Diversity is no Substitute for Equality

As someone who grew up influenced by the Civil Rights movement of the 60s ,70s in America and the equivalent movement in the UK, it is with some regret that we now witness a time where right wing politicians are invoking Martin Luther King in defence of their racist rhetoric and adopting language that we assumed was a thing of the past.

Are we getting closer to a time when celebrations like Black History Month are either banned or fully converted into carnivals of singing, dancing, and back slapping. It was not such a long time ago when being a communist in America ( The McCarthy period) was seen as an act of subversion and a policy of victimisation ensued and we look back and wonder how did that happen. We live in. time where there are concerted efforts to ensure that the teaching of Black History is outside of the curriculum and deep offense is taken when the reputations of those who acquired their wealth through slavery is questioned…..what happened to the Free Speech that those on the Right hold so dear! Sadly, History unchallenged is History confirmed and even more so when we as Black people become too comfortable with the position we have found ourselves and fail to collectively stand up and protect and proclaim the truths of our own History.

We came with the dream of integration…more of a desire than an expectation. We then entered the phase of Multi-culturalism, in the glory days of the 60s/70s where the mantra was respecting our differences with little discussion as to how those differences were valued. We then gained the confidence to recognise how our individual identities attracted individual ways for differentiation…..and that “Racism” was not the only way we could be measured. We then returned to integration as we adopted the British culture aided and abetted by the physical integration of mixed-race relations and the dazzling Bling of Diversity that flatters to deceive. We allowed our differences to be exploited by way of religion, nationality, complexion, class and any other factor that tempted us to stray far from who we really were……and many of us have distanced ourselves from the condition of Black asylum seekers and refugees.

Well….what a journey we have had, particularly in the Black communities. The Caribbean communities with the Windrush Generation at the forefront, were the foot soldiers and their children carried out that tradition with more vigour and conviction. Clearly the objective was to fit in, get a good job, start a business, and get on with our lives. To a certain extent that is what we have done; but has that desire to integrate with a limited understanding of our history made us more fragmented and weaker.

Our very presence in numbers convinced us that as long as we were visible and demonstrably “ethnic” that could compensate for any other deficiencies that society visited upon us. There was a time when that ostentatious show of our identity marked our pride in our identity but that was twinned with a political awareness of our Black identity and the political circumstances that impacted upon our presence. Unfortunately, that political awareness has been dulled by the desire to be politically palatable; so we have a presence in numbers but a limited willingness to challenge the institutional racism of the society that has permitted us to come to the table but not to consume all on display.

The new flavour amongst those who choose to be our friends is “EDI”; Equality, Diversion & Inclusion”. One in a long line of terminologies that are poor substitutes for “anti-racism” that allow many to posture without really delivering. Very often shrouded in long and complicated documentation managed by characters who look the part and see that role as a steppingstone to a proper position. The adoption of EDIs has become a rite of passage to be ticked before getting on with the proper business of the day.

Back in the day the expression of Racism was more explicit and in a strange way we knew where we stood. We have provided the gatekeepers with all the tools to keep us in our place . We have given them the language to mimic our political position and we have flooded the cultural spaces with “The Bling of Diversity”. It all looks good superficially, but closer examination will reveal that much that was a problem yesterday is still a problem today and the way things are going very little will change in the near future. Perhaps it’s the generation beyond this one that may navigate a path where our future is a proper reflection of our past.

Don John