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Let’s take the lead in housing

We all need to understand that fighting racism is everyone’s responsibility not just black people, says Betty Mwesigwa. We must all be vocal about racial disparities that are within our organisations

In recent months racial inequalities have hogged the limelight waking people up to the suffering of some groups in the community. For a start, we all got terrified of the new Covid-19 virus.

A few weeks into the lockdown, it was reported that the virus was disproportionally affecting BAME communities. According to Public Health England, the risk of black people dying from Covid19 is 10 to 50 times higher compared to people with white ethnicity. Research is going on to identify why but this has been mainly linked to social and economic  actors including a large proportion of BAME people living in poverty with poor housing conditions and working in frontline jobs meaning they are more likely to get exposed to the virus. However, to Black Lives Matter supporters, Covid-19 simply exposed the inequalities that stem from decades of racial discrimination.

Amidst the Covid-19 predicament we saw the death of George Floyd directing a spotlight to the racialised police violence in the USA that black people have endured for so many years. This unleashed the deeper anger about racial injustices in our societies which led to demonstrations in many parts of the world but mostly in the USA and UK major cities including London, Manchester and Cardiff. We saw thousands of black and white people on streets in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, making it clear that police discrimination and racialised violence was unfair and unacceptable.

However, the same racial discrimination is happening within our organisations. The difference is that police racialised brutality can be relatively, but not exclusively more physical and corporate brutality is more systematic and covert which makes it very hard for the victim to prove. But in both cases the effect is the same: black people are excluded, abused, damaged and destroyed.

Diversity is a buzzword for many organisations which doesn’t translate in everyday operations. We have organisations where applicants with ethnic minority names are unlikely to be called for interviews. Some black families have resorted to giving their children Anglo-Saxon names just to push them through the door. Even those who get in continue to face barriers to settling in and progressing. They are not mentored for leadership positions.

What can we do as the housing sector? I am optimistic that changes can start within the housing sector although this will require efforts of all of us.

As a sector which is committed to racial equality and diversity we must also internally examine where racial disparities exist within our organisations and not tolerate our shortcomings.  Let’s us not choose to rest on the laurels of our organisation’s diversity statements and policies, we should seek to enforce the policies and be accountable for them. There is need to level the playing field and support black employees. As it has been proven that black people are not lacking in skills and education, they are lacking support. But of course, these can only be achieved if we have a common understanding.

To start, we all need to understand that fighting racism is everyone’s responsibility not just black people. We must all be vocal about racial disparities that are within our organisations. Bias and colour-blind analytics should be challenged at all levels within our organisations. Often when people are not directly affected by racism the default response is to keep quiet. This could be because of fear of being prejudiced yet others lack conscience to deal with racial inequality forgetting it is only human to show support and concern to the affected people. Remember, keeping quiet during an injustice is siding with the oppressor.

Let us create dialogues within our organisations. Racism is mainly driven by the misconceptions we have about each other. Therefore, we need to learn more about each other’s culture, history, understanding and experiences of racism. Organisations can help by creating safe place where employees of all races can connect, talk freely, listen and learn from each other. The conversations can help people reflect on their biases, history and everyday actions which in some way could be discriminating to others. Plus, through dialogue employees can come up with unique anti-racial strategies that will suit the organisation.

As we know one size fits it all will not effectively end racism. However, to have constructive conversations we must not interpret comments on racial inequalities as affront. We must also resist being defensive especially when our positions and advantages are questioned. Defensive reactions can make the oppressed individual feel alienated which adds to the physiological trauma.

Bearing in mind that racism has been rooting in the society for so many years, unearthing it will take more than a few conversations. Racial dialogues and other diversity strategies should be a key part of organisational plans and we must act on them.

Betty Mwesigwa graduated with a BSc Housing Studies from Cardiff Met University in 2019. Since then she has worked with United Welsh Housing as a community link worker. She is passionate about equality and strongly believes that the  housing sector can take the lead in building inclusive communities.

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