Guest Blog — Johanne Penney: Black is the New Black
You would have to have been living in the far-flung remote regions of this world, not to have witnessed the global events and repercussions in 2020, that saw a massive drive in the narrative to ensure equality and diversity for Black & ethnically diverse individuals.
This narrative was not only perpetuated by individuals but by organisations and corporations who, we thought, saw the collective opportunity to make fundamental and tangible changes, and for once and for all to change the ways things have been done historically — to press delete on the ‘tick box approach’ and really shift the dial, to ensure the crucial changes needed are implemented.
However, this outrage that we witnessed, felt, listened to, engaged with, was not a new one to Black people or ethnically diverse individuals. No indeed, it is the opposite.
It is something we have always known and felt — the injustice and danger of it all. At school, in the office, in the workplace, amongst ‘friends’ or friends of friends. But an outrage that had to sit quietly. A systemic battle that we could only fight by not being our authentic selves, by ‘covering’ to ensure we fitted in. Or even if we didn’t want to fit in, there was an overriding requirement for our progress and safety to have to sit back, and learn from an exceedingly early age, to navigate the system, individual or company — for fear of reprisal, disbelief or just more racism!
So, it was welcome, it was a relief, it was a ‘yessss’ people are finally getting it. They understood what needed to happen to level up the playing field. Slowly and bravely, we started to become our authentic selves, for me, my Black self in all the places I was afraid to show or be it.
But is this what it seems? Is this for real?
We do know that “Racism isn’t getting worse — it’s getting filmed” as Will Smith has publicly said. Technology has provided an insight to the World on what it means to live in our shoes. Which is why, still, on the 2 February 2021, I am still watching webcam footage of approximately eight NYC police officers handcuff, restrain and pepper spray a clearly hysterical nine-year-old little Black girl who is screaming for her father. Heartbreakingly, witnessing this fiasco I look at my little boy who is nine and hope that the most upset he will feel at this age is if his mummy slightly raises her voice. Yet in 2021, we witness the most distressing scene where this little girl, who will be traumatised for life, is tackled to the ground, restrained in ways that made my stomach turn and me scream out loud in outrage to the screen.
Have the lessons of George Floyd been learnt? Seeing this, it’s a resounding no from me. Under no circumstances is it OK for any grown adult, police officer or not, to manhandle a child in this manner. And let’s be crystal clear, if this were a nine-year-old little White girl, it simply wouldn’t happen. And let’s just propose that it did, it would make the national news.
So, you see although the narrative is changing, it is beginning to register that this is just the beginning of the conversation. 2020 was about raising awareness, but as we know inclusion is an evolving space and 2021 needs to be about more than ‘awareness’ it needs to have a positive impact and change.
It must be a pro-actively anti-racist approach. It is no longer ok to sit back with complicity and use the tick box approach to ‘training’. This will not work nor will absolving oneself of responsibility. It is our individual and collective responsibility to shift the dial, level up & change the narrative.
In my lived experience of a Black woman in business, working over a range of professional organisations over the last 20 years and championing the equality and diversity agenda — when it wasn’t an influencers dream. I can tell you that the onus is still put squarely at the feet of those who are discriminated against, to deconstruct the system.
But we, as Black people & ethnically diverse individuals are done with the ‘outrage’, what we require is the concrete challenge to systemic racism with tangible outcomes. We simply are not just talking anymore.
The narrative is changing, and Black & ethnically diverse talent are making a stand. You will find that Black & ethnically diverse employees are changing the dynamics and deciding for themselves whether you are a progressive and modern organisation, with scope for real progression. Not the other way around.
And if you aren’t convinced then you just need to do a bit of research on the ‘Black Curriculum’, Black LinkedIn, or ‘Black Owned Economy’ amongst the plethora of other businesses, organisations, initiatives, mentorship, entrepreneurship willing to go out on a limb and walk a different line to the archaic way it’s been done before.
That is now, that is 2021. So, if you want to elevate your brand, level up your business and be a change leader then the onus is firmly on you. Use your platform & white privilege to amplify Black & ethnically diverse voices. Utilise Black businesses & talent. Show up when it counts. Recruit, not only to junior positions, but to Senior roles AKA put your money where your mouth is and break the glass ceiling.
Black is the new Black.
Johanne Penney is the founder of ‘AMP UP YOUR VOICE’, a modern and progressive equality and diversity consultancy that supports businesses in building an authentic, inclusive environment for all. If your organisation is looking to make big strides on its journey to better equality and inclusion, let Johanne lead the way through her inspiring programmes and policies.