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Life through a lens: a different perspective

29 October 2020

Chris Scarlett, Senior Technical Business Analyst

"Look man, you can listen to Jimi but you can't hear him. There's a difference man. Just because you're listening to him doesn't mean you're hearing him."
From the film 'White Men Can’t Jump'

Following the events over the summer that have shaped the current social and racial justice movements, the start of Black History Month has been a time to reflect on life’s journey through a lens. What can be done differently?

#BlackLivesMatter is not new. There have been many different movements to support racial equality, from the activism of Martin Luther King, the Black Panther Party and, more recently, in Formula 1. Lewis Hamilton has established the Hamilton Commission, a research project that will work to identify the key barriers to the recruitment and progression of Black people in UK motorsport. Elsewhere in sport, Colin Kaepernick, the American National Football League and, closer to home, footballers have brought awareness to #BLM by 'taking the knee' before matches.

Looking back through history, you can find many inspirational Black men and women and identify when the seeds of equality were sown. I have had the opportunity to visit The King Center in Atlanta and it is easy to empathise with the King family’s journey: from aspirational Martin Luther King Snr to inspirational Martin Luther King Jnr, his legacy and the continuing work by his family. What is notable, following his assassination, is that there was a huge potential movement for change which was ultimately unfulfilled. Travelling onwards to New Orleans, earlier history shows the potential to embrace greater equality, following the abolition of slavery in the Southern States. There have been more obvious blockers to change, such as the Jim Crow laws, but also a continuing undercurrent which stops equality from coming to fruition.  More recently, you can see enormous disparity in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, between the rebuilding of predominantly white neighbourhoods versus the poorer predominantly black neighbourhoods, such as the 9th Ward, much of which is still to be rebuilt over a decade on.

It is often more comfortable to view these disparities from afar, to watch history unfold on CNN or see the sharp contrasts in US politics. However, these issues are all still present in society closer to home, even when they are not so obvious. Recently, there has been the Windrush scandal and, on the sporting front, well-publicised racism, specifically at Black players during England matches.

My personal history sparks my interest in social history: my grandfather was born in Swaziland, my mother in Nairobi (Kenya) and my uncle in Lagos (Nigeria).  It is not too hard to deduce that one side of my family has been part of the 'colonial machine’ in Africa.  This spanned from the 1920s to the 1960s, when they returned to England via St Kitts and Nevis (Caribbean). I have been brought up on stories from their life overseas and many stories of working and living alongside locals, both black and white. What is striking, however, is that I am sure that looking at life through our ‘family’ lens is very different to looking from the other direction.  Where we saw help, education and employment, others may have seen invasion and oppression.  Worse still is understanding the effects of post-independence in these countries and the legacy that was left behind.

It can be easy to view the lives of others through our own lens. However, we are at a time when we need to not only show empathy and support, but also to hear and understand, to start to broaden the discussion on race and the impact it is having in our society. History can be regarded from multiple viewpoints and it is incumbent on us to not just view it through our own singular perspective.

As such, there is a range of excellent material out there that may take us outside of our comfort zone and give us both a different perspective and a deeper understanding of society.  Here is a recommended reading list, curated from the internet and with help from #included, our diversity and inclusion committee. This is by no means an exhaustive or definitive reference, but some ideas to start the ball rolling:

Voices for Change 

  • Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • Me and White Supremacy – Layla Saad
  • The Good Immigrant – Edited by Nikesh Shukla
  • White Fragility – Robin Diangelo
  • They Can't Kill Us All: The Story of Black Lives Matter – Wesley Lowery
  • It's Not About The Burqa – Edited by Mariam Khan
  • So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo

Britain, Colonialism, Race and Class

  • Natives – Akala
  • Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging – Afua Hirsh
  • Dictatorland: The Men who Stole Africa – Paul Kenyon
  • Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

The American Experience

  • Between The World And Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Yellow House – Sarah M Broom

Remarkable People

  • Autobiography of Malcolm X – Malcolm X
  • I know why the caged bird sings – Maya Angelou
  • Born A Crime: Stories from a South African childhood – Trevor Noah
  • Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama


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