In the US, Black History Month is an annual celebration of the achievements of African Americans and is a time to recognize the central role African Americans played in US history.
President Gerald Ford was the first President to officially recognize Black History Month in 1976, calling upon the public to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” However, almost 50 years after Ford officially recognised this month, the question remains - how much progress have we made to address the systemic barriers that impede the progress of African Americans?
And these systemic barriers, this racism, is not limited to the US. When George Floyd was murdered by a police officer kneeling on his neck for nine minutes in 2020, protests exploded not only throughout the US but also around the world in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, South Korea and more. Aida Sock, a Senegalese singer and artist involved in a protest in Senegal said “It was not just about Black Americans, it was about Black people, it was about Africans, it was about anybody… going through oppressions."
The protests connected people across the world despite their often very different racial contexts. These differing contexts can complicate attempts to address racism across different cultures and countries. Racism is shape-shifter – definitions of race, racial categories and how racism is expressed all adapt to their context. I’ve learnt that racism is both universal and highly specific. Every context has its dominant and non - dominant groups.
One of the greatest challenges in developing a cohesive global response to counter racism is that race is often tangled up with many other identities as well – ethnicity, religion, language, region, class and caste. While in the US, race and racism have been a driving social force, in many other regions, race is often one of several identities that divide and may play a less prominent role.
To further complicate things, race is highly emotive and politically charged and every country has its own subtle and coded ways of referring to race. In Rwanda, for example, one would never ask someone directly if they were Hutu or Tutsi-but this could be inferred; if someone fled to Congo in 1994, the chances are they are Hutu. If they point to a church along a highway and say their uncle died there, that is an indication that he was a victim of a church massacre during the genocide and the family is most likely Tutsi.
Indeed, the word race itself can elicit visceral reactions. In 2018, France removed the word from its constitution and it is illegal to collect race-based demographic data. These variations across different regions and contexts mean it is all but impossible to effectively confront racism with a one size fits all approach globally.
We are at a pivotal point in our social justice journey. The global response to the murder of George Floyd, which magnified the inequities in our societies, has opened up space that was previously closed.
Amanda Gorman, in reflecting on the delivery of her Inauguration Poem a year ago said:
"We are battered, but bolder; worn, but wiser. I’m not telling you to not be tired or afraid. If anything, the very fact that we’re weary means we are, by definition, changed; we are brave enough to listen to, and learn from, our fear. This time will be different because this time we’ll be different. We already are."
The next chapter is yet to be written by leaders like you. I have never been more excited and hopeful for the future and the role that organizations and people in them can play in advancing a more equitable, just, and sustainable society for future generations.
Did you know? You can sign up to receive blog posts like this straight into your inbox.
To learn more about how you can develop initiatives which are locally impactful and move the needle, join me for the Inclusion Allies Coalition webinar on February 16th at 12:00pm ET/9:00am PT/6:00pm GET/5:00pm GMT.
I will be sharing practical advice from my years of experience in leading global DEI transformation. I am delighted to be joined a phenomenal panel with a wealth of DEI experience between them - a few of whom I interviewed in my research for my book, Leading Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Kristen Anderkowski, Vice Chair of EWoB | Board Member; former Barilla, Italy
Batoul Hassoun, Co- Chair, Club 21e siècle, Paris
Mark McLane, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Well-being M&G Prudential, London
Margot Slattery, ISS Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion - Group People & Culture, ISS World Services, Ireland
Buy your copy of my new book today, and please do leave a review!
Learn from My Experience
Live Q&A | February 15th @ 10:30am EST
I'm excited that on Wednesday February 15, 2022 @ 10:30 am EST I will be hosting my 5th Learn from My Experience session, a 1 hour live virtual Q&A session facilitated by Laura Shipler Chico, an actress and facilitator based in London.
In the last Learn from My Experience hosted in December, we had leaders from over 10 countries register to join the session including the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Turkey, Spain, India, Peru and France. Companies represented were also incredibly diverse including Sodexo, Starbucks, UN Women, Citigroup, USTA and Unilever.
I look forward to another engaging session and to answering your DEI questions. To register and submit a question for this session, please click on the link below.
Please do share the link with colleagues and friends who may be interested in joining and learning more about Global DEI
Time zones: 10:30 EST 07:30 Pacific 15:30 GMT 16:30 CET 08:00 IST 22:30 Singapore