First published in June 2020. Updated in June 2023.
Experiencing racism at work
As a mixed-race communications, storytelling and engagement professional, I’ve always been in the minority in my work.
Although it hasn't stopped me from achieving, on a personal level it’s always felt unbalanced – as if something has always been missing.
One of my regrets isn’t having many opportunities to work alongside other professionals and clients of the global majority. This was also the case when I worked and lived in London - a magnificent cultural melting pot.
Mostly, I’ve worked alongside good, conscious individuals. But there have been occasions when I’ve had to breathe deeply to ease my anger so I wouldn’t respond furiously to racist or xenophobic comments in the professional setting. Including from management.
But why did I do this'?
Well, when you’re in a minority in an industry that clearly hasn’t improved much in terms of diversity and inclusion throughout my 25-year career, you just get on with it – but it's exhausting. Plus, I’ve been afraid of being seen as the ‘uppity' Black woman and losing my job.
Nonetheless, racism cuts deeply.
Racism is a social poison, which seeps into your body and whips up chronic levels of stress and anxiety. Yet, people of colour deal with it and its various guises constantly, throughout their lives.
"This might sound racist, but..."
One of my more unpleasant experiences included a manager who seemed to find joy in spewing racist opinions. One day, before sharing their ‘insight’, they declared, “This might sound racist but…”.
Then proceeded to be racist.
This is a classic prelude used by racists before they express vile opinions to make themselves feel less racist. When, really, they have no idea how ridiculous they sound.
Anyway, this person’s attitude was so toxic, I walked away from their employment after just nine months (in hindsight it was eight months and 29 days too long).
But what really angered me was the fact nobody held them to account. As the only person of colour, I was completely marginalised and was forced to carry the burden. It heavily impacted on my physical, emotional and mental health, and on my personal life.
In another recent agency, in response to a comment about the geographic base of a Black sportsperson, a white colleague freely said that the man was "probably in Africa playing the bongos."
You'd be forgiven if you believed these incidents happened in the 1970s. They were in 2016 and 2018 respectively - in an industry focused on managing reputations!
Standing in my power for the first time
With the resurgence of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May 2020, I was awestruck by thousands of people who took the streets around the world showing their rejection of racism and its injustice.
On Black Out Tuesday (2 June 2020) I created an anti-racism manifesto for my business. It felt immensely liberating – I was in my late 40s and I was standing in my power for the first time in my life.
I drafted the words quickly as they’d been swimming around in my head for decades. I’d had a lot of preparation time for this particular bit of copywriting.
What if I lose clients? What if I anger people?
But my concerns soon ebbed away as, throughout the day, industry influencers and professionals of different ethnicities openly supported me.
My courage was acknowledged, and my words respected.
Finally, I felt safe enough to be vocal – sadly, it was the pressure cooker environment triggered by George’s death that gave me that safety net.
Without this heightened sense of unity though, my manifesto would probably still be just bobbing around in my head. But it’s time Britain grew up – this issue is too painful NOT to talk about openly.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable but it’s also important people of non-African descent to sit in that discomfort with us. This, I’m sure, will help fuel the journey to equality.
Influencing through my job
Black Lives Matter strengthened my resolve to contribute positively to an institution that wields huge influence over public opinion – the media.
My work has evolved from PR to focus on inclusive and award-winning engagement and storytelling in arts, heritage, culture and business.
I changed my career and personal paths after being immersed in a nationally award-winning exhibition which pioneered new engagement and exhibition practices.
Big up Power of Stories!
My work embodies equity and everything I do is about improving it.
Work with me to make real and lasting change: firstname.lastname@example.org.