Hello and welcome back as we continue with Season 2 of our #SeeMeHearMe blog. In recognition of Black History Month, we honour the often unheralded accomplishments of Black People in the the Uk  and delighted to invite our good friend friend, leader and community changemaker, Kimberley C. Lamb to share her personal experiences to create a space to reflect upon the deep ongoing traumatic challenges of structural and cultural racism, inequality and injustice.

We encourage you to immerse yourself in the blog and join us on Twitter to share reflections, comments and feelings with Kimberley.LINK

If you would like to share your story with our healing community, then please contact Derek at enquiries@epione-training.com or Felicity Douglas on Twitter @FelicityDougie.

In the meantime, over to you, Kimberley, the floor is all yours, and with immeasurable thanks!

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A conversation about me, without me? 

woman listening For this Black History Month I wanted to openly share a personal account of what it can feel like to be a small fish in a big pond, where one can feel viewed but not seen within the workplace.

I want to personally re-count how it has felt for me in the past to attend meetings where quite frankly my own Black identity is on the agenda, but my Black voice is not being respected. Bear with me, for my own amusement and sanity I have chosen to relay a mish mash of memories of these meetings, within a backdrop that is reminiscent of a Westindian 70s house party, with the comical undertones of Love Thy Neighbour and Rising Damp (both 70s sitcoms).

‘Here we go again, another party’  I mutter to myself as I hover cautiously at the top of a set of imaginary stairs like a child. Feeling awkwardly removed, I can overhear the music (language) of choice and its making me feel uncomfortable already. Whilst listening to a purposefully selected Bob Marley song in the background I observe my own ‘parents and relatives’ i.e. colleagues talking loudly about me, my situation, my existence and my identity. I brace myself for the inevitable.

The atmosphere is one of old work friends reuniting and gathering for some sort of celebration. I cringe and feel slightly traumatised. Part of me wants to believe that they think that I am still asleep in bed, another part of me knows that they are aware of my presence but simply don’t care. But I am awake, very much woke but nobody notices. The music gets louder and more distasteful, and the party continues with an Agenda that screams White Saviour.

So here I am perched on a virtual step hearing and feeling wholly what they think of me, and those who look like me. I feel vulnerable as I watch them from afar, swaying in the distance confident of their dance moves and actions. They’ve done this type of gig before, they’ve got friends who are black – they are assured that this party will be a hit with all.

I deduce quite quickly that they have indeed viewed me and my circumstances up close and personally, but ironically still cannot see my issues or acknowledge the harms their exclusion, distance and dismissive actions are inflicting . I am of the opinion that I am hidden in plain sight. No one has ‘seen’ me yet.

community is strength posterSome people have no shame. Why? Because their supposed raison d’être for such meetings is to create a welcoming environment. One that will make for a safer more inclusive and understanding workplace. An environment fostering diversity of thought, were all contributors are able to sing and dance inwardly or outwardly at free will. Thus creating a collective cultural workplace dance that everyone of all abilities can join in with. What a load of bol*ocks I think to myself. Let me be clear, any activity like this that is devoid of  co-production or co-design with those experiencing the very issues you aim to fix, means it ain’t going to successfully happen!

I continue to listen in, their actions throughout this pre-meditated discussions reinforce the fact that they are the parents (bosses). They know best. What complete balderdash!! I feel unsafe.

So back to my imaginary stairs. As with previous get-togethers I silently remain removed from the activities so as not to disturb their pre-planned gathering. I sense it’s their preference.

As with most of these meetings, the gathering quickly becomes a celebration as all grow in confidence and freely chit chat amongst themselves about the Other people. Often and intermittently cheering each other on for (again) finding the solution for the safe co-existence of those inferior to them.

As time moves on I hear and see virtual whoops of achievements from those who do not look like me, they repeatedly validate and congratulate each other for understanding what they think my Black experiences are within the room/workplace. No one is at all concern at the lack of black people in attendance, or at the lack of black voices contributing to their strategies.

‘Whoops there it is’. There they go again, in unison congruously backslapping each other for having found another solution for eradicating racism within the workplace. I look down into the room, bemused by the activity taking part. But not all in the room below are in agreement though. Someone, more awake than others, expresses caution. This person turns the music down and courageously highlights several times that ‘it’s not enough to be non- racists, we must be anti-racist’.

Tolerating racism is racism bannerThe room finally goes silent. For a second I panic thinking that they’ve suddenly noticed my unwanted presence at the top of the stairs. Oh dear. But no I am fine, it’s the Dissenter’s presence that they notice, not mine.  It takes a second for the party host to clock the non-Black resistance put before them. Then someone suddenly jumps up from their cosy couch of privilege and hails the speaker/Dissenter a genius. A few roll their eyes however and mutter something like ‘woke basta*d’ under their breath. To be fair I can’t quite hear what was being said under breath properly, you see I’m still feeling spiritually distanced and hidden, perched at the top of the stairs away from all the action.

Anyway, the room lights up with performative enlightenment and a majority clamber to find their devices. Yes!! they agree in unison that ‘it’s not enough to be non-racists, we must be anti-racist’. The speed at which they type this into their devices, accompanied by appropriate hashtags and press send is breathtaking.

With a collective  ‘non-racist’ attitude they let their social media followers know (with authority) that they get ‘it’. Whilst I remain at the top of the virtual stairs dishearten knowing fully well that they clearly have not got ‘it’. They really haven’t.

Whilst I contemplate descending into the room and being bold and courageous by letting them know that I am in the room, and have an experienced view on the subject. I watch them abruptly get up for a ‘well earned’ fag and comfort break. A few taking the comfort part too far and using it as a signal to thankfully come off duty. Reverting back easily to more familiarised chit chat about training session content back in the ‘good old days’- where you didn’t have to watch what you say.

I listen intently whilst they replenish their refreshments with symbolically out-of-date conversation, party food and drinks. You know the usual ish….Cocktail sausages that are no longer fashionable, pineapple hedgehogs that have seen its day, Babycham that has lost its fizz and Advocaat drink that nobody likes the taste of but drinks anyway because it looks sophisticated and learned. Feeling accomplished they then return to their seats, proud of their progress.

“That’s it” I yell to myself, It’s time! , Encouraged and fuelled solely by the inherent strength of my ancestors who have gone before me. Be Bold, Be Courageous, Be You I whisper internally!

no one listening illustrationI interrupt the party, I mean meeting and ask politely if I can provide an input. All eyes turn towards me. With mannerisms and microagressions which scream  ‘My word, when on earth did she enter the room’ and ‘who on earth invited such a vocal  subject matter to this meeting’? It’s clear that they are used to black and brown faces being physically before them, but not black and brown culturally competent souls – I take note.

I explain that I was listening to them throughout and believe that my lived experience could provide valuable input and possible correction to some of their dialogue. Although my soul and experience tells me that they think they already have all the answers, I courageously continue to input anyway.

I am thanked for my input and the party swiftly continues with me physically being there but my continued verbal inputs being dismissed and subsequently being excluded from any future DEI strategy. A few throw away comment at this meeting confirms that my soulful presence is not needed, or indeed wanted. I’ve experienced tones like this before. Authoritative tones that suggest that I have gone past my bedtime. Time to retreat to my lessor world because the more knowledgeable adults are now speaking.

Over subsequent weeks I wait with baited breath within various workplaces to read the release of the much awaited Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statement/work. Thrown together over a series of these gatherings, sorry I mean meetings. But just like the stale and horrific Blue Nun wine (equivalent) being ceremoniously doled out at these sophisticated ‘parties’, I am disappointed.

I slowly realise however that the risk taken to descend the stairs, and walk into the room to vocalise my truth was a waste of time. My inputs I now understand were not needed. That’s what Google, cut and paste, Mary from Accounts who is dating a black man and John from IT whose neighbour is ‘Asian’ is for. That’s where they will find their answers I conclude. It was just another party where my experiences were being viewed, but not seen and heard. Sigh!

Eventually I moan about what’s happened to my friends. Those who are black and brown recount (with both humour and frustration) the exact same recent experiences within their own workplaces. Deep down I feel slightly embarrassed of my naive and tokenistic  involvement within previous workshops. They, like me, my friends have been serially dismissed and treated in an infantile manner, when trying to give valuable inputs. Why did we even bother?

In conclusion, It’s clear to me that we are all now watching the creation of a monetised DEI industry, and the fixed awarding of highly paid roles. With the exception of some noteworthy appointments, there are roles going largely to white people, some of whom overtly view themselves as saviours. A sizeable amount of whom quite frankly won’t listen to those who are being spoken about.

A conversation about me without me - We need a change posterMy friends have stopped speaking, so have I to a certain extent. I agree with them, being re-traumatised over and over again in the workplace is a real thing. It’s time to protect our own mental health and wellbeing.

To conclude, it is my belief that not dissimilar to the VAWG narrative, social media has emboldened a notable amount of privileged/historical perpetrators to monetise this hurt, by becoming self appointed experts in this area of hidden hurt. ‘Experts’ often embarking on one way conversations that require the subject matter experts (us) to sit silently on the outside, listening, looking in, whilst awaiting a solution and our fate. Utterly depressing!

Thank God, I say, that there are those who don’t look like me, people who I currently work alongside now who truly understand that ‘it’s not enough to be non- racists, we must be anti-racist’. They are our allies, they are our advocates, they give me real hope.

Author: Kimberley C. Lamb

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