Our Learning Journey: 2020

Here at Community Action MK we have been taking some time to share and learn as a team, what it means to be an organisation committed to social and racial justice.  As part of Black History Month we made time to discuss how important it is that we move forward with a genuine desire to change the systems that affect Black individuals and communities. It has been important for us to look at issues and account for the range of views and perspectives that people have. We are a community focused organisation, and to allow us to support the community, we have to create a safe, open space where people can learn and share. Whilst recognising and embracing that discussions will continue to, and have, made us feel uncomfortable, they have also positively challenged us to unpack issues and learn. We hope this experience will help us support groups to think about how to explore and act on diversity and inclusion issues for their organisations, and lead the sector to be more antiracist, what better place to start than with our own team.

The context:

Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement have been on people’s radar for some time, but in terms of understanding what systemic racism is, what it looks like today and its implications, we know there is more work to be done. We wanted to unpack and explore terms together and with a wealth of resources at our fingertips from the tireless work of others, we had a good starting point. It has been noted that lots of the conversations that are needed for progression are likely to be uncomfortable, and as a team we had to recognise and acknowledge this. But just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. If anything it should be further encouragement and a reminder of how vital the work is, because if it’s uncomfortable to learn about systems that are built around us and attribute to oppression, imagine how uncomfortable it is to live within them and be directly affected by them.


This is not  a task to be underestimated or done partially, so we are, by no means finished. We will continue to learn and embed better, fairer practices that work to actively undo racist systems to ensure communities and individuals have fair access and we can all be a part of a solution. Lots of the discussions globally have begun asking and rightly so, expecting there to be a move towards being anti-racist, which is a more proactive way of looking at undoing systems, through active participation in calling out and seeing racist behaviours, no matter how small an act or comment may seem, an example of this is the continual repetition of damaging stereotypes that maintain an image and perception of Black individuals. 

John Amaechi explains the key differences between ‘not being racist and being anti-racist’, take a look here.  We need the anti-racist urgency and focus to be able to see racist behaviours in all forms and areas of life, alongside a commitment to highlight this, for as long as it takes. This change in personal behaviour will hopefully be the long awaited commitment that can stop embedded racist behaviours and systems from going unnoticed and being continually normalised. We need to un-do the historical prejudices and perceptions placed on Black individuals. To do so, we need to be able to see and understand how and why such perceptions were created. 

The pyramid of white supremacy:

We have been looking at the pyramid of white supremacy that shows the varying levels of behaviour that contribute towards overt forms of racism. It highlights that for these overt behaviours and most commonly denounced forms of racism to exist, it relys on each layer of the pyramid, behaviours that are linked to minimisation and veiled racsim are the foundations of violence and genocide.

We can see these covert forms of racism within some of our biggest, national structures. For example, in our health care systems, where mental health research has shown that Black individuals are more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis and detained under the Mental Health Act than their white counterparts, this needs to be understood and systemic racism unveiled (Mind, Young Minds).

Employment research looking into discrimination notes that “Across all occupations, we found clear evidence of discrimination. On average, nearly one in four applicants from the majority group (24%) received a positive response from employers. The job search effort was less successful for ethnic minorities, with only 15% receiving a positive response. The resulting callback ratio of 1.6 indicates that minority applicants, despite having identical resumes and cover letters, needed to send 60% more applications in order to receive as many callbacks as the majority group.” (Summary of findings from GEMM report, GEMM report).

These are just a few examples that speak volumes about the current climate and environment that Black and Minority groups are facing. CA:MK looked at how we understood some of the different behaviours within the pyramid, examples of when we had seen them as well as looking into terms that we had not come across before, such as; ‘Shopping while black’, ‘Liberal Racism’ and ‘Euro-centric curriculum’. We learnt new terms alongside understanding the variety of views within the team, this is important to acknowledge as we know from community development that everyone has different views and it’s about understanding views, supporting people to learn together and creating an investment in both learning and change. An organisation we came across when looking into Euro-centric curriculum was The Black Curriculum UK who work to highlight the need to have integrated histories that foster a sense of belonging for young people, Black British history is not often included in national curriculum, apart from Black history month.  

What we’ve learnt so far…

These are just a few examples of how racism and racist beliefs are continuing to affect people. We have learnt that not only do we need to be aware of these new and to some extent, subtle ways of oppression, but we have to be active in how we understand and go about removing them. Consciously undoing our own unconscious bias, looking for and sharing with others when we see racist behaviours and actively interrogating positions of privilege. This is a proactive stance that we all have to commit to if we want to see real change – and it is a commitment. There is no sugar coating this. It will take time, work and a willingness to be uncomfortable. Reflecting is the first step of our learning and it is only through learning and understanding our own positions that we can begin to affect change through making unequal systems visible and understanding how they continue to affect minority groups.

Working towards change within the VCSE sector in Milton Keynes:

Within the Community and Voluntary sector of Milton Keynes there is a range of work ongoing to look at how we can become more diverse, inclusive and supportive. Currently we are hearing from and working with Fidele Mutwarasibo, a research fellow, who works at the Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership at the Open university. Initial talks and scoping is taking place to look into the idea of a BAME voluntary sector organisation. This is a potential solution to the evident gap in representation and to create a dedicated space and focus for marginalised groups and issues that affect them. As well as enabling a platform where diverse groups can speak for themselves and affect change.If you would like to know more about initial scoping meetings please get in touch with Fidele: fidele.mutwarasibo@open.ac.uk. Other works include the Arts and Heritage Alliances work into cultural inclusion and diversity, they have an upcoming event on the 16th November, you can register here.

Governance resources:

This blog comes just after Trustee Week and we wanted to take a moment to share resources around diversifying trustee boards. Diversifying isn’t a tick box, it comes hand in hand with a culture shift and inclusive practices of  whole teams. Action for Trustee Racial Diversity UK are campaigning to promote practical steps to address the under-representation of people from Black and Asian backgrounds. Currently only 8% of trustees are non-white compared to 14% of the population ( 2011 census, cited in NCVO KnowHow). This is a loss of talent and can speak volumes as to why the charity sector has had to acknowledge that there is a lack of diverse and equal representation. Take a look at ACEVO’s Home Truths report  and their research into people’s experiences of racism within the sector. Action for Trustee Racial Diversity UK has also shared a variety of resources here as well as Charity So White who are working to create and support fundamental shifts within the charity sector, both the uncovering of institutionalised racism as well a road map to making meaningful changes and commitments as organisations. They have brilliant resources and honest reflections of the issues we are seeing across the sector, and we feel that their call to action of prioritising, acknowledging and committing, hit the nail on the head.  

Diversity and Inclusion in the context of anti-racism:

Here we take a closer look at a Forbes article ‘The Dangers of Mistaking Diversity for Inclusion in the Workplace’. Diversity and inclusion are commonly used terms but understanding what they mean and the difference between them is one way things can progress positively. This article discusses the key differences between the two, citing that there is an inherent issue in believing that one implies the other. You could have a diverse work environment, but it can still not be inclusive. The article continues to unpack the negative implications of tokenistic diversity and the imbalances that become evident if actions are not taken with the right intention and understanding of inclusivity, stating how  ‘some organizations make the mistake of settling for checking the box of diversity without making the significant commitment to achieving true inclusion.’ This will often backfire and leave marginalised and minority groups in a more frustrated position than before.

Our commitment to being anti-racist: first steps…

As demonstrated by our initial exploration of issues, anti-racist work takes time and CA:MK want to put practical and measurable steps in place. The article above shares that if ‘Diversity is a sprint, Inclusion is a marathon’. We want and need this exploration, and desire for understanding to be a marathon, it needs to be embedded within our culture so that as we continue to support the sector we can share our learning and process to make long lasting changes that will contribute towards a more equal and fair sector, and society. This is action that needs to be done carefully but with urgency as people are managing oppression on a day to day basis and we do not want to continue to be a part of such a system. We welcome support, expertise and experience from others to help us on this journey and look forward to learning about how we can do better. 

With this in mind we are beginning talks with Dumi Senda, a coach and expert in diversity and inclusion to support us through this process and build a unique roadmap to change for CA:MK. You may have also seen Dumi’s work in the guest blog post he did for us, Inclusion not Exceptionalism.

We look forward to continuing to share our experiences and learning with you. Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. 

Some additional resources we came across: 

EVENT: Rethinking cultural inclusion and diversity report – Arts and Heritage Alliance MK – Join AHA on Monday 16th November at 5.15pm – Register here

Previous Blogs (CA:MK):