Blog 42 is here and in keeping with current events ( like the last 400 years) I am focusing on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. A grass roots campaign that fights oppression, educates, and gets results. I hope some of you attended, or saw the pictures from the massive rally in Leeds – Millennium Square last Sunday (14th June). What a great socially distanced message that showed. A Branch activist who attended described feeling really emotional at the passion’s demonstrated on the day.
On June 3rd your UNISON Branch held an on line protest, taking the knee in honour of the murdered George Floyd (“state sponsored lynching”), and in protest at the endemic racism on display in the United States. This in turn turned into a lot of chat between Branch activists. The conclusion – This isn’t just an American disease! This is a UK issue too. For instance…. Black people are 8 times more likely than white people to be tasered in the UK, and black graduates are half as likely to find employment as their white peers.
But what is the relevance to a Health Branch of UNISON ? Well from UNISON research we’ve found out that nationally….
- 19% of the workforce are Black but only 7% of senior managers are Black
- White applicants are 1.45 times more likely to be appointed from shortlisting than Black applicants
- Black staff are 1.24 times more likely to enter formal disciplinary process
- 28% of Black staff experienced harassment bullying or abuse from other staff in last 12 months, compared with 23% of white staff
- Only 72% of Black staff believe their employer provides equal opportunities for career progression/promotion, compared with 87% of white staff.
UNISON are running a campaign called “Race for Equality” where many of these themes are explored. What can be done as a socially conscious staff member in in the NHS? The campaign discusses
- Don’t suffer in silence – if you think it might be racism it probably is – talk to your UNISON branch about what’s been happening
- Get involved in UNISON’s Black members network
- Challenge anything that you experience or witness that makes you feel uncomfortable (eg abusive language, name calling, ‘banter’/’jokes’, mimicry etc)
- Challenge racist posts on social media
- Talk to your branch about organising training or workshops on how best to tackle racism
- Be part of the conversation about racism – listen to others or tell your own story
I’ve personally discovered some mad and evil facts as I’ve read and tried to educate myself further. The UK became saddled with debt on account of the government’s bailout of slave owners in 1833 (which was only paid off in 2015). This accounted for 40% of total expenditure that year. Wow I initially naively thought, isn’t it great that the UK did such a noble thing to end slavery… Then it dawned. That’s money paid to the evil slave owners in compensation!! Not as compensation to the slaves themselves !!! and you wonder where the UK aristocracy got its wealth…
And then there’s the statues…, the Home Secretary Priti Patel has shown more upset and bluster at the toppling of some old crumbling stone statue than she did for the thousands of the population who have died as a direct result of her own dithering government’s ineffective response to the coronavirus crisis!!!
Hours after BLM protestors took down Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, Belgium took down their statue of the barbaric King Leopold II and memorials for Windrush have been planned.
Protest works. Direct action works.
Follow the link below for a really interesting, (and sad in places) article about NHS workers from the Windrush generation.
Anyway – enough of my musings. I interviewed a black Branch activist yesterday to get her perspective on events….. now this is interesting !!
What are your thoughts on the Black Lives Matter protests in general?
I think they’re legitimate, and it is beautiful and reassuring that it is not a Blacks only concern. So hats off to everyone taking some action one way or the other the world over. A time comes when the wider public saying “enough is enough” is the only language that oppressive systems hear.
What is the relevance for the UK?
Racism and hate crimes are not confined to US, even if they take different shapes and forms in different places. The evil systems reinforce one another across the globe. It is a problem in many countries, the covert and overt. The UK was and is an active party to this problem. It remains complacent to it in various ways, but for the lip service of some public officials.
Which people did Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment policy’ aim to disadvantage and frustrate? Was it any different from the racial politics of the past?
Did you join any protests on line, or in person?
I took the knee and I am advocating for honest conversations, education, taking a stand and confronting issues.
What do you think about the protests in context of the Covid situation and social distancing?
It is unfortunate that we have two destructive and deadly pandemics pushing our limits at the same time; with both needing persistent, decisive and concerted responses to deal with. I am still doing my best about covid-19, but I have stepped back from certain judgements, and so have no condemnation at all for anyone doing what needs doing for one pandemic or the other.
Demonstrations can still apply reasonable safety with people wearing masks, avoiding touch, using larger spaces (- remember the government’s argument about enclosed and open spaces !), having a full wash first thing when getting home etc
Why blackmail others with covid-19 blame when the spotlight turns onto our ticking time-bombs and killer systems? If we truly care, let’s keep reminding demonstrators of how to do it safely. A time comes when people have had enough of systems that have failed them and pushed for so long. Such protests are “not the cause” of us losing control of the world we’ve abused for so long.
I feel the toppling of slave owners statues was a beautiful moment? What is your perspective?
Perhaps the WHENs and WHYs of those statues might suggest answers. Personally, I’d prefer to feel better and fairer treated than care about statues. I’d prefer not to be refused a seat on a bus in this day and age and be told to go back to my country. Then other things might become less relevant. I see why the apparent glorification and continuous commemoration of what they represent feel imposed and undesired. It’s because inequalities and injustices they institutionalised are still being suffered in various guises. It might have been different if those consequences were not being imposed and lived still. I see the argument for the right history museum contexts. As for their aesthetic values, it’s a shame there aren’t better role models on display that today’s world can fully take pride in and be inspired by the values they represent.
What are your experiences of racism in the NHS?
As a patient, I changed surgery in the end as a result of continuous disrespecting, condescending attitudes and mistreatments which were not isolated experiences of myself alone. I will be writing too long to cite examples. Then on the other side as a staff member dealing indirectly with GP surgeries , the mind-sets with which we get received and treated differently came clear, from narratives on surgeries whose patients are deemed “easier” and “nicer to work with” because they are mainly affluent Whites, compared to that surgery of mostly ethnic minorities who are just “hard work”. I didn’t have to pose any challenge to be often talked to and treated as ‘hard work’. Again as staff, I have experienced continuous harassing and differential treatments and observed the same. I got to my limits and walked out of a ward once and didn’t want to return, but went back after calming down.
What does the Branch and Union do to promote equality in reference of race?
The Union and Branch obviously support the existence Self-Organised Groups (SOG) including the Black Members SOG
(https://www.unison.org.uk/about/what-we-do/fairness-equality/black-members/about/) , with systems in place for fair representation, mutual respect etc. They make a stand on racial matters when they arise. It is encouraging to see Branch officers openly discussing the on-going issue because it is important to continue talking openly about these things till we are able to root them out completely.
Your Branch is still active and representing you even if the normal day to day H.R. meetings are not going ahead and the Branch office is closed 90% of the time. We are active at negotiations and meetings via Microsoft teams and Zoom. Please don’t feel you can’t get in touch if you are struggling with any work matter. We are your union, you are our union.
Still I Rise
BY MAYA ANGELOU
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
….speak soon XXX