Transforming from the oak to the reed

This is a short post, reflecting my mood. I am currently feeling beaten down and overwhelmed by the world around me – too tired to fight or raise my voice louder than a whisper. So often recently I feel invisible even when I try to speak out, whether that’s in real life or social media; the louder voices of others beat me down. It is often like I am speaking into a void. I am urged by people who have the same wish for social justice to raise my voice, to be active, to fight. However, for now I have had my fill of banging my head on the invisible ceiling – my head and my heart aches. In response to this frustration my writing has dried up, the squiggling thoughts still squiggle but they circle around my head rather than forming words onto the page. I am sure that I will find resolve for action again – I am a strong resilient woman, my blackness has played a significant role in making me this way. However, that strength seems to make some people fear me, or label me as difficult or angry. If I stop my action others suggest apathy or indifference. Neither view is true. My resilience has been hard earned and knowing when to go inwards and gather my resources has been what has saved me so often through life. I am reminded of Aesop’s story of the oak and the reeds – the oak standing strong and immovable broke with the battering of the storm, whilst the reeds who bent with the onslaught survived. I like to see myself as able to transform from oak to reeds. I bend like the reeds at the moment gathering my strength in the face of my personal storm. However it does not mean I have given up, or changed my views, instead like the oak I stand strong in my resolve, and wait for my time to return.

This week I attended a conference to consider the academic ‘gap’ between ‘BAME’ students and white students at university. ( I hate that label – and was pleased to see that the term was problematised). The figures and data were stark and depressing providing proof that given an equal starting point, the experiences provided by university for ‘BAME’ students do not enable many of them to achieve their potential in comparison to white students. I listened to the university agenda for improvements to the student experience for these groups, frustrated that the driver for change is ‘data’, ‘metrics’ and ‘tables’. No different than any other phase of education I know – but one I fight with every fibre of my being in all phases. Relationships are what count to me – but of course these cannot be measured and do not provide data for those that require such tangible evidence and proof. I know that I should be happy that any action should be viewed positively – no action is better than inaction right? However, often the taste of these discussions felt sour in my mouth.

I listened and watched those fired by a real desire for social justice and true equality – they walk the walk. They are inspirational – people of all colours. On the other hand I listened with despair at those that other by their wish to fix the problem of ‘them’.

I listened to those who cry white allyship, but note with despair and fear how easy that slips instead to being white saviour in practice. Talking over people of colour to make out that they, the white people, have the solutions to make the issues disappear for those poor black folk is not ok. Using them for their own ends is not ok – that’s why we are in this mess. It is not a contest. We are not numbers or problems to be fixed to improve scores or to make white people feel better. Hearts, minds and hands instigate change not data, and it is so important that institutions engage all three and the outcomes might follow. It will be a long bumpy journey but without true engagement from the whole community it is doomed to failure. I have seen what my institution can do to make change in terms of other groups who face inequality and discrimination such as our LGBTQ community, and the difference that this has made. Whilst I know that this has not completely fixed the issues faced, there have been significant inroads made. I just wish we could have just one tenth of that same resolve and desire for change for the inequality and discrimination that people of colour face.

Perhaps I live in a bubble and, as someone one recently accused me of, that I believe only I have a moral compass. Perhaps I want the impossible – that people will be driven by an ethical and moral desire for change rather than a forced agenda. Perhaps any change is better than no change. In my inward reflection I am unpicking these questions.

However, meanwhile to those who want to use me, and people who look like me, to make them look ‘better’ or ‘best’ whilst treating me in exactly the same unappreciated, unequal way, I say ‘on your bike’…

…and if that sounds angry it’s because I am. You have played a part in making me that way.