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30 Oct

Reflecting on Black History Month: A Springboard for the Future

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Author: Chuks Diali

As we near the end of Black History Month, we reflect back on the last twenty nine days and their significance not just to the UK, but to our business as well. Black History Month historically has been a time to honour all the great achievements black people have made for Britain & the world and the rich heritage of black people as well. But 2020’s Black History Month holds more significance than ever as black people are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the world has seen the senseless murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. As a business, Black History Month presented us with the opportunity to be better, to learn more, to be more involved. It served as the springboard for us launching our Ethnic Diversity and Inclusion group, a voluntary group of colleagues dedicated to increasing diversity across our business through education and activism.

We took the opportunity this month to listen to our black colleagues, giving them a platform to speak and educate. You can listen to their thoughts on Black History Month here:

We also read the perspectives of our black colleagues like this one from Aisha:

On the 4th of April 1968 Martin Luther-King, a household name in the plight for civil rights, was assassinated sending shockwaves through the united states and beyond.  One, of many, inspired by this tragic event was Jane Elliot, a schoolteacher from Iowa, who then created an experiment to explain racism, and how it is enabled – her audience being her second-grade class.  Set out to explain to a group of 8-year olds a 300 year old prejudice and system that had, and continues to, seep itself into every crevice of modern society; she constructed a now infamous experiment “Brown eyes/Blue eyes”

The premise of her work was simple, she told all the blue eyed children in her class that they were superior to their brown eyed classmates; who were consequently told that they were less intelligent and poorly behaved than their blue eyed class mates.

Almost (immediately) the children’s behaviour reflected what they had been told. The children that had been told they were superior (blue eyed) began to behave like so and, correspondingly, the brown eyed children began to internalise the language used against them, falling behind academically and misbehaving.

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“Something as genetically incidental as eye colour became an analogue for the genetic superficiality of skin colour, and it was shown that when one group was favoured over the other, both groups quickly assumed their designated roles as oppressed and oppressor”  – Andrew Anthony, The Observer 

Elliot’s experiment is an excellent example of how easily prejudice can be learned. Her findings clearly demonstrate that the negative associations we have with people, black people, have been taught.

As a young black woman, the dichotomy presented by Elliot is frustrating, but as sad as this sounds, it leaves a light of hope at the end of the tunnel – things can be unlearned, just as they were learned in the first place.

Watch the documentary about the original experiment and the affect it had on the children who participated in the experiment through their lives. 

As a business we embarked on a journey to be more aware of our unconscious bias, with a training for managers that will now be rolled out to the rest of the business. We also had a company-wide Black History Month (BHM) virtual pub quiz, where we learned things like: Who was the first African-American to graduate from Harvard University and become a US senator – Hiram Rhodes Revels. Which historical black nurse died in London in 1881 after saving many British soldiers during the Crimean War of 1855 – Mary Seacole, and who said “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible” – Maya Angelou. Congratulations to the winning team Quick Reflexis, who will be donating £250 to a black charity of their choice.

We took the opportunity to learn more about influential black figures in tech as a business, in formats like this:

Finally, we are ending the month with a panel of Black speakers who have used their voices and their experiences to combat biases and promote diversity through poetry, speaking, foundations and coaching to support under-represented groups. ​The panel will cover the challenges black colleagues have in the workplace and the importance of diversity. With more than 200 people attending internally and externally, we know it will be a memorable and educational event. The event will be recorded and made available at a later date – register here .

What have we learned this month? We have learned that there is still so much to learn. We have learned that working together accomplishes great things when it comes to awareness and unity against racism. We have learned that Black History Month isn’t just an honorary event to be ticked off in the calendar, it is an opportunity to support Black-led organisations and professionals; make businesses and institutions more accessible and representative; and and empowering our colleagues and the wider community to define and share what Black history means to them. It has given REPL the opportunity to plan how we carry on this work throughout the year, in our effort to create a more equal business and more equal world.

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