When silence is no longer an option.

Heather Hill, Dunecht Estate, Aberdeenshire.

Like most black people, I have followed the media coverage of the George Floyd killing and ensuing protests across the world with an almost feverish obsession. I have contemplated whether or not I should speak up and after observing the impact on my two sons, realised that silence is not an option for me.

I am proudly Black African. Born in Africa to Nigerian parents and married to a Black African man. However it took moving out of Nigeria to discover my “blackness”.

Watching the senseless way George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight and watching life seep out of him as he cried out “I can’t breathe” has affected me in more ways than I realised was possible. My 15 year old son took a day off homeschooling after reading about it on social media and I initially thought he was over reacting until I watched the video for myself. Watching the news triggered a response in me which was deeply buried. The insecurities I felt in my early twenties, when in day one of my first job in the UK, I was asked if I should be referred to as black or coloured. This was in 2003 not 1960 (the year my mother was born). I responded with, Mavis will be just fine, thanks. For the first time in my life I felt my blackness and like the “other” and this was not a great feeling. I’ve been asked if I lived in a hut in Africa by a manager and I smiled and said, we had a normal house with maids and a driver. Over the years, my confidence in my own skin has improved with age and experience, but I shudder when I think of other young black men and women in 2020 in a work environment where racist comments are tolerated.

I woke up this morning in a crowded bed because son #2 (9yrs old) slept with us after the second night of nightmares due to the killing. We’ve tried to shield him from what happened but he found out two days ago and it’s really upset him. With tears in his eyes he said, “I thought they only killed black people in the olden days and in history books?” It broke my heart seeing him like that and in that moment I knew I had to speak up for my children and other black people currently feeling the same way.

Dear Business Leaders, this killing has had a profound impact on black people. There needs to be a focus at the highest level on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. People should be able to feel safe and included at work. They will be more productive and it’s better for business. Speak out to your workforce and condemn non-inclusive behaviours. It is not enough to say you are not racist, but you are anti-racist. Let’s make something beautiful out of the pain and hurt the human race feels at the moment. I commend industry leaders that have openly spoken out already. Bernard Looney, thank you for your open letter. For others sitting quietly and pretending racism doesn’t exist, your silence is deafening. 

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