Be the change, an update

The end of yet another deeply troubling week. How many more troubling weeks will there be? Brexit crisis, climate crisis, pandemic and economic crisis, and now the re-emergence in the public consciousness of the crisis of inequality in Western society. The protest for Black Lives Matter may have begun in the USA but its resonance is far, wide, loud. It should give all of us pause for reflection.

In my industry (arts and culture) diversity, equality and universal representation, or rather the lack of it, has been an issue present my entire career. My very first job was for a theatre company, which happened to be led by a white woman, which worked in what was then called ‘culturally diverse’ performance – in practice, this meant voices of Black and Asian people, from the UK but also the Caribbean, Africa, India. They tended to be angry voices. I had to question some assumptions that I had about other people from different cultural backgrounds to my own, assumptions that I’d never actually been aware that I’d had; there wasn’t a phrase for this then but it’s now called ‘unconscious bias’.

Since then I’ve worked with many different faces from many different backgrounds. Sometimes my projects are specifically about attempting to improve representation of people who aren’t white, middle class, straight, able-bodied. This work always brings me up short, making me realise the things I’ve misunderstood about people who are different to myself. Twenty years I’ve been doing this, and still it’s hard. I’ve given jobs to people who were white and ‘ready to go’ over those who were not white and needed training to get them up to speed. It was the right decision for the project, but was it the right decision for society? The emotions are conflicting: guilt, confusion, defensiveness, self-pity, frustration, tiredness, anger. Equality work is difficult. Black and White isn’t actually that black and white.

But the work is worth doing, we have to keep doing it.

So if you’re wondering what you can do to make life better in our society, I’d recommend once again to try and Be The Change. Look at your choices, look at your unconscious bias, look at the things you say/think/feel and see if they need unpicking a little. Educate yourself a little more on how we got to this point. It may make you feel uncomfortable but if everyone does this, imagine the changes that would come.

“We can not always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” Mother Theresa of Calcutta

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