End of year reflections…

As we draw to the end of an incredibly challenging year for all of us I am conscious of the need to not poke too hard this week. For many, today marks the end of a difficult, tough and unrelenting year. I have to admit to crawling to the finish line and am looking forward to the pyschological reset that 2021 will bring…

I look back on 2020 with mixed emotions. I feel that the appetite for more inclusive practice and social justice is probably the highest it has been in my lifetime. I have had more powerful conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion this year than in all the previous years of my career. And yet, there is a equally powerful sense that making this societal shift feels somehow more demanding.

The language of privilege and fragility are important but they can often be ‘weaponised’ and used to stoke resentment and condemnation especially when positioned unhelpfully out of context. There are many individuals who seek to preserve the status quo and also have positions of influence and power. It is really important that we unite next year to continue the work we have started and campaign for a fairer, more equitable society. However, to do so will mean seeking to understand people with opposite opinions to our own. We need to understand their concerns and perspectives if we hope to build their empathy for our aspirations. Equity is not about putting other people down but about lifting everyone up.

The principle of ‘levelling up’ could be so much more than a political buzzword. In the same way as I feel we need to reclaim the word ‘woke’ and own it with pride I wonder if in 2021 we could hijack the ‘levelling up’ agenda? At present there is a distinct lack of clarity about what it really means. Is it economic short hand for ensuring that the gulf between London and the rest of the UK doesn’t widen any further and actually begins to close. Or could it mean the creation of a true level playing field for people across Britain…

In this post I’ll confess that I am ending 2020 feeling a little bit tired but that’s nothing a couple of weeks’ rest won’t fix. Then I’ll be back, with my weight firmly on my front foot, seeking to create a just, fair and equitable society for all.

Where do you belong?

Welcome to the first guest blog on the site that has been kindly shared by Nikki Squelch (@squelchisms), thank you. As always please feel welcome to join the discussion using the comments box below.

I am a white immigrant. I know I am privileged. I have never had to escape a country because of my political or religious beliefs, my sexual orientation or even for economic reasons. But nonetheless I am an immigrant. 

At 28, I became an accidental immigrant. I have spent more time in the UK in my adult life then anywhere else, yet I often feel like my legitimacy for being here is questioned. I know that I am loved by many here, yet there are times when I feel like a visitor, or worse a trespasser.

Who doesn’t want to live on a big Island reputed for sunshine and surf? Who doesn’t want to live in the land of plenty? Why would anyone leave Australia, when so many want to live there?

Well, me.

Actually, I am torn. I miss family and friends. I don’t miss the heat or humidity. My heart sometimes aches to see folks back in Oz and to breathe in the vast horizons. To smell the sea and eucalyptus that is so uniquely ‘home’. But I come from a long line of migrants. The great grandparents travelled from Ireland, Scotland and England to the shores of the US and Australia.

I grew up believing that where I was, was the best country in the world. I had nothing to compare it to. And it is the best country for some. But it is not the best country for all people. I know what lays beneath the sun, sea and shine of the great sunburnt country. I have witnessed the ugliest forms of racism. All forms are ugly and unjust, but when informed by policy and law and acted upon by people, it is wrong and causes a pain that runs deep through the country.

As a person who loves to travel and enjoys meeting new people and has witnessed the beauty and richness that diverse cultures can bring to community life, I find racism perplexing, bewildering, confusing, on top of it all being plain wrong. It has an impact on how I feel about living in both Australia and the UK. I have the appetite to learn and try to understand more and what I can do about it.

But cultural difference and racism runs deep and is complex. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing. In fact, it is because it is uncomfortable and perplexing there is even more reason to act.

In the UK, I am often asked when am I going back to Australia. Why do I live here? Or even, how could I live here. I’ve experienced people mocking my colonial past. Correcting my pronunciation of certain words and joking about my written English. It has impacted on my sense of belonging. Feeling like an outsider.

It’s an odd space to occupy. A desire to be here, to have the life I choose. To know that I am privileged to have this choice. To know that many would choose differently. To have to explain why here and not there. To have it assumed that I must surely have a plan to go back.

It’s an odd space to occupy and it impacts on how much I feel I truly belong.

Now, I imagine what it would be like if my skin colour or my hair was different. My spine shivers and I also worry about my past behaviour and the unintended negative impact it may have had on colleagues and friends. I have experienced cultural micro-aggressions that have made me feel I don’t belong. I know that I have probably delivered micro-aggressions too. Sorry!

I know that having the desire to be anti-racist and an ally is not enough. I know that reading about it, is not enough. I got to a point where I have moved from asking ‘is it racist’ to the operating reality of asking ‘to what extent is racism at play here’.

I will take my personal experience to improve and avoid making assumptions about any culture.

My personal actions to show that #ImNotTired are:

  • To stay curious. Continue to read, learn and listen.
  • To be both humble and brave. If I witness something that seems wrong, then it probably is and I will speak up. If I am told that I got something wrong (and I will) I will say sorry and seek further understanding.

What else can I do to be a good ally?

What else can we all do to make sure that everyone feels like they belong?

If you want to read more from Nikki head over to nomadnikandson.wordpress.com

‘Positive change’

This week the honesty of two individuals I greatly admire has been my inspiration. On Monday night I foolishly attempted to dual screen and it didn’t work. I was desperate to watch the Anton Ferdinand documentary but also wanted to see if my beloved West Ham could climb the Premier League table to 5th place. In the end ‘Football, Racism and Me’ won and I watched the Hammers highlights later on.

Last night I listened to Anton again, this time in discussion on TalkSport, and he repeatedly talked about wanting to move on and focus on ‘positive change’. I have an enormous amount of respect for him for his honesty, his humility and his vulnerability. It was brave, it was bold and it was emotional, especially the moment when he discussed watching the documentary with his seven year old son. I have shared my own lived experience in a small group and know how challenging and difficult that is to do, so for Anton to do it on this scale is inspirational. If you missed either I encourage you to watch / listen on catch up.

Anton Ferdinand, who by the way also scored one of the greatest goals I’ve ever seen for West Ham vs Fulham

Last week, I shared my own desire to boost my learning around trans awareness which brings us to the other person who has inspired me this week. Elliot Page, the brilliant actor from Inception and Umbrella Academy (yes I am a big fan), announced this week that he is transgender. The reaction to the statement wasn’t all great but the fact that he felt able and willing to share indicates on some level we are moving forward as a society.

The reason I highlight these two individuals is that I feel it is a neat and logical build on last week’s post. There are a number of key enablers for an inclusive society and feeling comfortable to be yourself and share your lived experience are two important factors. However, this must be backed by a commitment from others to listen, learn and support. So this week I am reaching out to ask you to share a key lesson you have learnt from someone else that has made them feel comfortable, welcome and a sense of belonging. A wonderful colleague of mine brought this quote to my attention this week from author and activist Sophie Williams “allyship is a constant process of actions not beliefs”. We will only achieve our aims when we choose to consistently and positively act in response to those who share their experience or their identity.

In the spirit of sharing here are three things I have learnt from listening to others:

It is all to easy to think about LGBTQ+ as an homogenous group and though there may be shared experience there is also significant difference for each group that those letters symbolise. Appreciate and value that difference and seek to boost your understanding of the wonderful rainbow of difference encapsulated by those five letters and single symbol.

Don’t be tempted to lead, push, steer or guide a disabled person without asking first if they require any assistance. You may feel that you are being helpful but your actions will have the very opposite effect. As an bonus tip make sure if you are speaking to someone with hearing loss or who is deaf and they have a BSL interpreter with them. Speak to the person not their support worker.

This is where you make a comment or say something that makes someone question their own lived experience, memory or perception of something. From a pyschology perspective this act is always damaging. Rather than question someone’s experience listen empathise and seek to understand the world from their perspective.

Please share your own personal reflections in the comments and hopefully we can get a conversation started.

There is so much more to learn and this will take some effort but #ImNotTired