Black Lives Matter to us at Barnwood Trust

After some weeks of reflection, I wanted to write something as Chief Executive at Barnwood about the Black Lives Matter movement.  Recent events have impacted me deeply and made me think about my own part in perpetuating racism in how I live and work.

Making statements about the abhorrence of racism is easy: it’s how we behave every day that counts. The last few weeks have made me think more closely and deeply about how I behave: what I do every day that can, and likely does, unwittingly perpetuate racism, allows racist attitudes and discourages an environment of welcome and equality.

I assumed I was anti-racist, but what have I done; actively, every day and in the positions of influence I have, to act on that?

2nd March 1981: Grieving protesters march from New Cross to the House of Commons after 13 black people were killed in the New Year fire at Deptford, south London. The fire aroused anger within the local community with allegations of a police cover-up of a racial attack. (Photo by Graham Turner/Keystone/Getty Images)

I lived in central Brixton for 27 years before moving to Gloucestershire.  I witnessed the riots of 1981 and 1985 with my own eyes. I was not surprised that tensions boiled over in April 1981.  I had friends whose Black children were routinely stopped and searched as they came home from school. It was intolerable.  As a result of the riots the Scarman Report was commissioned by the Government, and it named and described the racist behaviour in our society.  It was out there at last, it would make a difference, racism would end!  What naivety.  Nearly 20 years on, in 1999, the McPherson Report into Stephen Lawrence’s death said that the Scarman Report had been ignored, racism was as present across our society as ever.

All my adult life I hoped that ‘things were getting better’.  That the racism I saw in my 20s would become a thing of the past. We would grow up, take responsibility for ourselves as white people, examine our prejudices, see them for what they are, and deepen our sense of shared humanity with all people.  But here we are, 20 years on again, and racism and racist behaviour feels even more entrenched and more aggressively expressed.  Moreover, even peaceful protest for civil liberties risks being silenced – just this weekend we have seen such peaceful protests being called off due to threats made by neo-Nazis and the far right.

Black people, and people of colour, are telling us so clearly that they experience racism, from the ‘casual’ every day to much more serious threats, all the time.  The media is full of this right now but it’s nothing new.  No wonder people are tired.  Many white people, and I include myself in this, have not paid sufficient attention and taken action. If we had, we would not be seeing these continuing images on our tv screens and in our social media. We have not listened fully to stories of injustice, we have not imagined the feeling of often being the only person of colour in the room, we have not thought about the physical and mental toll of always being held to a racist stereotype, and we have not considered enough how exhausting it is to constantly explain and justify not only why something is racist – but also how white people can be less racist; how we can be allies, acting against racism in our communities and in our places of work.

Cheltenham Black Lives Matter peaceful protest by Lives of Colour

So, last week I was dismayed to learn that a charity in Gloucestershire was nervous about showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement and speaking out about racism, for fear of prejudicing how their grant application would be considered by our Trust. How is that possible?  And what have I done to perpetuate that – even unwittingly?

I want to make Barnwood’s position clear:  We value applications for funding from any organisation or individual who speaks out against racism and in favour of the Black Lives Matter movement we would see you as aligned with where we stand too, which is in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

I strongly believe that we must speak out against racism and be actively supportive of anti-racist movements, especially if we are in positions of influence – racism is so entrenched that positive, visible actions are required.  At Barnwood Trust, we have started talking openly about these issues.  But I don’t want us just to talk.  We need to listen and act, individually and collectively, to examine what we do and how we do it, to catch our unwitting racism and do something about it.

We must take a hard look at ourselves and the systemic barriers in place which have led to us being a predominantly white organisation. We must proactively engage people of colour in our work, in partnership opportunities and in employment at the Trust.

We will work with and support anyone who wants to do the same.  As a large civil society organisation within the county, it is our duty to tackle the large scale injustices that enable, and are enabled by, racism, and which impact on disability and mental health – to help nurture an environment in which everyone feels welcome, safe and respected, regardless of race, (dis)ability, or anything else.

If you are part of an organisation, group or project with the same ambition we would love to hear from you.  Get in touch by emailing sally.byng@barnwoodtrust.org to start the conversation with us.