Equality, Diversity & Inclusion

Corndel's journey from non-racism to anti-racism – one conversation at a time

15 September 2020 by Heidi Marshall

Earlier this year Corndel joined many businesses in pledging support for the fight against racism. We are now proud to say that 31% of employees are actively participating in one of six voluntary Task Groups.

Our strategy is emergent and staff-led and we are committed to sharing our journey with a view to supporting other organisations with the same goals.

We recently held an all-staff meeting in which we updated our workforce on the progress of the Task Groups and spent time exploring the notion of moving Corndel from a non-racist organisation to an anti-racist organisation. Our aim in these meetings is to hold ourselves to account and to move away from passively waiting for updates from the Task Groups. We want to listen actively to each other’s lived experience, challenge ourselves and move to action.

Group exercise: A transformative concept of anti-racism

We framed our discussion around an image compiled by the surgeon, Andrew M. Ibrahim MD, MSc, which incorporates ideas from Dr Ibram X Kendi's book, “How to be Anti-racist”. Diagrams and visual frameworks are highly effective ways of exploring ideas and concepts. We shared the model with the group, highlighting its mapping of the journey from a state of fear and denial about racism through to learning and growth. Participants were invited to reflect on where they might place themselves on the graphic, and to do so with as much honesty as possible. This exercise is about having the courage to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge where we are starting from.

 "Racist ideas have defined our society since its beginning and can feel so natural and obvious as to be banal... To be an anti-racist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring radical reorientation of our consciousness." Dr Ibram X Kendi

Moving out of the ‘Fear Zone’ together

We moved onto an exercise intended to support us in moving from the fear zone to the growth zone of the anti-racist model. We split the online meeting participants (around 70 people) into break-out rooms of around five people. We are a fast-growing company, and in all groups, there were colleagues from across the business who may not have known each other personally.

As educators we are keen to gather and learn from the many anti-racism resources already out there. The groups watched a short video clip of Akala, a Hip Hop artist, writer and historian. We chose him for his wide appeal and his links to Kentish Town, North London, where Corndel’s Head Office is based. Akala is in the top 100 most influential black men in the UK.

Akala talked about his own experience of ‘everyday racism’ in the form of ‘microaggressions’, highlighting the pernicious ways racism is perpetuated and internalised through everyday symbols, actions and language. Groups went on to have a discussion prompted by the question: What examples of ‘everyday racism’ or ‘microaggressions’ have you displayed, witnessed of experienced in your life, past work experience or at Corndel?  

Good practice for group sharing and reflection on racism

Our key recent learnings and reflections:

  • Give people structure and enough time. Setting tasks and providing a prompt question and resource can help focus the conversation. The appointment of a group lead or facilitator can help get a conversation started and ensure all voices are heard, either by doing a formal round or by encouraging wider participation.
  • Select resources that are truly representative and which provide a diversity of voice and experience. People will have a range of lived experience and knowledge, learning style and time commitment. We are collating a bank of popular and academic books; podcasts; video lectures; graphics; websites and portals etc.
  • Signpost to emotional and psychological support. Retelling and reliving one’s own experience of racism can be traumatic and people can be triggered. Participants should be reminded where they can access support such as the organisation’s Employee Assistance Programme.
  • Remind participants that it is not the role of black colleagues to teach their white colleagues about racism. The burden of carrying the experience of racism can be heavy. White employees may think racism is not their issue or they may fear taking over. It may need to be reinforced that everyone has a voice and a part to play.
  • Conversations benefit from a skilled facilitator. This can be an emotive topic and when people start to speak honestly about their own experiences, feelings of fear, anger, guilt, defensiveness may be expressed and tensions may rise. Sessions should be closed off sensitively and a plenary session may not be necessary unless the discussion is geared to collecting ideas and actions. We are carrying out more work in this area.
  • Move from a safe space to ‘brave space’. Sharing experiences of racism and discussing racist acts and white privilege can be incredibly difficult. Creating ground rules collectively is advisable but aim for rules which open up not shut down discussion, sharing and learning. We are working on an approach which we’ll share soon.

Transformation of individuals and groups

The transformative action of becoming anti-racist is to recognise the structural and systemic inequalities that are built into apparently fair, meritocratic processes, policies and practices. At the same time, we are individuals with the responsibility agency and voice to enact change on an individual level and as a community. We want to be committed and effective allies in the fight against racism and all injustice and inequality in the world — and replace it with love and equality.

We are proud of the progress we are making and how the message is landing to our workforce that Your Voice Matters.

As always, we would be delighted to hear how other organisations are moving towards an anti-racist culture.

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