When I think about the black community and how much work needs to be done to undo hundreds of years’ worth of oppression and systemic racism - I feel exhausted. However, that doesn’t negate the responsibility the nation has to fix this problem. A problem so widely denied through colour blindness and the “why does it always have to be about race” brigade. As black British people, we have been gaslighted for years, having to double process whether an unjust experience was due to racism. The covertness of the UK elite culture allows biases and discrimination to be rife and unchecked because calling things out isn’t very British and the attack from the media is one that is greatly feared. Stormzy saying “definitely, 100%” when asked if the UK is racist got spun to “UK is 100% racist” by the media with an onslaught of abuse hurled his way. That is just one of many examples as to why most opt-out of speaking up.
I could tell something wasn’t right growing up, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it or spend time really dissecting it. I was a young A* student with sporting prowess and a hunger to succeed. I had tunnel vision with a focus strictly on my personal attainment. I gained a lot of opportunities, whether it was internships at investment banks, awards for my accomplishments or scholarships to America; I was classified as a high achiever. However, I was 23 years old when the penny dropped and my eyes opened to just how badly we had it as a black community in the UK and across the globe. I was able to assess my own privileges and realised that others that looked like me, weren’t as fortunate. On top of this, the white people that got similar opportunities knew someone, went to private school or just frankly had a rite to passage. There is a saying in the black community - ‘we have to work twice as hard to get half as far’ - and I really felt that.
In the education system, black students are three times more likely to be excluded than white students, less likely to be accepted into Russell Group Universities or even obtain a 2:1 and above. Exclusions feed into the criminal justice system with black people being nine times more likely to go to jail than their white counterparts and making up 12% of the prison population despite being 3% of the UK population. Black (and minority ethnic) people have to apply for 80% more job roles just to get a positive response and are also twice as likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. I felt these statistics in real life. Whether it was seeing my brother go to prison, seeing friends unemployed two years after graduating or the stark lack of diversity in the workplace. It’s easy to point the finger and blame the black community for these statistics when in fact racial biases in teachers, police officers, judges, recruiters along with the in-built prejudice systems that have been in operation since slavery are to blame. We have suffered as a community through divide and conquer tactics, colourism and featurism, generational trauma, flooding of drugs and economic deprivation. Imagine feeling fatigued for existing while black? That’s how we feel, we are tired.
I decided to create a solution. A global platform that connects black professionals with each other and corporations. This platform is my way of bringing this talented yet marginalised community together to support one another and grow together. Helping them connect all over the world helps to bridge divisions that exist internally and externally of the black community. I also believe in working with corporations and holding them accountable to real organisational change and responsibility for developing and empowering the black community. I welcome allies that want to help gain equity and equality for the black community while understanding the importance of not taking up space. BYP Network facilitates employment, mentoring, networking and upskilling for over 40,000 members while working with start-ups through to large corporations such as Accenture, Facebook and Depop. With a focus on recruitment, retention and reputation through our job board, shortlisting of candidates, webinars and connections to Black/BAME internal networks to help mobilise change.
As an individual there is so much you can do to help support the black community and be a true ally. Firstly, educate yourself by reading books such as Why I Am No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge or Natives by Akala. Secondly, check your privilege in your own life and start advocating for black representation within your workplace, within recruitment and promotion practices. Finally, donate to black causes, support and fund black businesses, be a mentor and diversify your supplier lists. For example BYP Network raised donations of £25,000 for black ‘at risk’ key workers and are currently raising £2m for seed investment for our next funding round.
In an ideal world, it shouldn’t take the killing of an unarmed black man, Covid-19 disproportionate death rates and Amy Cooper's prejudice, to spark a shift in the racism debate. Yet here we are. Black people cannot dismantle these systems alone, collaboration and allyship is needed and appreciated. For those of you that are silent, we hear you loudly and view you as complicit. Compassion and understanding is what we need from you as well as education, connections, mentorship and funding.
This article was written for the university of Nottingham alumni opinon editorial area with words from BYP Network Co-Founder; Kike Oniwinde (Economics, 2014), is the Co-Founder and CEO of BYP Network, a platform that connects black professionals to each other and corporations. Her motivation for starting BYP Network was to “change the black narrative” after the 2016 BLM protests and general lack of diversity within companies. Kike is a Forbes 30 under 30, Maserati Top 100 Most Innovative Founders and a Financial Times Top 100 BAME Leaders in Technology.