This happens throughout history. Look at Bayard Rustin for instance. He was a Black civil rights activist who organized the March on Washington for jobs and housing. He was an mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., encouraging his pacifist approach. He was the only Black gay man at the head of the movement. And he’s been overlooked since then.
It is time that we spell it out. There are larger issues to be addressed. We have to be very clear what we mean when we talk about racial justice.
I have been seeing very important conversations from businesses on social media talking about Black Lives Matter. But there is a fundamental question we need to ask: Why does it have to take the video of the killing of a Black man on the streets of America for the Western world to come to a realization that Black lives matter? Is it that we didn’t recognize that Black lives matter before George Floyd? And what is that doing to us now? What is that doing to our psyche? What is that doing to us, in terms of a board meeting about financial investment decisions? Is it letting us understand and break down the issue around lending discrimination in the UK that is so institutionalized? Or LGBT refugees being refused asylum, or why mental health issues are so prevalent amongst Black people?
We need to not just put up something that says Black Lives Matter. We need to recognize the role that we are playing, historical roles, that we have played in judging people, not by what they can do, but by who they look like. We put them in a box and deny them the opportunity to contribute to the commonwealth of humanity.
People try to attribute this to “unconscious bias.” I say there is nothing unconscious about bias. “Oh, I don’t know that I’m doing what I am doing.” I don’t believe it. I believe there is institutional racism and people buy into it because it protects them. People turn a blind eye to it, because they benefit from it. They might not like what is going on. But for as long as it keeps their interest in play, they’re not going to condemn it.
Your company comes to me and says, “We want to make a statement about Black Lives Matter.” I say, “OK, at the entrance level, how many Black people do you have at the entrance level? Then, how many Black people do you have at your mid-management level? What happened between entrance level and the mid-management level that people that Black people are dropping out? And then, how many do you have your senior management level?”
What has been coming back over and over and over again is that at the entry level you have more women and minorities. By the time they get to the middle-management level, the white men are overtaking them. And by the time they get to the senior management level, the women are missing, the Blacks are missing. This structure is set up that is like running a race with obstacles on the way, while your opponent is running the same race on the smooth ground. And you have to finish at the same time.
In a study in the UK, they say not just the area where you were born that determines your future, the color of your skin from birth determines your future. If I’m not able to go to particular schools, I can never be better. No matter what I know. Our kids in inner city London who went to London South Bank University, who are excellent compared to students who went to Cambridge. But the reality is the child from Cambridge is likely to get a job before a child from London South Bank University. Who has the better chance to go to Oxford? Those are the institutions that we need to break.
I am seeing many companies doing blind recruitment. It has gotten more Black people into employment. It’s a shame that that has to happen, but it’s happening. But then how do you make the workplace conducive for me as a Black person, considering the microaggression that I have to face? The questions around my ability that I have to prove every day that I am here?
Blind recruitment is a step, but we also need to have a very, very honest conversation around the fact that we got it wrong and we want to get it right. In the process of getting right, we will get it wrong at some point. And it is OK, because it’s journey. This journey started 400 years ago—400 years of injustice. We don’t have a magic wand. It’s not going to happen in 20 years. It’s a journey. We’re not perfect, but we’re ready to go all the way.
“Positive discrimination” is a good example. I’ll make something very clear. There is no “positive” discrimination. I don’t believe in that word at all. It’s a recognition of wrong—that is what you’re trying to do. You are recognizing that you have done wrong in your recruitment, in promotion, in salary, in education and in everything in our politics. We’ve done wrong. In the process to right that wrong, we have to take an action that will be seen as drastic, but it helps to balance the equation. There’s nothing positive about that—it doesn’t move the needle back to zero. But it’s an awareness of wrong and I always encourage people to start.