What actions can we take both now and ongoing to help advocate for racial equality? Are we doing enough to be part of the solution?” Read more in ‘A reflection’ by Rachael Masawi, RiverStone International’s Audit senior associate.

Black History Month – A Reflection

October is Black History Month – an annual celebration of the history, achievements, and contributions of black people in the UK. It’s a time to honour and celebrate black Britishness, black heroes, and black talent, as well as black creativity, drive, and passion. But it’s also a time to reflect, question, and learn.

Due to the far-reaching effects of grave historic acts such as the slave trade, colonialism ,and, in more modern history, apartheid, many black people find themselves on the back foot. Whether that is socially, financially, or otherwise; black people have to contend for their place in society and have done so for decades with considerable success. We have reached the point where a lot of fundamental human rights that were not afforded to our ancestors are now taken for granted by Gen Z. As a black person, I do find this somewhat comforting, yet we are still a long way from achieving real equality with our white counterparts.

So where are we now?

Aided by initiatives such as the Equality Act 2010, black people, are now able to follow their dreams and open doors that our ancestors were not allowed to go through. Black men and women are in professional jobs, arts, and competitive sports that were previously “reserved” for white people. This is a huge step that would make the generation that fought for these rights proud. Yet, racism remains rife in society today, with black people, like me, still having to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. While it is easier to call out obvious acts of racism such as the killing of George Floyd which led to widespread Black Lives Matter protests in June 2020, many subtle forms of racism still hold society back from reaching true equality. For example:

  • Microaggressions are best described as everyday verbal, non-verbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalised group membership. For example, a colleague petting your hair or passing an umbrella negative comment about black people and ending the sentence with “…but not you.”. Although microaggressions may appear harmless to observers, too many of them are damaging. In this short 2-minute clip, they are likened to mosquito bites and explained well:

What are ‘Microaggressions’? | The University of Edinburgh

  • Unconscious bias based on skin colour. A poll commissioned by ICM for the Guardian on the extent of racial bias faced by black, Asian, and minority ethnic citizens in Britain showed stark differences in how people of different ethnicities are treated in their daily lives. For instance, it found that ethnic minorities are three times as likely to have been thrown out of or denied entrance to a restaurant, bar, or club in the last five years, and 38% of people from ethnic minorities said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, compared to14% of white people[1].
  • Unequal pay for similar roles: A government review of the NHS basic pay showed that only staff from the black ethnic group had lower monthly basic pay than white staff. Black men were paid 84p for every £1 paid to white men, and black women were paid 93p for every £1 paid to white women.[2]
  • Being passed over for promotion because people tend to hire and promote people who look like them. Deloitte’s 2020 Ethnicity Pay Report shows that only 6% of partners are from an ethnic minority background.[3] In addition, a recent LSE report showed that black women are the least likely to be among the UK’s top earners compared to any other racial or gender group. Overall, the biggest differences between black and white women in pay and representation in top jobs are in Banking, Finance, and Insurance.[4]
  • Less than adequate care on maternity and neonatal wards. Women from ethnic minorities are at a higher risk of serious harm or death in pregnancy and childbirth.[5]

Whilst many of these subtler acts might be done subconsciously and without thought, the effects are still the same. So, let’s face it, this is a heavy subject to tackle. But society only moves forward when we face issues such as these head-on, and together. I’m sure you may feel many emotions as you read this. Maybe you feel guilt, shame or defensive, or you are enlightened, and that’s okay. Perhaps you could channel those emotions into researching how you might play a part in helping our society become equal for people of all races. If you’re wondering where to start, the below reading list is a great resource.

  1. How to Be an Antiracist written by Ibram X. Kendi
  2. Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire written by Akala
  3. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race written by Reni Eddo-Lodge
  4. Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor written by Layla Saad

Food for thought

Are we stuck in the discussion stage where we spend too much time acknowledging issues but not on coming up with plausible and practical solutions? What actions can we take both now and ongoing to help advocate for racial equality? Are we doing enough to be part of the solution?

Rachael Masawi

  1. Revealed: the stark evidence of everyday racial bias in Britain | Race | The Guardian
  2. NHS basic pay – GOV.UK Ethnicity facts and figures (ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk)
  3. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/about-deloitte/deloitte-uk-ethnicity-pay-2020.pdf
  4. https://www.lse.ac.uk/News/Latest-news-from-LSE/2021/c-March-21/Black-women-are-least-likely-to-be-among-UKs-top-earners
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-57565364