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Becoming a better Ally

By Claire Coulter - Recruitment & EVP Manager St James's Place Wealth Management

I have been feeling pretty rubbish about things lately. First there was lockdown, then the murder of George Floyd, and then as the weeks passed a realisation that my head had been buried in the sand on the issue of race relations in the UK for some time. Having studied American history alongside gender, race and identity at University I am left wondering how I drifted here over the past 20 years. And here I am.

The turning point for me wasn’t the video of George Floyd being murdered (I couldn’t watch until much later) but listening to Clara Amfo’s heart-breaking reaction. For the first time, in a long time, tears poured. I held my youngest later that night and the tears came down again.

Speaking on her Radio One show, Amfo said the events in Minneapolis had reinforced a feeling among black people "that people want our culture, but they do not want us". She added: "In other words, you want my talent, but you don't want me.” An undeniable truth about white people’s fascination and appropriation of black art.

In my mind I have always been a good friend, ally, colleague. Recent events and an insatiable appetite for some of the amazing books out there regarding race, and racism in the UK have made me question, am I?

When a friend experienced racism at a café around 4 years ago my head was so buried in the sand rather than listen I ashamedly asked, “are you sure?” I saw our world through the lens of us both being new mothers and was convinced this man’s reaction was down to his irritation with my crying baby. She saw the world through her own lived experience. I now know to never ask “are you sure?” ever again.

Since the outpouring of support for black lives matter, I have found myself drawn to some of the black voices out there making a stand. Specifically, the black female voice. In a world of stylised content, and contrived communication, much of the dialogue coming out of this community I have plugged into is unapologetic, brave and authentic. I have become addicted to my LinkedIn feed – keenly waiting to see if one of these contacts has uploaded a new video blog or shared some new research findings. Despite the difficult topics I have felt genuine joy, experienced a lot of laughter. I have “been brought in”, to be made to feel uncomfortable but also to be entertained. It’s a powerful combination.

Is this the same fascination Amfo speaks of? I have considered this and realised I am craving an authentic connection – the cutting through of falseness in the quest for the truth. I am now more aware of white fragility and how it operates. It attacks to shut down conversations. I cannot tell you how ashamed I have been of some of the comments I have read to the simple statement “Black lives matter.” I have had sleepless nights and I have felt real anger.

I am learning about my white privilege and all the systems that are stacked in my favour. I hope better late than never to put into action how I can level that privilege on behalf of others. I have also learnt that whilst my intentions will have never been to make anyone feel uncomfortable, unheard, invisible, I now am aware of impact. By reading, learning about black British history, listening to others, opening up where I get my news sources from, I am starting to find the words to talk about racism. I am more conscious than ever about whiteness and its over representation. I will not always get it right, but I will hopefully find the words, so I start to get it right more often and become a better ally.

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