One thing that I am acutely aware of in my role as the Association Vice President Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (VP EDI) is I can never claim to know everyone's struggles. I can, however, speak on behalf of students, and raise their voices loud and clear about issues that they are affected by. I am also an ally to underrepresented and marginalised student groups, this includes increasing my own learning and understanding, as well as making everyone aware of what they can do to support others.
With this in mind, I have been actively seeking out opportunities, and when I heard about the Race Equality Matters challenge during a race equality meeting with the OU, I knew I had to take part. It can be eye-opening and a little uncomfortable to face your own internal biases, which is what the challenges during the week encourage you to do, but they also help identify changes you can make to take action against racial inequality. This challenge was taken up by some staff at the OU, Association staff and members of the Student Leadership Team (SLT).
This is some of the content from the challenges during the week (and my big promise):
One of the challenges was centred on microaggressions and how these can create harm, and how some people can face more microaggressions than others. Other challenges included learning about the importance of name pronunciation, and what it means to be anti-racist.
What is a microaggression?
A microaggression is where a person may behave or speak in a way that creates harm and upset to a marginalised group. Often these can be done without realising that you are causing harm, and may take the guise of ‘banter’. However, these can be incredibly insulting and can cause upset even if a person from said group laughs along with you (this can happen if they feel uncomfortable raising it as a problem as they may not feel they can speak up). The one thing about microaggressions is that they can sometimes seem like a one-off or stand-alone event but these can occur multiple times a day, and can negatively impact a person's life and their view of the world around them.
This video included in the day 2 challenge is a quick and easy way to understand microaggressions and the impact they can have.
Being aware of our own biases (and taking the time to stop and think before we speak) can make a big difference in how we interact with and impact those around us. As well as our own actions, we can also be an ally to others – the chances are if you feel uncomfortable about what you are hearing, then the person it is aimed at probably will be too. Where you do not feel able to challenge this behaviour, reach out to the individual affected and let them know that they have your support.
Can you say that again please?
Another aspect of race equality is the correct pronunciation of a person’s name. Your name is a part of your identity so when someone does not take the time to correctly pronounce or learn the pronunciation, it is demeaning and disrespectful. Whilst there will be times that we will get this wrong (no one is perfect!) Race Equality Matters suggests some ways to deal with situations respectfully, which include observing and practising how a person pronounces their own name, asking them how to pronounce their name or asking them to remind you of the pronunciation if you have not seen them for a while – and whatever you do, DO NOT be dismissive of how a person pronounces their name or ask to call them by another name!
Another tool that can be useful is adding the phonetic spelling of your name to your email signature or other correspondence. There is a useful tool to do this from Race Equality Matters.
What does it mean to be anti-racist?
Race Equality Week has also focused on the importance of anti-racism, and whilst most of us are not racist, do we call out those who are? This is what it means to be anti-racist, actively calling out racist behaviour or telling someone that what they are doing and saying is not acceptable. Staying quiet or ignoring racism when we see it is not anti-racist. It is important that we acknowledge when a person is being out of order and acting in a way that can cause harm to others.
As I have already mentioned, not everyone feels like they can speak up but there are certain ways we can equip ourselves with an anti-racism toolkit. Some suggestions include being able to identify and practice a few comments that can address racist language and behaviour. Speaking out does not have to be confrontational – it can be done in a calm and respectful way, and it is better to say something rather than nothing. Confidence in speaking out can also be gained from learning about a person's lived experience – this can be anything from using websites such as Race Equality Matters to reaching out to peers and hearing their experiences (if they are comfortable sharing them).
The Big Promise:
The final challenge of the week was to make a Big Promise. This is a set of commitments that you can act on in your work and everyday life to ensure we can all be anti-racist and to encourage race equality.
My Big Promise is below. Will you make yours today?
Race Equality Matters, The Big Promise:
I, Natalie Baker, promise to:
- Call out and challenge racism/microaggression
- Take action more than just talk about race inequality
- Learn and proactively act anti-racist
- Expand and diversify my network with people from other backgrounds
- Be a mentor/sponsor to an ethnically-diverse colleague
- Use my privilege to benefit and support ethnically-diverse colleagues (and share how)
- Commit to achieving race, diversity and inclusion targets (and share results)
All of the information from Race Equality Matters about Race Equality Week and the Big Promise can be found here.
Union Black is a free course that has been developed by The Open University’s Dean of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Marcia Wilson and Deputy Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lurraine Jones.
The Race and Ethnicity Hub on Open Learn has a number of articles, activities and free courses that provides a fresh perspective on race, racism and ethnicity.