My career in EY started at the age of 16 straight out of school, working four days a week in a private day nursery and one day at college. I have always been surrounded by and connected to children, as an empath, I naturally want to comfort, care, soothe, love, and encourage and I have always been sensitive to injustice.
I was taught, we treat all children and families the same regardless of their background, gender, disability, sexuality, race, religion, or ethnicity. In fact, how many of us have answered that, when asked in a job interview?
Yet over the years, we have come to understand and know better, we should recognise we are different, and that we treat individuals differently in order to offer equality of opportunity.
My career in EY over 24 years, has meant I have worked with people of colour all of my life, not only children and their families but colleagues too. I have in all sorts of ways learnt about different cultures, ethnicities and religions simply by caring for children and working with colleagues, learning to understand our different values, beliefs, and languages along the way.
However, it occurs to me that the message of, ”I treat everyone the same”, has made me colour blind. I realise I naively did my job by wanting to make sure I welcomed and cared for children in the same way and I did treat all children the same regardless of the colour of their skin.
The reverberations of George Floyd’s death in America have been felt across the world and at first, I could not watch or listen, because I knew it would hurt too much. But then I realised by not looking, watching, and listening I was allowing myself to pretend it was not happening.
I feel strongly about what is happening and yet at the same time, because this was a race issue, I felt afraid to speak out, for fear of getting something wrong and offending. That did not sit well with me because when I deliver mental health awareness training one of the things I advocate, is the only way you can ever truly get something wrong is by not doing anything at all.
That has made me question a lot of things and I have done a lot of reflecting over the last few days and what I now realise, and have come to understand, is I thought that by not being racist, that was enough. I was wrong.
I also understand I have been ignorant to race – I did not properly understand white privilege because it made me feel uncomfortable, I did not educate myself further. I wanted to believe we were all the same. I was wrong.
Vanessa Belleau states, “how can white women demand equality so loudly but not care about what happens to other groups that suffer?” How long have we all been avoiding awful things that happen in the world because they do not affect us? I cannot ignore racism any longer just because I believe I am not racist.
Why is this relevant to our EY? Because our workforce is diverse and we must value that as a strength and we must not be afraid to notice the colour of our skin, to talk about and celebrate our differences and cultures, and recognise the rich experiences this adds to the lives of us all.
I also think there may be many others like me, loving and caring for children blindly. Yet not realising these same young people of colour grow up into a world that does treat them differently because of the colour of their skin. We cannot play pretend any longer, how can we turn away without looking at ourselves and considering how we can all play a part in fighting for their future.
What we don’t need in EY right now is token gestures, long gone are the days when you can proclaim you are a diverse setting just by having a copy of Handas surprise and a poster on the walls that ticks off cultural representation within your setting, but we know this still happens. How can we truly use ethnically diverse artefacts meaningfully in everyday ways that represent the cultures and backgrounds of children who attend our settings rather just doing what we have always done? A booklist is just not going to cut it.
As educators, we all have a responsibility to acknowledge racial differences and recognise unconscious bias that we all have within us, we can and must do better.
What I have learnt in recent days is as white people we need to learn to embrace the uncomfortable and we might get it wrong.
“Perfectionism is NOT a prerequisite to participation. You can actively work on diversity in your daily life AND use your voice against injustice at the same time” – Danielle Coke.
I/we can do more than post on social media or talk behind closed doors, I am now understanding we can become allies to people of colour by standing alongside them and committing to anti-racism.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be anti-racist. Anti-racsim is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” Ljeoma Oluo
Posting on social media is not enough, but we should be prepared to risk getting it wrong and learn from it rather than to remain silent. You do not need to be the loudest – but you do need to use your voice. Let us use our voices to turn to people of colour within our EY workforce and be vulnerable in our conversation, we are listening, we learning, and we are aware that we should have been doing this all along.
Please see images and links for further reading and sources of information if you are reading this and wanting to do more and thinking what next, specifically the image below from Dr Muna Abdi founder of BAMEed.
Advice for becoming an ally
Andrea Ranaej, Instagram @andrearanaej
Courtney Ahn, Instagram, @courtneyahndesign
The Children’s Community School They’re not too young to talk about race
Vanessa Belleau Instagram, @vanessabsmiles