‘I am thrilled to be given the opportunity to build on the work of my predecessor, Heather Cousins, and to be taking on this mantle at a time when racial equality is under the global spotlight for a number of reasons.
The murder of George Floyd in the USA has resonated deeply within our BAME communities. There is anger, fear, frustration and a strong sense of urgency that our local government, political parties, community leaders and all sections of our community must work together not only around the principles of racial equality but the actions associated with the elimination of racial prejudice in all of its forms. We are also reminded of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry which cited institutional racism within the police department. The timing of what happened in the USA, is falling within the UN International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024); the theme is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development”, calling for worldwide action to address historic and continuing discrimination that people of African descent experience. Yes I have seen the All Lives Matter slogan, but I would argue that is exactly why #BlackLivesMatter. What is happening is not about giving minority ethnic groups preferential treatment, but the right to equality; a fair chance, no disadvantage and no advantage. It is important for those reacting negatively to this situation, to know they are also part of the solution. There must be a safe space to have those open inclusive conversations. The future belongs to all and must be one we build for one another.
As regards COVID-19, most of you will be aware that there is a concern across the UK that there has been a disproportionately high number of BAME deaths from the pandemic, in particular in front line NHS roles. Since a few people, including the odd world leader, decided publicly to attach an ethnicity to the pandemic, there has been a rise in Coronavirus hate crimes and incidents, where the perpetrators would verbally abuse and/or physically assault members of Asian communities, including Singaporean, Vietnamese and Filipino; the ignorant assuming incorrectly we are all Chinese by colour of skin, disregarding the distinct different cultures, heritage, traditions, history and languages.
The intensity of past few months, brought back memories from my own school days and concerns for the future. I recall one incident in secondary school, during running heats to qualify for sports day finals. As the race started and I was sprinting, there were racist jeers from the stands by a year group below me. I stopped mid-race and looked at them, as they continued to taunt. I turned to the teacher for help or support, who looked at me, then looked down at his clipboard and ticked my name off as coming last; nothing was said. I didn’t finish the race and just walked off the track, kept walking to the changing room, got home on the bus. My Mum asked how I got on; I just told her I tried but didn’t make the final, maybe next time – I didn’t want to break her heart. I felt I stood a good chance of making the final again that year, as I played left wing in school rugby, so was much speedier than I am nowadays! Apart from the racist bullying, being let down by a person of authority also hurt and I swore I would never become that person.
My own experiences over the years drive me to stand up for others who are marginalised or persecuted for being who they are whether it be racism, gender equality, LGBT or disability.
I dread the moment, if I had to explain to my children, should they come to me about being picked on because of who they are. This is a very real fear for me, because my daughter, my inspiration, was born with a hole in the heart and underwent a heart operation before her third birthday and then was diagnosed with Autism. She has her challenges but never gives up and is such a kind, well-loved and respected little girl who I am so proud of. However, I know that because of her ethnicity, disability and gender, there will be those who may struggle to accept her in society or point out her differences.
She and my own lived experiences, were the main reasons why I was happy to first take on the DoF Racial Equality Champion role back in June 2017 and now also the NICS Diversity Champion for Race and Ethnicity. Over the years, meeting and collaborating with organisations working with or representing minority ethnic people and migrants (including refugees and asylum seekers) have only strengthened my resolve to contribute to our shared society. I also welcome the opportunity to support colleagues belonging to diverse groups to feel accepted for who they truly are in the workplace and I hope, that by sharing my story I will be able to help others to see that differences are a positive thing and even encourage those important conversations; it is ok to talk, to ask, to share, to learn. We do not all need to look the same, or think the same. Life is richer and more exciting with variety! By harnessing the power of different experiences, knowledge and skills, together we can and will create a better future for all; everyone has something to contribute to ‘Our Wee World’.
NICS staff network for colleagues from minority ethnic backgrounds
One of the first things on my agenda, is to explore a NICS staff network for colleagues from minority ethnic backgrounds. This is an opportunity to bring together colleagues and allies; I will work to champion your voices and would love to hear from you!
To my NICS family, I am always keen to listen and discuss diversity. If you want to have a chat, please do get in touch. #NICSdiversity
Phone: 028 9054 4292 (Dial Ext: 44292)