME networks about power and empowerment. I always feel conflicted in this work as historical power structures are re-created. I have always tried to name it and to talk about it – but even my choice to do that is an exercise in white privilege.
I don't like the acronym BAME but don't know what else might work. Layla F Saad uses BIPOC meaning Black, indigenous and people of colour but again that does not feel appropriate for me to use. Getting used to the inadequacy of words, their clumsiness and the vulnerability they bestow on the user who as at the edge is another thing that those of with white privilege, using our first language to explore our concepts of race, perhaps don't experience that often.
In political processes I have always supported the candidates who most closely fit with my political beliefs rather than perhaps vote for the person or party most likely to pursue racial justice. I wold NEVER vote or someone who was overtly racist – but I perhaps have never gone deeply enough into the record of politicians on anti-racism.
I have competed with BAME people for jobs and tenders without ever really considering the privileges I enjoy in that competition.
I think the thing that makes me most uncomfortable about it is that it is slippery, evasive, structural as well as personal and difficult for me to see. Whiteness is like an invisible superpower. I feel like a fish coming to terms with water.
I was involved to small degree back in the late 70s and early 80s with movements like Rock against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. However I realise now that while that was helpful in uncovering and combatting overt racism it did little to explore and reveal the more subtle and structural racism that patterns our society. That pattern me. It was as simple as ‘good white people and their black allies’ against the ‘bad white people’.
Whenever I try to work in a way that I hope is ‘anti-racist’ it feels like an expression of privilege and hubris. Even writing as honestly as I can about the reflections prompted by the book I have this nagging sense of doubt. Doubting my own intentions in this exercise of privilege.
Who am I to think I can help? Especially uninvited…
But then who would I be to do nothing?
I first got involved in issues around the politics of race back in the late 70s when I was a teenager. Back then we were faced with a number of stark choices about how to fit in.
I wasn’t especially informed but choices had to be made. Choosing football teams, musical genres and orientation towards or away from skin colour felt compulsory. So Rock against Racism and Anti Nazi League badges joined the Chelsea scarf and the Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Pink Floyd albums in defining me as a teenager. It wasn’t until Sandinista that I really got into The Clash and worked my way back through time into punk…
Those early choices have stayed with me. It might have been so very easy for me to choose differently because they were not especially well informed by inquiries into morality, ethics and human rights. They more informed by my own survival instincts…
I can see now having that choice was an example of white privilege.
My current development around the issue of racial justice is to work through Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad. The title alone grabbed me gently by the throat. No weasel words of inclusion and diversity – but a very direct naming of a power dynamic.
The book offers, after a short introduction, 28 prompts for reflection through a brief introduction to some key concepts and then some questions that invite you to reflect personally on how the concept has played out in your life as a white person. The book is written for white people.
I decided that I would journal some of my reflections for several reasons:
So over the next few weeks and months as I work through the book I will be as open and honest as I can in sharing reflections. I am sure that some days they might be pretty shallow and rushed – but I can always go back and develop further.
I am also worried about language. Im sure it will be clumsy, perhaps at times ignorant as I try to find the right words to express reflections and partly formed thoughts. If they ever trigger offence, anger or any other emotion or though tin you please do find a way to let me know. You can use the comments on a post or through the contact form