How family life can play a role in the Black Lives Matter movement

Shakira Akabusi @shakira.akabusi

🍼Pre &Postnatal Fitness Expert
💪🏽 Founder of #StrongLikeMum
💥Speaker, Writer, Track Athlete
👶🏼👦🏼 Mama to Rio & Ezra
💚 Lover of health, wellness, cooking and exploring this beautiful world we live in.

‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

Growing up with parents from diverse ethnicities meant that I experienced two very different cultures. My mum being German and my father Nigerian, meant two strong households collided in their union. Now in a mixed race marriage myself I’ve learnt first hand the challenges of merging traditions. Teaching your children to value your partner’s beliefs whilst also preserving your own.

My sister and I were encouraged from a young age to know both sides of our family and visited Germany and Nigeria often. The experiences of visiting these countries could not have been more different. Both cultures had beauty in their traditions. The serene routine of the early morning bakery’s in Germany or the busting, vibrant markets in Lagos. However, even as a child the poverty of Nigeria was striking and became glued in my memory.

Despite being from two such diverse countries, I was actually born and raised in England. Fortunate enough to have a comfortable middle class upbringing, my childhood was one of excitement and generally positive experiences. Now as a 32 year old mother of two (soon to be four), I am pleased to be able to offer my children an upbringing that I hope will bring them a similar security and happiness.

There are however, some tough lessons that you learn, from an early age, being raised in a predominantly white neighbourhood. One could argue that growing a thicker skin so early on, has in a way been a blessing in disguise, as having a ‘stiff upper lip’ has certainly helped me during my adult years. I developed a ‘water off a ducks back’ approach to racism. But that mentality in itself, facilitates the problem we are now facing.

For years, racism and systemic inequality has been accepted as the norm. So much so, that many even believe racism just ‘doesn’t exist is England’, often and ironically, accompanied by  ”I’m not a racist but…”.

I myself have been sat at the dinner table with a family considering themselves “not racist but” and when the mother pronounced “Has anyone seen my phone?” The daughter replied “I haven’t, but there is a black person in the house so maybe she took it”. Queue the raucous laughter from the entire family and me, turning red, smiling shyly into my soup shrugging it off, as the mother replied “We’re only joking of course darling”. To my shame, I said nothing. Either because of my British upbringing or my stupidity, I thought it may be impolite to cause a scene and I didn’t want to embarrass the family. Perhaps a part of me should have pre-empted a comment of this sort, as on arrival the youngest sister stated, “Oh! Do you know, you’re the first black person to ever come into our house”… I was utterly speechless.

But that is only part of the problem we are facing today. Whether blatant racism or ‘casual’ racism as this family may have perceived their comments, that is just the start and I’m aware that my experiences only scratch the surface of what others have encountered. During the recent media coverage many will have seen phrases such as Systemic Racism, White privilege and Racial inequality.

It’s important to understand that the Black Live Matter movement is not stating that every community is over-run with overt racists, although riots and far-right extremists in recent weeks show us there are still active pockets which must be identified and held accountable for their actions. However, there is much more to being anti-racist than simply being ‘ok’ with ethnic minorities. Not being a blatant racists in no way absolves someones responsibility for the racial inequality that is deeply embedded in our current society.

18th century philosopher Edmund Burke said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Simply put, having friends from ethnic minorities isn’t enough. Being open to people of colour in your neighbourhood is not enough. Smiling and waving to the one black colleague at your work place is not enough. It’s time that we, as a nation, become more aware of how systemic and perhaps un-conscious racism still exists in todays society and how families, such as my own and many of those I know, are paying the price.

Before discussing the solution, let me offer some examples, in order to clarify the above and eradiate any confusion. Hopefully this can highlight in a very simple way that the Black Lives Matter Movement is an everyone issue and until we can band together to create and sustain change, the few will undoubtably pay for the idleness of the many. Ignorance is bliss, unless you’re paying the price for the ignorance of others. Which many black and ethnic minority families are.

What is Systemic Racism and Racial Inequality?

Systemic racism is the normalisation of discrimination, to benefit white people and disadvantage those of other ethnic origins.

Statistics published by the Runnymede Trust, show that in regards to the Stop and Search Law (Sus), in comparison with white people, black people are six times more likely to be stopped and searched while Asian people are twice as likely to be. In addition, research undertaken by the guardian, stated that The Metropolitan police are facing claims of bias, after figures showed that officers enforcing the coronavirus lockdown were more than twice as likely to issue fines to black people as to white people. Statistics released in conjunction with these findings showed that although Black people make up 12% of London’s population, they made up 31% of arrests during lockdown.

Even Leroy Logan, a former Met superintendent, is quoted as saying: “I can’t discount that these figures exhibit a racial bias, because practically everything the Met does has a racial bias. The Met is still institutionally racist and the use of Covid powers is part of this.”

The above supports the well-known theory that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people are under tighter scrutiny by many law enforcement officers. This can start from an early age, thus giving rise to unequal opportunities and systemic racism. Simply put, by increasing the police patrols in specific neighbourhoods, or by focusing and disproportionately targeting ethnic minority groups, it stands as no surprise that the chance of being arrested as a black or ethnic minority citizen is higher then that of your white counterparts. Causing a ripple effect of disadvantages such as difficulty securing a place at university, job opportunities or even the freedom to travel.

If this isn’t something you’ve experienced yourself, just put yourself in the shoes of any parent who’s child may fit these profiles, living in an area of increased police patrol. How unjust that your child should have an increased risk of arrest, purely for the colour of their skin!

This form of systemic racism continues into adult years. My sister recently wrote an article,  including a study taken by the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, Oxford. This showed that Black Britons and those of South Asian origin faced depressing levels of discrimination in employment, “every bit as bad as that experienced by their grandparents in the late 1960s”. The study revealed that a black person has to apply for 80% more jobs before finding work than someone identifying as white British.

My sister, who runs a successful boutique PR agency, has pitched to numerous potential white clients who have clearly believed that she would not “get their audience” and has even been advised to straighten her hair as it looked “more professional”. Why? Because it’s natural black form is too alien, too different, too other to be easily accepted?

Sure, it could be easy to see these issue as trivial, when it’s not you or your child that is impacted. However, being judged purely for the colour of your skin, rather than your expertise, work ethic or skill is something no one should encounter, and in order to change this we ALL need to take a stand. Regardless of race.

So how can we as parents make a positive impact and support the BLM movement? 

As a parent myself, I am passionate about supporting ways that changes can be made at home.

First and foremost, is being honest with our children. Feeling comfortable enough to open up the discussion around race and offering insights into how racial discrimination can impact everyone. These discussions should be happening in every household, regardless of race. Even if you live in a prominently white and privileged area, have discussions with your children about those who do not live as they do. For example, there are many books out there, written for younger generations, showcasing a variety of cultures and with hero characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds.Try to include these stories into your evening reading routine.

It’s also important to up the conversation around historical figures who impacted and fought for racial equality. Does your child know about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou? Have you told your children the true history and beginning of man? The fact that many scientists believe the origins of Homo sapiens began in Africa, subsequently spreading out to Asia and Europe from there. Some food for thought perhaps? Maybe even an opportunity to learn alongside your child?

It’s also crucial to note that as parents we have direct access to those who are shaping the minds of the future. Schools. If you see a lack of representation in the school environment, or products targeting only specific kids – speak up. Have those uncomfortable conversations with other parents about creating a more fair and equal society.

This is also a great time for PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) to bridge the gap between parents and staff and discuss the possibility for change. Whether that be to the curriculum or the entry process.

Most schools systems work off a catchment area basis, offering places to those who live closest. Indeed, an article published by the Guardian found that ‘wealthy parents are renting and even buying second homes in the catchment areas of highly sought-after schools to circumvent admissions criteria and secure a place for their child’. A YouGov poll of parents for the Sutton Trust indicates there is widespread cheating among middle-class families, with one in three parents claiming to know families who have used ‘ethically dubious’ tactics to win a place at their school of choice.

Again, we can clearly see the disadvantage for those living in over crowded and low income housing. Unfortunately, according to the Institute of Race Relations, throughout the UK, people from BAME groups are much more likely to be in poverty (ie an income of less than 60% of the median household income) than white British people. How about suggesting that a certain percentage of school places be offered to BAME communities or those in low income housing?

Perhaps some of the above ideas make you feel uncomfortable. If so, I would encourage you to ask yourself why might that be?

Finally, for those parents working in business, whether that be large or small organisations, communicating the importance of this issue in the work place is crucial. How does your company advertise for job roles? With the above statistics showing that BAME communities are largely low income or living in low income housing, is your company taking active measures to reach these communities and open up the application process to those who may otherwise not know where or how to apply for a position?

The recent article written by my sister challenges CEOs and senior management teams to assess all aspects of their business plan. “Within your work place do you have people who don’t look like you on your executive boards or senior management teams? How does the average pay of your black employees match up to that of their white colleagues? How diverse are the people represented within your marketing campaigns? What grassroots organisations do you support”?

I certainly don’t profess to having all the answers, however I do know that whilst the recent wave of social media support has been encouraging, it can not stop there. You may feel as though these issues aren’t affecting you directly, but you can directly make a change.

In fact, in terms of economic growth, this IS affecting you directly, along with the entire economic market. According to CIPA (the professional body for HR and people development ), an estimated £24 billion a year could be added to our GDP were we to ensure full representation of BME individuals across the labour market. ‘Our departure from the European Union, the quickening pace of technological change and an ageing workforce all make the business case stronger for fully utilising the wealth of people’s talent and skills. You just have to look at the make-up of UK boards to know there’s a significant problem with racial inequality and that change is well overdue”.

But it shouldn’t be the numbers that get us motivated. It should be a genuine passion for global human equality.

People have been turning their cheeks on racism for too long. Let us take action now. No one should be complacent. In the same way that we so often meet the news of an earthquake across the globe without considering too much the dire implications for those hit hardest, or hear of the plastic levels devastating our oceans but still ‘forget’ to recycle, let us not sit back and see this escalate further.

Now you are aware. How will you act? Will you support the Black Lives Matter movement? How will you, as a parent, grandparent or other family member help to raise the next generation to learn, act and sustain positive change. To stand up for equality.

We’re all members of the human race. Let’s treat each other as such.