In 1972, my family immigrated from Scotland to a very divided South Africa. As a child, I had no idea what racism was and I accepted, without question, the apartheid laws which were enforced; only questioning these, when I found my voice in my late teens.
Growing up, I saw racism and injustices in South Africa; mostly subtle, like the way that privileged whites spoke to blacks, and whilst I can’t remember witnessing any physical attacks, I’m sure that they occurred.
As a privileged, white, British, woman, I understand what racism is, and that this can be fuelled by unconscious bias, but I don’t know what it feels like.
I asked some friends and colleagues what racism feels like.
I don’t know what it feels like because I’ve never been doubted or questioned due to the colour of my skin.
I don’t know what it feels like to be disregarded for job interviews, due to my surname.
I don’t know what it feels like to be turned down for roles because I don’t fit in with the rest of the team.
I don’t know what it feels like to be the only woman of colour travelling in the first class section on the train, and the only person to be asked to show her ticket.
I don’t know what it feels like, to ask directions in the street and to notice how the person steps backwards a little and holds onto their bag just a little tighter.
I don’t know what it feels like, not to have loads of role models in the media, who look like me.
I don’t know what it feels like to have to consider racism in a country, before I book my annual holiday.
I don’t know what it feels like to see how few people, who look like me, hold senior management positions.
I don’t know what it feels like.
But, just because I don’t know what it feels like, doesn’t mean that I have no responsibility to make change; no matter how small. If I were to put the shoe on the other foot, how would I like to be treated?
I can make a difference by being more aware and self-aware; understanding what reactions my actions may trigger.
I can make a difference by including content, specifically about racism, in my leadership and management training and coaching, ensuring that all future leaders understand what it feels like!
What can you do?