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Black History Month

The Runnymede Trust reflects on how 2020 has impacted on racism

27 October 2020 | by Black History Month

In this week’s blog Carol Sidney, office manager at the Runnymede Trust reflects on how ’the world arrived at the door’ of the UK’s leading race equality think tank.

This year, it seemed, the world came to us at the Runnymede Trust.

Tackling structural racism is at the heart of Runnymede’s approach to enabling understanding about the impact of racism.

We are arguing constantly, for a wider, broader, more systemic comprehension of the impact of racism.

We want people and organisations to realise and accept how embedded racism is in the way institutions are run, how laws are made, and how government and local authorities create and operate their policies.

Social and economic phenomena such as austerity has had a distinct impact on BME communities.

This year, in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests, it seemed the world finally embraced and accepted structural racism - a term, which, like its sibling, ‘institutional racism’ , had only mystified, irritated or even bedeviled the wider population who have the privilege of not experiencing it.

Take a snapshot of Runnymede's recent reports, all of them place a broader systemic focus in the necessary place, which has to be ‘front and centre’.

  • Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools warns about the dangers of minor disciplinary issues among students that quickly escalate into criminal issues, creating a 'schools-to-prison pipeline’ similar to the mature version we see operating in the USA.

  • From Expendable to Key Workers and Back Again: immigration and the lottery of belonging shows our national immigration system as dysfunctional and cruel, calling for a complete overhaul of policies that we believe are currently not fit for purpose.

  • Beyond Banglatown looks at how the Bangladeshi community has been excluded and displaced in a process of rapid gentrification of Brick Lane’s restaurants, and argues that the restaurants should be helped to evolve and survive and that we, collectively, all of us in the UK, should value the history and footprint of our curry capital.

  • Latterly, in Over Exposed and Under-Protected, Runnymede worked with research partner ICM to understand why BME groups are at greater risk from Covid-19.

Structural racism also has a psychological life. Individuals, groups, communities and whole populations are forced to attempt to live with it, to mitigate it and to try to transcend its privations.

In the last blog from the History of Psychology Centre in the BPS, the work of Dr Kwame Owusu-Bempah was celebrated, especially his work which noted how much psychological research had ‘perpetuated ’pernicious myths about ’black people's inner qualities’ rather than examining ‘the external systems under which Black people live’.

His address and call to action is very similar to the one The Runnymede Trust have taken up since its inception in 1968.

With the wider acceptance of evidenced structural racism, there comes a huge psychological shift, and with that, the possibilities and opportunities to acknowledge and examine the psychological, even existential burdens of racism on the people who live with it.

What connects me to other people with my skin colour is the emotional and psychological strategies we all have to deploy to transcend the burdens of racism.

So for me, as a Black woman and manager at The Runnymede Trust, I feel the slow unraveling of structural racism has finally started to speed up.

Systems have consequences, and it is the tragedy of black and brown people that those consequences have been routinely diminished, ignored or erased.

The beauty of this moment is that as the political, economic and social consequences have now become more widely accepted, we can now begin a kinder journey into the interiors of Black lives.

Documentary filmmakers, playwrights and other creatives can present those interiors in the expectation of acceptance and understanding by wider audiences.

I am fascinated to learn more and more of our strategies and stories, and, crucially, to have those stories and strategies understood by all, including psychologists, as the strategies and stories which reflect what any human would do in the face of adversity.

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