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Understand the discrimination faced by black and minority people, support, gain information and take action. You can't be an Ally unless you understand the problem.

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I am happy and proud to introduce Sarah Emmerson, Group Operations Manager and Ally. Thank you for your support and writing the passionate and powerful post.

I believe that my experience is much the same as many others. I am a ‘nice’ person. I smile at the security guard as I go into the supermarket. I let the old lady get on the bus first. I buy my friends presents when they are sad. And I do all these things regardless of the colour of that person’s skin. Therefore I am not a racist, right?

The last couple of months have been a real wake up call for me and my comfortably ‘not a racist’ life. At intervals through my life I have seen stories in the news of black and other ethnic minority groups being the disproportionate victims of violence from police and civilians, of the lack of representation of those individuals in senior leadership and politics, of their increased rates of exclusion and expulsion in schools. But I have never stretched myself to question why that is the case, what causes these disparities and if there is anything I can actually do about it. I have been looking from afar, thinking that if everyone was ‘not a racist’ as I was, this wouldn’t be happening.

The last couple of months have shown me how wrong I was.

- Have I ever been nervous about walking past a police officer in the street? No.

- Have I ever considered that my teachers and lecturers might treat me less favourably because of what I look like? No.

- Have I ever been the only person with my skin colour at a business meeting, networking event or job interview? Of course not.

It is a much more pleasant reality to go through life believing that everything we have, we have earned on our own merit. But as white people, can that really be said to be true of us? For some perhaps it can, but we have to try to imagine how different our lives might have looked had the colour of our skin been different. White privilege doesn’t mean that your life hasn’t been hard, just that the colour of your skin hasn’t contributed to your difficulties. Would that teacher have given you a detention, or an exclusion? Would those police officers have watched you walk by, or stopped you because you looked suspicious? Would those interviewers have viewed you as qualified, or ‘not a cultural fit’? Sadly, there are a whole host of statistics available which show us that our white skin gives us the upper hand in all of these areas, and so many more.

As white people in the western world, we hold an innate advantage that we can neither escape nor deny, and with that advantage comes a responsibility. It is not enough for us to wander around being nice and ‘not a racist’, we need to take affirmative action in every area of our lives to begin dismantling the systems which have provided us this white privilege that we take for granted every day.

So what does this mean in everyday life? I am in no way claiming to have the answer to that question, and am, like many of you, in the process of doing my best to work it out!

One of the most obvious actions is to voice support for movements like Black Lives Matter on your social media channels. This is a great thing to do, but if you’re serious about being an Ally, that can’t be it. Your words of support need to be followed up by authentic action and personal change, or they will be worth nothing.

From what I have understood from listening to many people smarter than me (thanks Chikere!), the key is to educate yourself first. In the last two months I can openly admit that I have read, watched and listened to more content about systemic racism than in the last 27 years of my life combined. My social media feeds are full of activists, writers and artists who are speaking openly about their experiences of being black in a white privileged world, and from whom I am learning something new every day.

Become familiar with the terminology, the history, the issues we are facing now. Look at the statistics so you can understand how and where the systemic differences are separating us. Listen to black people when they talk about ‘micro aggressions’ (there’s a whole blog on that here), be honest and recognise when you have those tendencies so that you can root them out of yourself and call them out in other people.

Examine yourself every day to recognise where your white privilege has brought you, and how willing you really are to fight against it in favour of a more equal world for everyone, even if it means that your life might be more difficult as a result. Sign petitions and donate to causes that aim to bring justice, equal opportunities and support to those who would not otherwise have them. These types of contributions can seem too small to be significant, but if everyone thought like that, they wouldn’t be able to exist.

Speak openly to friends, family and those in your networks about what you have learned, debate with them and learn together. Elevate the voices of your black friends and connections, be vocal in your school or workplace where change is needed, call it out when you see it. Seek out new friends and connections with a different experience than yours so you can better understand what the world looks like from someone else’s point of view (this is the key thing burning up my to-do list right now).

Most importantly, do not continue to sit back and believe that it is up to politicians, educators or ‘the BAME community’ to fix. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to use our voice and our influence, however small we might believe it to be, to make sure that the generations who follow us have the genuine equality of rights, freedoms and experiences that do not exist for us now.

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I am not too sure where or how to start as I have so many things to say. But here goes.

By way of introduction, I am a mixed-race woman (White mother & Black Carribean father) who some would say was brought up in a ‘white’ world. My Carribean heritage was hardly ever discussed when I was growing up, the language (patois) not taught to us by my father for fear that we would get singled out at school if we started mixing one language with the other and be made cruelly fun of, and the culture not much spoken about either let alone immersed in me. It wasn’t until I was 12 years of age that I got acquainted with my other culture, meeting for the 1st time my Black aunties, uncles and cousins. I felt instantly home, in my second ‘home’ – joy!

As a mixed-race person, you do get subjected to forms of abuse, unbeknownst to many, where you hear on one side with a certain disdain that you’re not ‘white’ enough and on the other that you’re not ‘black’ enough, in other words that you do not belong - this is rejection. In parallel and to confuse things further, whilst it makes no such distinction, the US is still clinging on to the ‘one-drop rule’ (assigning minority status to mixed-race individuals), very much prevalent other there: one drop & one hate!

But what essentially matters is how you feel inside and dare I say that I have always felt more Black than anything else. This cannot be explained so no need to try I also tell my sisters who feel the complete opposite, which is fine as let’s be clear, it does not mean they are rejecting their Black heritage. We just respect each other’s feelings.

Feelings are what counts and make a difference, as much as respect.

I (always) feel deeply cut when I hear about racism, witness acts of violence towards Black people be it fictional (movies) or real (news/tv) and manage to watch with great difficulty movies about slavery (takes me several goes, always!) as I become defensive and reactive. In passing, one of my favourite actors turned directors, Spike Lee whom I had the immense privilege of meeting in person a few years back for a book signing preceded by a question-answer session, overtly depicts racism in America in a way that no one else does. He is one who keeps the conversation truly alive!

I know loads of other races do too and most importantly feel, it is just more profound in Black people themselves.

This piece wouldn’t be complete without unmasking racial micro-aggressions I still experience to this day such as ‘but you’re not Black!’, ‘you’re Black-ish’, ‘you’re quite pale’, ‘you’re light-skinned’, ‘I see you as White’, ‘you don’t tan’ etc.. But my Black side is very much present and 100% alive and again that’s that. I’ve also openly and shamelessly been told: ‘I couldn’t date a Black person but you, you’re OK’!! Deeply offended I was as that is turning a gigantic blind eye to my other race. How dare you as it is there, very much part of me and who I am, like it or not!

Actively feeling, actively respecting, actively listening and actively seeing past a ‘colour’ is what we all need to forge an Ally-ance for a better world for all of us and our children, right here, right now. Let’s keep the conversation Ally-ve!

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I am the mother to two amazing boys, who I love very much. The picture of them displayed was taken a few years ago when they were 2 and 5 years old. They are now teenagers – 14 and 17 and no way would they let me post an updated photograph of them, also its important for me to protect their privacy.

As they grow older and gain more independence, the more I worry about and for them. I always tell them that I am not worried about the way they will behave in public, but I am worried about the way other people will treat them or see them as a threat because they are Black. They both have amazing friends of all nationalities and creeds but the big world is full of people who will judge them by the colour of their skin. People will be afraid of them. I worry that I will not be able to protect them from those who fear them. A lot of you Allies reading this may be surprised but Black parents have the same thoughts and feelings about the safety and wellbeing of their offsprings. Why are our children being pulled over by the Police for no reason, why are they be followed around the supermarket by the security guard, why are women clutching their bags and purses tightly as they walk past and why are they not being shortlisted for a job interview or getting the job?

I do believe things will be much better for them than their grandparents and parents. The BLM movement, Covid 19 pandemic and all the civil rights protests before has brought the injustices that Black and minority people face everyday to the forefront and people are beginning to realise that enough is enough. It’s so promising to see every colour turn out to protest and take the knee. It’s also so amazing how many of you have reached out to me in support.

It is so important for us all to ensure that we are taking steps to stop and maybe eradicate racism throughout our society and especially in our work places and schools. Maybe one day – yes one day – my two boys and many others will not be (In the words of Martin Luther King Jr) judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.

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