The Executive Suite’s third virtual seminar was “Confronting the remnants of historical myths and monsters” discussing the importance of gaining critical insights from past and recent history – to challenge, inform and introduce new perspectives on race that have the power to change leadership mindsets and practice to deliver racial justice. It was recorded on 25th March 2021.
Professor David Adetayo Olusoga is the author of Black and British: A Forgotten History.
David is a Bristol based British historian, film-maker, writer and broadcaster who has recently interviewed former US President Barack Obama. During the session we invited executives to explore the importance of gaining critical insights from past and recent history. These insights challenge, inform and introduce new perspectives on race, that have the power to challenge and change leadership mindsets and practise to deliver racial justice.
(Click each to reveal a short biography)
Jenni Douglas-Todd: Director of Equality and Inclusion (NHS England and Improvement)
Jenni Douglas-Todd is recently appointed Director of Equality and Inclusion for NHS England & Improvement, which has the fifth largest workforce globally. Additionally, Jenni is Independent Chair for Dorset Integrated Care System and shortly to step down as Deputy Chair of University Hospitals Southampton.
For the past four years Jenni has held a portfolio alongside doing consultancy work and is the Equality & diversity lead in all her portfolio roles.
Previously Jenni was Chief Executive Officer to the Hampshire Police & Crime Commissioner proceeded by undertaking that role to the Hampshire Police Authority. Jenni is a qualified Probation Officer and subsequently held a number of senior public sector roles including as a civil servant in the Home Office and with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Mohammed Hussain: Senior Clinical Lead – Live Services (NHS Digital)
Mohammed Hussain FRPharmS MAPharmT FFCI Biography
Mohammed works at senior level in a portfolio career spanning national regulation, education, national health care technology and service redesign.
Mohammed has served on a number of Boards and is currently a Non- Executive Director at Bradford NHS Teaching Hospitals Trust. Mohammed has been a champion for equality and inclusion throughout his career and has been outspoken at the inequality in his profession of pharmacy, the NHS and beyond. Mohammed is passionate about health technology, championing diversity and delivering excellent clinical care.
Mohammed is the Senior Clinical Lead for Live Services at NHS Digital, leading a clinical team that supports 600 digital and technology live services across England. Mohammed is a Founding Fellow of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics.
Mohammed was a Council Member on the General Pharmaceutical Council, the pharmacy regulator and is a Fellow of both the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and the Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, both awards recognising distinction for services to the profession of Pharmacy.
Felicia Kwaku, OBE: Associate Director of Nursing (King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust); Chair of the Chief Nursing Officer’s Black Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group (NHS England and Improvement)
Felicia is an Associate Director of Nursing at Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. & is also the currently interim Chair of the Chief Nursing Officer for England BME Strategic Advisory Group. Felicia has over 31 years nursing experience, specialised in general Intensive Care/Cardiac nursing. She has held academic, research, Director of Nursing and other senior Nursing posts.
Felicia has always had a passion for clinical practice ensuring that patients as well as staff are at the centre of our care. She believes that if the workforce is not highly valued then this is reflected in poor care delivery. As a senior nurse, Felicia performs both clinical and operational duties and is highly visible both in & out of uniform..
Felicia sits on the following Committees/Forums and Charities:
Prevention of Nurse Suicide Oversight Group, NHS England/Improvement; London Race Equality Steering Group, NHS London; Remembering, recognising & honouring NHS colleagues – Advisory Group, NHS England/Improvement; Commonwealth Nursing and Midwifery Federation UK diaspora group; International committee: Royal College of Nursing (RCN); Subject Matter Expert – Standards for Student Supervision and Assessment (NMC); Professional Standards Advisory group Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC); Nursing Education and Project lead: Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association UK; Nursing Education lead: Save a Heart Nigeria foundation (Charity)
*Felicia was awarded an OBE for services to Nursing on 9th October 2020 in the Queen’s birthday honours list
Each webinar is transcribed to provide a text record of the event and provide further assistance for those with access difficulties.
Click to reveal seminar transcript
Tracie Jolliff [00:00:01] Hello, we’ve called today’s session Leading for Racially just Futures: Confronting the Remnants of Historical Myths and Racial Monsters. On the screen right now, we can see a picture of one of these monsters of Africa taken from Pliny’s book in the 1550s and referenced in David Olusoga’s latest book.
Tracie Jolliff [00:00:19] The idea behind this session is that we have much to learn from our racially unjust histories about how to create a racially just future. This is a session for our Executives from the Executive Suite and from the Leadership and Lifelong Learning function of the People Directorate. The purpose of this series is to support our executive leaders to gain a deeper and critical understanding about how to progress the work of inclusion, beginning with racial justice. We’ve opened up this particular section to a wider audience so I’d like to thank you for attending and welcome you today.
Tracie Jolliff [00:00:55] We’ve all been subjected to the process of being racialized and as we’ve learnt from previous seminars featuring Dr. Robin D’Angelo and Professor Kehinde Andrews, our racial identities shape our experiences and therefore our views on the world. As we build upon these ideas today, let’s consider the ways in which inequity is baked into our systems, our processes, our policies and our practises, and how, through our leadership we might begin to exercise our justice intentions through our agency. We need to create the story, make the paradigm shifts that we need to make and to achieve our purpose of creating more racially just cultures. The transformation that we’re seeking here is a fundamental one where we as leaders must relocate the purpose of our leadership and our decision making so that it’s rooted in social justice. It’s through us reframing who we are and who we wish to be, that we can create the conditions for others to effect this transformation and embed our values for inclusion into the cultures that we create. BME leadership at senior levels in the NHS is not as common as we’d like it to be as yet and we’re learning how to support our BME leaders. And this learning often comes at a personal cost to those who are already peddling the fastest, because this is not a level playing field and these leaders are on a steeper incline because of who they are. This is true for women, disabled people, LGBT staff and BME staff, of course, and the various intersections between these categories. I’m pleased that Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer, is with us today to say a few important words of introduction. She’s a first and as with all of those who are BME firsts in spaces in which they can be seen and heard, she’s leading in ways that open up the spaces for the system to look into the mirror and see what it’s racial justice reflection is telling us. Sometimes, of course, our reflections are not quite what we had hoped to see. Welcome Prerana Issar.
Prerana Issar [00:03:10] Thank you so much, Tracie and Good Morning, everybody. Thank you for joining this session. By joining the session, you’re already demonstrating your commitment to making a positive difference in this area. I’m Prerana Issar, the Chief People Officer for the NHS, my pronouns are she/her. Let me start by saying that what’s on my mind right now is the experience of my 14 year old daughter, whose name is Sheranya and in one of her classes recently in a school in London, the teacher said, well, that’s too complicated a name, I’m going to call you ‘Bob’. And she came back in tears that day and said, I can’t understand why I can’t be called by my given name. And of course, we took it up with the school and she had a conversation with the teacher who said to her, well, I was just making a joke. And she had the presence of mind to say to him. You thought by calling me by a boy’s name, a white boy’s name, usually, that you were making a joke or were you erasing me? And I was so proud of her when she said that. It’s not something we had discussed and it took her weeks to get over that, you know, to get over that engagement or interaction with an adult who should have known better, an educator who should have known better and what has stayed with me is that if that’s what’s happening in schools and we’re privileged, we’re lucky she goes to a good school with good Ofsted ratings. You know, what is happening elsewhere and how are things going to be different when she’s in the workplace? So I come to this discussion with a real sense of personal investment and I know that so many people on this call have made personal sacrifices, have taken lots of risks, and sometimes those risks haven’t worked out well. But every day when you take a risk, it is making a difference. So the NHS was set up in 1948 with a real vision and a commitment for social justice, that health outcomes, positive health outcomes should be the same irrespective of race, gender, gender orientation, postcode, income, and 73 years later, we have, by the way, we’re still almost the only country in the world to have truly universal healthcare and that’s something absolutely to be treasured and admired. So we’ve made a lot of progress in the original intent for the NHS, but there’s still a lot more to be done. We know that the least deprived person in the UK lives 20 years longer than the most deprived person in the UK. We know that racism is a public health issue. Deprivation is a public health issue and when these two race and deprivation overlap, we can just imagine what that does to life expectancy and health outcomes. So we need to understand both of these issues as leaders, deprivation and racism. And what we know is that as leaders in the NHS especially, we have a key role to play in addressing the issues that lead to health inequalities. The NHS doesn’t have all the levers, but we all come to work every day in the National Health Service to create positive health outcomes for everybody who needs them. And what one of my reflections, before joining the NHS two years ago, I was in the United Nations and before that in a private sector company called Unilever for 16 years and what I’ve seen across those different sectors is that the NHS has more levers, obviously, than any other sector in society to make a positive impact on health equality. Of course, we need local government to work on this issue as well. We need educational settings, but we do have a lot of levers here in the NHS. So as leaders in the NHS, what do we need to know about racism, its causes, its history, the present way in which it manifests itself every single day for people who are working on the front line providing care, the weathering effects, what it does to health, what it does to our poor activity. What it does to our ability to be compassionate towards others, and that’s the purpose of this seminar series to help us have the language, to help us have the frameworks, to make sure that every single day we’re making a positive difference in this quite, it’s a complex and challenging and emotional subject. So what I want to say about if we pivot to the future, we’re going to talk about how, you know, what’s the language, what’s our shared frame of reference of where we find ourselves today as a society, but also where we need to go. So when I joined the NHS, one of my reflections was that we have somehow disconnected our commitment to health equality and our commitment to equality within the NHS. And one won’t happen without the other. We are you know, we’ve said staff and communities, actually staff are communities. They are very influential members of their communities and so when we are not as incensed about inequality within the NHS as we are about health inequalities, we are sort of setting the agenda back because these two things are absolutely one and the same. So looking forward, I want to use Sir Michael Marmot’s words, which is after covid, how do we build back fairer? A lot of people have mentioned building back better, but actually how do we build back fairer? We know that inequalities in social and economic conditions before the pandemic contributed to the high and unequal death toll from covid-19. We also know that reducing health inequalities, including those exacerbated by the pandemic, requires long term policies that have equity at their very heart and so to build back fairer from the pandemic we’ll need multi-sector action. We’ll need leadership from the leaders who are on this call and many more who aren’t, and the investment in public health to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on health inequalities. So I guess, the point at which I feel really hopeful is that we’ve paid a tragic price for the last year in terms of inequalities, but we’ve also now got an opportunity where different conversations are happening and can happen to make sure that we are not letting all those sacrifices and that cost be in vain. So thank you for again for being here. I wanted to introduce our amazing keynote speaker and guest, David Olusoga, who is a British Nigerian historian, broadcaster and filmmaker. His most recent TV series include Empire Black and British: A Forgotten History, The Worlds War and Many Others. David is also the author of Black and British: A Forgotten History, which was awarded the Longman-History Today Trustees Award and PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize. There are lots of other books, and I would encourage you to to have a read because there’s very compelling and well researched material there that made me think and made me feel. David, I want to welcome you and and also to say that we really appreciate you spending your time with us today. Thank you very much again and I’m going to hand over now to David. Thank you.
David Olusoga [00:11:18] Thank, thank you very much.
Tracie Jolliff [00:11:20] Thank you, David. It’s great to have you with us and I’m just going to be asking you a few questions going forward. So, David, you’ve just landed a few minutes ago. Is there anything you want to say, having heard what Prerana has said?
David Olusoga [00:11:33] Well, I mean, the irony for me is that I’m currently making, I run a production company. We’re making a documentary about the National Health Service and its long history of being intertwined with the story of movement and migration and in some ways, this is what’s special and unique about the NHS. That there’s many things special and unique about the NHS, but this most beloved national institution, this national religion, as it’s called, sometimes, is intertwined with what has become and what has been at times deliberately made the most fractious political issue of our time. You cannot tell the story of the NHS without telling the story of migration and movement. And you also, I’m afraid, can’t tell the story of the NHS without talking about the ways in which people have been treated in disparate and unequal ways based on race. And this is everything from its foundation in 1948 to the present day. What you see is the same patterns. You see a series of revelations and scandals and promises to do better. You see twin tracks where people from one group are expected and able to do better. You see parts of the NHS in which people from non-white backgrounds are enabled, are encouraged to spend their careers and parts where they are discouraged. Now, if this is our national religion, if this is the most valuable institution in our nation, the biggest employer in Europe, something that we’re rightly very proud of, it sort of matters more that the NHS gets diversity right than any other institution in the United Kingdom.
Tracie Jolliff [00:13:02] And I think you’re speaking to a bought-in audience to that statement and just before Prerana goes, I just wanted to ask Prerana, is there anything you want to say in response to what David has just said?
Prerana Issar [00:13:15] Well, I agree completely, wholeheartedly, David, with what you said. Both, that the NHS is a national treasure and institution like no other, as well as the fact that it has both more opportunity and more responsibility to lead the way in terms of racial justice and social justice for England. So, yeah, both of those things are equally true and actually, I think that’s why all of us come to work every day. But I also know that progress has not been as, you know, it hasn’t been as fast as we would like, and many people on the call share that view and therefore, hearing from you about where you think some of the insights can come from, how we can convert intention into action, that would be really, really valuable. Thanks, Tracie.
Tracie Jolliff [00:14:06] Thank you Prerana. So, David, I’m just going to dive into a few questions that we are all anxious to hear your thoughts on and the first one is that we’d like to just hear a little bit about you and your personal story. What’s influenced you on your journey up until this point?
David Olusoga [00:14:23] I found myself talking more and more about an incident from my childhood, and not because I’m still, you know, profoundly damaged by that incident, but because it was the moment when I began the journey when I was 14, my family were were driven out of our home by the National Front. Our house was attacked. The windows were broken repeatedly night after night. We lived under police protection for several, several months and in the end, we just sort of gave up and we were moved into emergency housing and I was a 14 year old boy. After the attack, a swastika and the NF symbol was painted on our front door and it was a profoundly awful experience, but I got over it, as people do. And I know many people have far worse experiences of encounters with racial violence and people recover, but, intellectually, what that experience made, the question it made me ask is a really simple one, is that the people who did this and the police knew who they were, they just couldn’t catch them. That we were part of the same community and yet those young men made an incredible decision. They decided that it was the right thing and the moral thing to put bricks into a bag, to break into a Victorian cemetery, in the middle of the night, to creep across and then to throw bricks through the glass windows into bedrooms where children were sleeping. Now, I cannot conceive of an idea, a cause, an ideology, a political belief that would convince me that was the right thing to do and yet that’s exactly the conclusion they came to. What that speaks to, to me, is the absolute incredible power of this idea called race. And that is an idea. It is a concept that was built over centuries and that infects our society. And it led people, who I’m sure have gone on to live lives where they’ve done good things as well as bad things. It led them to do something which to most of us is unimaginable, to throw bricks through glass windows into the bedrooms of children sleeping. So that’s, an incredibly powerful idea and an incredibly dangerous idea.
Tracie Jolliff [00:16:25] Indeed. David, I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been and what struck me from your story was this idea that people hold multiple truths, not just one, so people can be good people as well as doing really unpleasant evil things, like throwing bricks through children’s bedroom windows. And so I just want to go on and explore a few more of these ideas. So, in your book, Black and British: A Forgotten History, which I’ve read and I think it’s brilliant and I would really recommend it to everybody else. You say that black British history is hidden in plain view and I’ve heard Eddie Glaude from Princeton recently say that the built environment reflects its racist commitments. So where racial justice is concerned, there’s often a disconnect and Prerana talked about disconnects and I think this subject matter has so many disconnects in it. But the disconnect that we’re looking at today is the disconnect between our history and our present, because people just don’t know about the racial history of Britain. And so I just want to ask you, how important do you feel it is that we learn the lessons from our history of racial injustices in order to inform our future leadership efforts to build racial justice?
David Olusoga [00:17:46] Well, I think the dangers of not knowing this history, I think we can see them very clearly. We can see them documented very precisely in a recent event in the report that followed up on it, which is the Windrush scandal. So the lessons learnt review that was published around this time last year well into the winter of scandal. What Wendy Williams and her team identified was a culture of historical ignorance within the Home Office. The people in the Home Office who were making decisions about whether or not people who’d lived in Britain for often half a century, people who came here as children in the 60s, in the 70s, they were making decisions about their right to be in Britain. And they were ignorant of two things. They were ignorant about, the first thing, which they absolutely have no business being ignorant about, which is the history of immigration legislation from 1948 to the present day, which is their job, and that’s just a structural failure. But they were ignorant of something much more profound. They didn’t know who these people were. They didn’t understand their background. They didn’t understand the histories that explained who they were and for those people, those histories were family histories. They didn’t understand that Jamaica has been part of England’s sphere of influence in 1655, half a century before Scotland was part of England’s sphere of influence. They didn’t understand that the city I’m talking to from today, Bristol, was transformed, as was Liverpool, as was parts of London, as was Whitehaven and as was Glasgow, by the Atlantic slave trade. They don’t understand that Britain was the prime trader in the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century. They think this is a small, marginal history that is of interest only to minorities and that it is a small tributary into the mainstream of British history, and that is because we’ve been very, very good at disguising our history. We’ve been very good at airbrushing out the linkages between what we think of as mainstream history and the parts that involve black and brown people. And also because what developed as black British history in this country focussed on, it followed an American template. It was only really about black people living in Britain. Now, that’s really important and I’m very committed to that. But that cannot tell the full scope of Britain’s engagement with people of African heritage and the continent of Africa, because British history is, by its nature, for the past 500 years, global and imperial. So we don’t know this history. We don’t understand that Bristol was built on the slave trade. They don’t understand that Manchester was built on the trade, on the processing of slave produced cotton. They don’t understand that the city of London pioneered its new financial instruments and became the centre of finance because it was financing slavery in the sugar trade. So, if you think this history is small and if you think this history is one that doesn’t need to be engaged with, then you don’t go looking for it. And we haven’t, as a nation, been very, very good at disguising the realities of this history, and within this history lies the origins of that idea that led people to drive my family out of my house when I was 14.
Tracie Jolliff [00:20:43] Wow. So, the history is really important and you said something that struck me there, they didn’t understand who these people were, you know, when leaders, in the Home Office, were making decisions or anywhere, not understanding who the people are and what framed their history is a significant omission. And what I’m aware of, David, is the difference between some communities that understand the history and some communities that don’t. And you know, how I have been encouraged by other people who look like me and throughout my life to look at the history of race, understand that history, because it has helped me to make sense of some of my experiences that I have today. So I’m moving now to 2020 and 2021, where we’ve all seen these seismic shifts around racial justice and it feels like the tectonic plates of racial justice are shifting, but we don’t quite know where they’re shifting to and we can all feel the tremors of these. So what sense, David, are you making of this? And what would you say is the story of now in Britain on racial justice?
David Olusoga [00:21:59] I think the story of this moment, there’s two parts to it. One is the depressing side, which is that well, let me put it this way, there were two lessons you could learn from last summer. One is that Britain was a country that needed to process its past and a huge generational gulf had opened up with young people willing to confront that history and older people, for the most part, unwilling. The other lesson you could take is that you could exploit that for political and electoral gain, and both of those processes are taking place. The government is trying to use this history, use these new ideas to create a sense of a threat amongst mainly white communities, mainly in areas where the government has nothing else to offer economically, no economic policy. The north is not going to be levelled up, it’s going to be offered flags and xenophobia instead. But, the other aspect of it, I think is, is we can’t ignore that negative and that dangerous aspect, but I think the other aspect of it is quite profound, because this is not a political event. This is what happens when you have a shift in generations. What happened in Britain really over the past two centuries is that we came to see our history and we came to build a history that enabled us to regard history as the place of recreation. It’s a place that we go to feel good about ourselves, to believe that we are members of a special, almost magical nation who’s only done good, that has been played an almost messianic role in the world, and that if you construct history as a place of greater safety, to go to feel good about yourselves, you need necessarily in order to complete that construction, you need to take out of your history the parts that don’t fit the inglorious chapters. The Atlantic slave trade, the violence of empire, the exterminatory policies in parts of the empire. The construction of the idea of race by a vastly influential slave trading, slave owning lobby in the 18th century. You need to edit these pieces out. If history becomes a soft play area you need to take out the sharp objects and the problem with that is you end up with a history which is fundamentally dishonest. And what’s happening now is a young generation who just don’t need history to perform that function, who don’t look to history books and history programmes to make themselves feel good about themselves. You want to ask difficult questions, are the beneficiaries, they are the first generation who can be the beneficiaries of an actual history that’s been researched, they know this stuff now. They have access to the Internet, the greatest information tool ever created. They have access to new books and new television programmes. They are aware of this history and so when young people in Bristol look at the statue of Edward Colston, they don’t see what their parents and grandparents saw, which is a philanthropist, because that is what they were told at school. What they see as a man who was complicit in the killing of 19,000 human beings and the enslavement of 80,000. So when you have this huge generational shift, what you have is the potential for enormous change, but also enormous, enormous conflict, and the fact that, that belief that it is wrong to venerate mass murderers is now subject to a new criminal law, I think shows that we are going to have something like a culture kampf that took place in Germany under Bismarck. We’re going to have a cultural war over these issues. Now, one side is committed, the other side is merely exploitative and wants to use this for electoral gain.
Tracie Jolliff [00:25:30] Well, that’s very powerful. I’m going to come to Edward Colston in a second. So, you talked about some of the historical falsehoods that we tell ourselves, you know, about our history, British history in the world and as we’ve moved through this last year, I’ve been a party to many discussions about healing and restoration. Is it possible for us to just get to restoration without having an honest racial reckoning with our own history?
David Olusoga [00:26:02] I think we’re even one step behind that I don’t think that history’s yet been written, and I think what we’re having, we are paying the consequences and paying the price of centuries and decades of denial and disinformation, and so if you have been taught that Britain was a magical nation that was always on the right side of history and if that is part of your identity, the sudden or unseemingly sudden appearance of a new history that actually was always there, it was just never talked about, of the other side of this ledger, that is incredibly threatening. It’s made more threatening by a government that wants it to sound threatening. And we are in a place where people can’t actually listen, and so we are a nation in which my history is not part of British history, it is seen as a threat to your history and that’s a very dangerous place to be. People say they are feeling oppressed by part of their own national history that were always there and so what you see is strategies which are not about restitution or recovery or healing. They’re actually about denial, and these devices, people use them almost without thinking. If, for example, if whenever I write or write an article or speak about Britain’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade, somebody will say, what about people trafficking today? Now, I’m a patron of an anti people trafficking charity today and I speak on modern slavery. The people who are saying, well, what about that don’t do anything for those charities, know nothing about that. They aren’t working with women who’ve been trafficked across the world. They’re not involved in and they’re not saying it because they care about those women. What they’re actually doing is using the suffering of those women as a technique to silence black people, and they’re doing it in some ways without thinking. If you mention these histories, there were always these devices people will talk about, well, what about African involvement in the Atlantic slave trade? I am told on an almost daily basis, why don’t you write about that, which I have written about and published about that which is in the Black and British. I’m from Lagos, Lagos was ruled by appalling slave trading kings, the Oba, Oloriogun, Madam Tinubu. These people are in my books, I’ve written about them but that device is not because they really care about those people. They don’t want to read a book about King Gezo of Dahomey, they want to silence black people. People will say we’re sick of hearing about slavery and then I’ll say to them, if you are sick of hearing about it, you know all about it, name a plantation, name a slave ship, name a slave trader who is not Edward Colston or Hans Slaone and they can’t because they don’t know anything about it and they’re not sick of hearing about it. They are uncomfortable because if history is about feeling comfortable, the parts that aren’t comfortable feel alien and so people at this moment feel attacked by their own history. So, this is how you get to the point where British newspapers and the British government attack British historians for carrying out research into British history. That is how surreal we are. A British heritage organisation working with my friends at Leicester University to research British history, doing their job are attacked. Historians writing history, accused of rewriting history when rewriting history is the job of historians. This is through the looking glass and this is because we’re not even at the stage of coming anywhere near discussions about healing or restitution. We are still in the denial phase of addiction because we are addicted to a fantasy version of our past and we are like the junkie who’s not listening to the intervention, who’s been dragged into the room by their family and said, look at your behaviour and cannot. We are still in denial.
Tracie Jolliff [00:29:41] So that’s really powerful, David, in terms of what you said. You said people are not listening. And we often talk about the lived experience of people from groups that have been historically marginalised and that we need to, first of all, hear lived experience. That lived experience has to be in a context is what I’m hearing from you, and that context is within the truth of our real history, not the edited version of our history, our real history, because only then can we start to have the conversations that matter and begin the conversation about how do we move forward from here. And I just want to talk a little bit about Bristol. You live in Bristol, David, and in 2020, the statue of Edward Colston, who you’ve referred to, who was a slave trader, was pulled from his plinth, unceremoniously dragged through the city and rolled into the river and these pictures ricocheted around the world, and we’ve got a few pictures here for participants in the session to see. And there’s one particular one that I saw where a young person had his knee on Edward Colston’s neck and I did wonder what was the feeling that, that young man had as he did that, he was a young man. And of course, Edward Colston ended up in his watery space, in the river. But it was mostly young people who did this. So was this an act of erasing history, as some people have claimed, or was something more profound taking place?
David Olusoga [00:31:27] It’s great that you’ve mentioned this. I mean, I’m making a programme about that summer with with the Mayor of Bristol and it’s really interesting that you mentioned the idea of erasing history, because that refers back to what we were talking about earlier. The government know this isn’t erasing history, there are two history graduates in the cabinet from very fine universities who understand this is not erasing history because this is part of the disinformation, part of the lie, part of the culture war that we’re fighting. Statues cannot tell history and that staute in some ways is the perfect example of their inability to tell history, because that statue is fundamentally a lie. On the most basic level, it’s a lie because we have no idea what Edward Colston looked like because he died 300 years ago. The statue was erected in 1895, by which time he’d been dead for 175 years. There is a story, there is a history to that statue, but it’s got nothing to do with Edward Colston in the 17th century. For a start, he wasn’t a Bristol slave trader, he was the London slave trader. His career was built in London working for the Royal African Company, not in Bristol. At that time, Bristol actually didn’t have access to the slave trade because it was a royal monopoly run by the Stuart Kings, Charles II and James II, because the royal family’s complicity in British slavery begins with Elizabeth I. It is ancient. He had very little to do with Bristol, he was from a rich Bristol Merchant family, and he came back to retire in Bristol and bequeathed loads of money to the city. This plaque on the statue called him a wise and virtuous son of the City. He was not virtuous, he was a murderer. He was a mass killer. He was not wise. He wasn’t even very, very competent as a Deputy Governor of the Royal African Company. There is a history there, but it’s the history of why Victorian, late Victorian Bristol, why the merchant elite who ran the city and why one man in particularly John Arrowsmith, wanted to create a cult of Colston to justify their economic control of the city. Now, that statue was silent about that real history, and it was silent about something else, the victims of Colston’s slavery. It said, remember him as a philanthropist, forget him as a slave trader. It is a fundamentally dishonest statue and removing it isn’t erasing history because destroying it would be erasing history, but not the history of constant, the history of 1895 Bristol. Now, that staute is now in a storage facility, in a museum. My friend, Mary Beard is filming with it tomorrow. She’s en route to Bristol now to film with that statue. It is now an incredible object which belongs in a museum and I would fight to maintain it, because no one wanted that statue destroyed, they wanted it not on public display. It is now covered in graffiti and scars. What that statue now is no longer a tribute to a slave trader. It is a physical reminder of what happened in the summer in 2020, and it is the perfect symbol to discuss our struggles as a society, to come to terms with facts that this man transported millions of people into slavery and killed millions of people in the name of profit. That staute is now a brilliant and very important object. The conservators of Bristol are preserving all of the graffiti because that tells the story as much as graffiti on the Berlin Wall tells the story. As much as the graffiti on Stonehenge tells a story, it is now a much more powerful and eloquent and honest object than it ever was when it was standing up in Bristol.
Tracie Jolliff [00:34:51] And this notion of honesty and truth keeps coming through this discussion, you know, and I think there is a need for us when we talk about truth to have the courage to go there, and you talked about struggling with our history in order to create our future and also, you touched on this notion of comfort. There is no comfort in creating racial justice and sometimes I think we tell ourselves a story that somehow this should be a comfortable journey where we’re all smiling together and moving forward together. You know, suddenly all of the other stuff doesn’t matter, and I’m just thinking about some of the things that really do matter. So we’ve called this session Leading for Racially just Futures: Confronting the Remnants of Historical Myths and Racial Monsters. What are those myths and monsters, David, that you think are still with us today, that may be getting in our way as we try to live out our racial justice ambitions?
David Olusoga [00:36:02] Thank you. I think I mean, first, I think it’s important to say that most people claim to want the society that we would like to build. They want to work in institutions like the ones we look. The Runnymede Trusts last big attitudinal survey, 74 percent of people describe themselves as not at all prejudiced against people of other races. Only one percent of people were willing to say that they were racially prejudiced. So three quarters of us say we want to live in that society, and the argument I make is that these difficult conversations are the entry price for that, for that society that we claim we want to live in and really think people need to ask themselves, are they willing to pay that price or do they value their comfort more than they value racial justice? And I think many people actually do value their comfort more and some people actually haven’t thought it about in those terms. I think that one of the things that’s standing in our way is that it is very challenging to realise that no matter what you do, no matter how good you try to be in your personal life, the society has treated you differently for characteristics that are immutable that you can’t change, and it is easier just to go to a defensive place. I would love to think, and I would be much more comfortable to think that every interaction I’ve ever had with women reflects my conscious views about my conscious desire for gender equality, for my partner, for my daughter and for my multiple sisters. But I’m sure if I were to take a year off work and go and meet every woman I’ve ever interacted with, that would not be the case because I have been brought up in a misogynistic society like all of us and that will have an undeniably, whether I like it or not, whether I’m willing to acknowledge enough, that will have shaped some of my attitude and some of my subconscious, you have to be the real most radical libertarian to believe that we are the authors of every thought in our conscious and subconscious. We are not, we are not in command of everything we think. We have subconscious biases, we have subconscious thoughts. We naturally have a bias towards comfort to people who are like us. We have the desire for comfort. I think comfort is a key word when discussing race and inequality in all its forms. It’s much more comfortable for me to dismiss all of this. It’s much more comfortable for a white manager when speaking to non-white people of colour employees to dismiss what they’re saying, and when our comfort is challenged, we go to defensiveness and sometimes we go to aggression and trying to get over that, that blockage is a real challenge. And I think huge amounts of progress were made in 2020. One of the most remarkable statistics about 2020 was that there were several weeks in a row in which half and sometimes the majority of the books on the Sunday Times bestseller list were books on race and black history. People were going out and learning about this stuff. New ideas were not new to people who study this, but to many people like structural racism, like anti-racism, like Allyship were landed in the minds of millions of people and became a topic of discussion. Huge progress has been made and there are more and more people who understand that comfort isn’t worth this and if you put these things in the scale, living in a society whether equity and justice and avoiding some difficult conversations. Even we the British who will go out of our way to avoid difficult conversations, more than most people, even we can work out that that transaction is not worth it. This is the entry price for the society that three quarters of us claim we want to live in. Now’s the time to pay up.
Tracie Jolliff [00:39:36] Indeed, really, really insightful words there, David, and I’m hearing that we need to abandon our ideas of comfort and in order to enter into the conversation meaningfully around racial justice, we first have to accept the uncomfortable truths of our past, accept that we have been immersed in a story that is not an equal story. So,we are not neutral observers and passive recipients of everything in this. We as leaders, we have a role to play in terms of how this story ends and we can influence that story, but we can only influence the story if we recognise that we don’t step into the story as neutral observers. We bring a version of history and the understanding of that history with us into a story of racial equity and justice. And if we haven’t already accepted the true version of our history, understood how that has affected us as leaders, and it will be everybody, irrespective of their skin colour, we can’t really meaningfully enter into a conversation about racial justice with the people who racial injustice affects the most. Just some final words, David, before I move on to our next panel, anything, that’s bubbling up for you that you think and I want to say this before we move on?
David Olusoga [00:41:08] I think we need to, putting aside what I said about the political exploitation of this moment, I think we need to appreciate its potential. This is one of those moments where a generation is emerging that has a generational voice. They have a sense of them being a generation and they have a generational sense of mission, and not all generations have a sense of mission. When these moments happen, they can be incredibly disruptive and incredibly powerful. One of the myths about the 20th century, people imagine that Germany became the nation it is with the with the ability to confront much of its history, although I have to say not its colonial history and its colonial history in Africa, I should say. But Germany became this remarkable country confronting its 20th century history, not in 1945, not at the moment of defeat, not because of the policy of denazification that the allies forced upon the German people in the years immediately after the war. That didn’t work. What happened was the generation who had been children during the war in the 1960s began to ask their parents and their grandparents really difficult questions. There was a moment in Germany when one generation demanded to know the truth from another generation. There were demonstrations in the 50s demanding the release of German war criminals in German cities. There was not this willingness to confront the Third Reich. Germany was in denial in the 50s. It was the 60s and young people led it. They confronted their teachers. They were incredibly raw, dramatic, painful conversations over family dining tables and that process, which did damage lots of people. That was the moment when Germany confronted the realities of its history, and if it hadn’t happened, Germany of today would be like the Germany of the 1950s, papering over the cracks, denying the realities of what happened in the 12 years of the Third Reich. It was a generational shift that brought that about. Now, it was painful and I’m not saying it was an easy ride. I think we might be entering into something similar where a young generation are going to force this country for the first time to confront the realities of its history, that it did take India one of the richest, most economically powerful countries in the world and impoverish it for two centuries. That it was the major slave trader in the North Atlantic. That it did exterminate almost the entire population of Tasmania. That it was complicit in ethnic cleansing in Canada and parts of North America. That these things are true and these things were done by us, and it doesn’t matter that they took place on the other side of an ocean. They are our history as much as Waterloo or Wellington. And, we could be at a juncture where that reality finally becomes part of how we see ourselves because it is our children who will make it happen.
Tracie Jolliff [00:43:54] Thank you, David. We’re going to come back to that those realities in a different way through listening to three other guests that we have with us today, they are, Jenni Douglas-Todd, who is one half of the joint EDI Directorship for NHS England and NHS Improvement with Mike Franklin. Mohammed Hussain, who is a Senior Pharmacist in the NHS and a Non-Executive Director at Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust, and Felicia Kwaku, who is an Associate Director of Nursing and Senior Head of Nursing for Acute Speciality Medicine at King’s College, Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Welcome to my panel and firstly, I’m going to go to Felicia. Felicia, you’ve been listening to what David said, so I’m just wondering what stories from your lived experience resonate with some of the some of the themes that David has said.
Felicia Kwaku [00:44:50] Good morning, everybody. My name is Felicia. I’ve been a nurse for 31 years and I’m also the Chair of the Chief Nursing Officers, Black and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group. I come from Nigerian stock. I’ve always wanted to be a nurse because I was sickly as a child, and my career progression has been fairly straightforward up until my first Head of Nursing position. The reason for this was my upbringing, my tenacity, my faith. I had fantastic mentors which were White. There were no Black senior nurses, there were no Black Chief Nurses or Directors of Nursing, and with my White colleagues, my ethnicity was not an issue. They tapped into my potential. They were relentless in their support and pushed me towards brilliance and so organisations have to provide opportunities to support people once they attain leadership positions. It’s not good enough just to survive, you’ve got to thrive, and I’m well aware that often I can be the only Black, Asian or ethnic person in the room. I am well aware I have to work several times as hard. It’s not sufficient just to be good, you have to be well above the bar and you have to be able to deliver and excel. And I’ve often noticed that people, BME people, are often judged by different standards as opposed to our White colleagues and it’s not a level playing field for us, that we’re working in cultures that discriminate. So I would ask Executive leaders whether you ask and check in with your staff from ethnic backgrounds. What’s their lived experience of working within your organisations? Is their experience a reflection of your organisational values. Are their experiences mapped to the quality of patient care and what is that impact? People from BME communities live and work with harm and trauma related to microaggressions and discriminatory behaviours. The NHS is focussing on health and wellbeing, especially in the wake of Covid-19. However, there’s no health and wellbeing offer for the effects of racial discrimination and its consequent harms and we continue to deny these harms, there’s a dialogue around that, and I’ve seen this most starkly working on the front line. I worked in Wave 1 and 2 of the Covid pandemic and I saw scared staff, I saw great work, lots of excellent work, and I saw specifically the disproportionate numbers of BME staff that were harmed and contracted Covid, and I saw some poor treatment as well. So the persistence of health inequalities continues to harm and kill people. I saw this throughout the Covid and in May 2020, I remember compiling a list of the staff that had died and over 70 had been Nurses and Midwives, and 95% of that list were Black and Asian staff, particularly Filipino Nurses, Nigerian Nurses and Zimbabwe Nurses and Midwives and system leaders were very slow to respond to this and left staff vulnerable as far as I was concerned, and I was shocked but not surprised because we know the majority of ethnic staff are in Bands one to five. That’s where they’re clustered, that’s where they’re more exposed to viral load, that’s where they have more contact with the patients. So as Executive Leaders, what steps have you put in place to ensure that vulnerable BME staff are protected? And when staff are reporting their concerns, what are the actions? So we as a group, the CNOBMESAG, we mobilised ourselves and held engagement events across the whole of England, and staff told us that they were frightened. ]They were unsafe, they had no PPE. They were forced to go into areas where they had no PPE. They were disproportionately impacted and weren’t being tested properly. There was no risk assessments. And one of the poignant things around the FFP3 masks, which are designed around the White Caucasian males. So they didn’t fit certain of our ethnic colleagues very well and so once again, they were exposed. And so one of my particular questions, the questions I want to leave with you is that when BME staff are disproportionately affected, what are the organisational contingency plans to ensure that the principles of inclusion and racial justice are effective? And is there BME representation in the command and control structures, so that they can ensure the voices of BME staff are heard and they’re actually influencing operational and workforce delivery? And this is really important in terms of safeguarding people’s health and wellbeing and their psychological safety. Thank you.
Tracie Jolliff [00:49:05] Thank you, Felicia. I think a real demonstration as I listened to your story there about the discomfort this elicits. This isn’t an easy journey, you know, and I’m just wondering, Mohammed, what your reflections might be and is there anything that has come up for you that might be similar to what Felicia has outlined in terms of your experiences as a leader within the NHS?
Mohammed Hussain [00:49:27] Thanks, Tracie. Hello, everyone. My name is Mohammed, except that it’s not and I’ll get on to that in a minute. My pronouns are he and him. I’m very much feeling like an imposter today. Tracie, you’ve introduced me as Mohammed, and yet that’s not the name I grew up with. I guess this links to Prerana story at the beginning of the presentation. Indeed, it’s not even the name my family still called me today. At University, in particular and in my first few jobs, people would abuse my given name, my family name, mangling it awfully. So I chose to use Mohammed, a name so common that the whole world can pronounce it, except people that then started calling me Mo, which was very frustrating. Names are important because if someone can’t or won’t say your name, as Prerana said, they can erase you and they can’t invite you to speak. You’re not in the narrative of who said what you are very much excluded from the debate and the discussions. Listening to David, I think the areas that have resonated with me were around Whiteness as a construct, it’s not a description, and it’s worth remembering, looking back at history that the Romans didn’t have an idea of race in the sense that we have it today. Yes, they had slavery, but in a very different way. It wasn’t racially through racial lens and also whiteness has very little to do with race and everything to do with structures of power and hierarchy. This is why you don’t have to be white to buy into ‘whiteness’. That’s something perhaps we can explore if we have time. What of my personal experience, well, I could tell you about the note put up in the staff kitchen room not to re-heat samosas due to the smell, but no objection to other foods. I could tell you about a senior management team discussion where the only black member of my team was described as having a lazy culture, not individually lazy, but a lazy culture. I could tell you about anti-blackness in other communities, including my own as a South Asian community, and perhaps if we have time again, we can touch upon these. But today, I think I’ll focus primarily on my experiences within my profession of pharmacy and it’s worth, perhaps for those of you who don’t know about pharmacy, reminding you that it’s the third largest health profession after nurses and medics and it’s projected to be a majority BME profession within the next five years. I’m a Fellow of that professional body. Last year, they actually paused their equality strategy during the first Covid wave Black Lives Matter protest, and it took a grassroots campaign by me and others to get our professional body to progress, the work and to publish their equality strategy. Once published in the summer of 2020, it identified with the greatest challenge in inequality was disability, and this is certainly a big challenge and more needs to be done but to ignore Covid-19 inequality in Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and to ignore the global BLM fight for racial justice when those issues of lack of representation are apparent in our profession was astonishingly blind and deaf to our lived experiences. The key issue that then came from this from was that in order to defend this defenceless position, in my view, a member of the Board in our profession, in an open meeting, stated that the Board had to be mindful “not to do too much”. That was the exact quote. We have to be mindful “not to do too much” on racial inequality because to do so would take away from other groups such as women and disability. I think this idea is truly ill informed and it is very dangerous. I challenged this in the moment, it was supported by multiple members of the Board and surprising to me it was supported by all the Black, Asian minority ethnic members of that Board. And I think this kind of goes to the point of groupthink on racial injustice and the instinct to defend your team is very powerful and goes back to something that was said earlier around comfort and discomfort. This episode ignores the fact that one can be a person of colour and also be a woman. Many on the call today, you can have a disability and be LGBTQ+ and have a race. And in fact, the evidence is that working for racial justice lifts all of the groups and is often a reason why some people have become the acceptable face of diversity in the boardroom and senior management, including some Black, Asian minority ethnic members. They don’t challenge, they provide cover for the status quo or doing the minimum possible to give the appearance of supporting racial justice, while in practice, sometimes doing the opposite. And that was really was my painful lesson last year, Tracie. And then just reflecting on David’s comments and the theme today about myths and monsters, it brought the old English epic poem Beowulf to my mind, and I reflect on this and think if your Board and leadership team feel comfortable with all that they’re doing, if they think like Beowulf, they have slain the monster of racism they forget about Grendell had a mother and the battle is far from over. In conclusion, in terms of what I ask of Senior Executive Leaders on the call today, it’s that I would ask that they examine closely their actions and strategies to address racial injustice. If your organisations are feeling fully comfortable going back to the theme of comfort, fully comfortable, are you really doing enough? I would urge you to become much bolder in addressing these inequalities, become much more comfortable with being uncomfortable, because that is when real change happens. If you’re not being challenged by your colleagues to do more, I would ask that you then become the voice of that challenge within your organisation.
Tracie Jolliff [00:54:38] Wow, thank you, Mohammed. We’ve heard many, many stories on the Racial Justice Seminar Series about staff lived experience and these stories tell us from Mohammed, from Felicia today and others in previous seminars, that there is some way to go to change staff lived experience so that they experience racial justice. And so, Jenni, you’ve been recently appointed as the Director of EDI for NHS England NHS Improvement, a job which I just think in terms of leading the charge and creating these changes and taking people with you is a mammoth task. And you obviously need as much support as all of us can give you in that task. So I’m just wondering, what do we need to do? What do our leaders need to do to move forward the dial for racial justice?
Jenni Douglas-Todd [00:55:37] So thank you, Tracie. As you say, I’m Jenni Douglas-Todd, Director of Equality and Inclusion, my pronouns are she/her and yes, I’m relatively new to the role, it is a mammoth task, but it is a task that I recognise that we cannot change unless everybody is in this journey together. We all have a role to play ending race inequality. And as David said quite eloquently, difficult conversations are the entry price to this and so that’s one of the things that leaders have to take forward. I think Executives have to understand that they have a pivotal role in ending this inequality and they must be seen to be leading that change in their organisations; they can’t be on the sideline. This means that they have to understand the toll that racism takes on their BME workforce. They have to understand the impact that weathering has on individuals, the additional trauma that Black and minority ethnic people may be experiencing during the pandemic. For all of the reasons that we’ve heard earlier, which I won’t replicate again. And then they need to make sure that this is everybody’s agenda for eradicating racial discrimination. I was struck also by David talking about how many people would prefer to be comfortable than to get on the road to challenge racial justice, and so leaders need to ask themselves where they are on that continuum. Do they want to remain comfortable or do they actually want to bring about greater racial equality? And if they do, that requires, from my perspective an understanding of what racism is. It’s not about saying that somebody is being deliberately abusive to me, but it is actually understanding the historical context that David set out today. The opposite of being racist, however, is not, not being a racist, its actually being anti-racist, and so leaders need to make sure that they’re not shirking their responsibility because they are fearful that they’re going to offend or because it feels difficult to deal with or as David says, they’d rather be comfortable. So, rather than just telling the workforce not to say or do things which a lot of anti-racist policies are, Leaders actually need to be proactively setting out what it means to be anti-racist. So, for example, if there’s a division in an organisation that has problems retaining Black staff or promoting them, don’t just excuse it as a toxic culture, but call it out and take action to resolve it. Be clear about when this unconscious bias becomes conscious bias, because I feel that with the NHS, one of the things we are comfortable about and hide behind is the unconscious bias. Say let’s give everybody unconscious bias training. We then expect them to change the recruitment processes and it could be three years down the line, nothing’s nothing’s changed. So when does unconscious become conscious? Saying what discriminatory behaviour won’t be tolerated is not being racist, but actively understanding what your BME staff experience is and Felicia she said that eloquently earlier, and addressing those shortcomings to ensure that you can be anti-racist. So understanding what it means to be Black and minority ethnic in your organisation for leaders, I would ask you to ask yourself, what does it feel like to be Black? How do you know what it feels like for your staff? Do you know, for instance, what policies and practises are negatively impacting on Black people and not on others? How do others respond to, or treat your Black staff, what are the things that get said, and probably more importantly, what are the things that are not said? Does your organisation’s culture allow for honest, comfortable conversations about racism? What parts of your organisations are more or less embracing of diversity and racial justice and in large Trusts the variables can be quite significant. Where are the bottlenecks to diverse recruitment and progression? And what do you as a Leader need to do to address these? How do you ensure that you take all of your staff with you? Because as a Leader you lead, but as I said earlier, the agenda is not just for you, it’s for everyone. So how do you make sure that all of the organisation is going with you? And, as importantly, what are you doing in relation to those who are resisting the inclusive change? Because there will be many who will be resisting it and so you need to decide how you’re going to respond to that. Are you explaining these behaviours in a way by saying, I know these people are not racist or are you making sure that everyone understands what is and what isn’t acceptable as part of that Executive leadership role? So just in closing, I wanted to say something about the People Plan, because quite a bit of what we do in the EDI bit of the People Directorate’s is around implementation of the People Plan. And as part of that, we set out specific actions for overhauling recruitment and promotion practises to ensure that we have more representation at senior levels. We will be working with systems, with organisations at a system level to agree the steps that they need to take in response to the WRES data that we published earlier this year from 2020, you’ll know that, that was published over the five years and apart from two indicators, there’s been very little change. So we are now focussing down on one or two actions that organisations need to do. We are helping under Tracie’s active leadership, developing tools and guides to help build compassionate and inclusive leaders and today’s seminar and the Racial Justice Seminars are part of that process. But we will be doing more, and where we’re trying to get with that is to ensure that as leaders, as line managers, we can actively listen so we can hear what’s not being said, as well as what’s being said, that we can have inclusive, compassionate conversations with our people. And what is this all about? But it’s about increasing the sense of belonging for Black, minority ethnic staff.
Tracie Jolliff [01:02:26] Indeed. Thank you so much, Jenni Douglas-Todd. We’re going to open up to questions in a moment but just before we open up to questions, I just want to mention one thing before we open up the questions and that’s David in your MacTaggart lecture of 202, and for those who haven’t seen this on YouTube, I would really recommend that you take a look and there’s a link in the Executive Suite website, and David’s talking about his experiences of British institutions, mainly the BBC and times when you felt like an outsider, David. What thoughts do you have about what you’ve just heard from our panel members, just briefly?
David Olusoga [01:03:04] I think it’s often very hard to get people to examine systems and to see the way in which sometimes not just written systems and procedures, but just cultures create these blockages. And I have to say, there’s more and more organisations and I’m more and more impressed at the number of organisations doing exactly that, looking at their systems and structures and their internal cultures and being policing for those blockages. But, that’s the process that we need to go through and very often it’s about conventions. It’s about the way things have been done. Whenever I hear someone say, well, that’s the way it’s always been done, alarm bells go off because that’s not good enough, because that’s failed. It comes back down to that thing I said earlier, three quarters of us when asked, say we want to live in a society that wants equity. Are we serious about that? Because if we are, that requires change. I’m very pleased that the difference between anti-racism and being unracist has been mentioned. Being unracist, passively has not worked. It has not created the society threequarters of us want to live in. So if we’re serious, we now have the intellectual tools, the concept of allyship, the understanding that we need to be actively anti-racist and the knowledge that racism is a structure, not a behaviour. So we have the tools, we claim we have the desire. Now’s the time for action.
Tracie Jolliff [01:04:31] Indeed. Thank you, David, and so we’ve only got a few minutes to open up for questions. We’ve got Laura Simms who is helping us and has kept an eye on the chat box. So, Laura, can we just have the first question and who’s asking it, please?
Laura Simms [01:04:45] We’ve had lots of powerful and courageous thoughts and experiences shared which we won’t get time to speak to today, but just to acknowledge those and the panel will reflect on those afterwards. Lots of big love for the panel, particularly Felicia and Mohammed and David, lots of feedback for David on his session – insightful, powerful brilliant and people noting the impact that his work is hard on their ability to have difficult conversations. We’ve had some specific questions that have come in. So in order, we’ve had a question from Sylvie Ng Pak Leung from King’s College Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust, which is around where have we where have we reached so far in terms of eliminating discrimination in the NHS itself since its inception? So that’s for the panel, but also to invite Davids views on that.
David Olusoga [01:05:36] Well, I’m sure many of you know this history for better than I, because you because you’ve lived it. But looking at it from from an historian, it comes it looks like a history of doublethink. It’s a history of wanting people and needing people, but not really wanting to acknowledge their centrality. It’s about the idea that you can harvest people’s labour without bringing them into a society or into an organisation. It is about being dishonest about people’s career chances. It is seeing people as units of labour rather than citizens. The fact that we’ve had and we still have a situation where people are asked to work in the NHS and their use of the NHS is monitored, I think shows just how deep that that doublethink is. I mean, the reason I was attaracted to make the programme that I’m currently making is to try to show that these two things, something that people love and something that many people say they hate, which is immigration, are actually the same story. As I said earlier, it’s also history full of storms. It’s full of minority staff confronting the organisation with its failings and there being acknowledgements, recognition, promises of change and that change not being enacted, not being universal, not being the watershed that was needed.
Tracie Jolliff [01:06:53] This story parallels that continues to surface as we talk about these issues and because of time I’m sure my other panel members won’t mind if I just go to Laura and just say, Laura, what’s the next question that’s coming up in the chat box, for David?
Laura Simms [01:07:10] Thank you. David, you’ve had a question from Pat Davy from London North-West University Health Care NHS Trust and Pat’s asking why David thinks the conversation about racism is too complex and doesn’t get spoken about.
David Olusoga [01:07:27] I’m going to sound like a cracked record again it’s about comfort. I write a lot about this idea of comfort and discomfort. I think lots of really, really decent people who, if they would confront these issues, would see the right thing to do. Just don’t want live, to go into a place that is uncomfortable and our societies encourage this. Our societies encouraged us to want to see ourselves as the people who are doing enough and shouldn’t be bothered and asked to do more. And that sense that, you know, we’re the best country in Europe, is it not worse elsewhere? Let’s look at other people’s histories, not our own. This is all about justifying inertia. And it’s not people justifying, you know, once you justify racism or being happy about racism, it’s them not willing to pay the entry price to become the society that we want to because it causes discomfort.
Tracie Jolliff [01:08:23] So I’m just going to go over to Jenni Douglas-Todd at the moment on this issue of comfort. So, Jenni, in relation to shifting a system on this issue and what is the first step that our leaders need to make to address this issue of discomfort? What do they need to do?
Jenni Douglas-Todd [01:08:45] I think the first thing they need to do is to recognise that it’s not going to be a comfortable journey and are they therefore on the train for this journey? Are they willing to accept that discomfort? Because there are many things that we have to do in the NHS which gets measured. So we know performance gets measured, we know finance gets measured. At the moment, people and anti-racism doesn’t get measured. So one of the things they as leaders will have to do, is decide whether or not they are willing to push against that comfort zone and set measures, set standards, set cultures, set behaviour in their organisation to start shifting this so it becomes something that matters for the Board and if the Board thinks it matters, it will start measuring it and counting it and calling it out.
Tracie Jolliff [01:09:35] Absolutely, so the measure of whether or not leaders are dealing with the discomfort is that they have to speak from discomfort themselves, that what you’re saying Jenni?
Jenni Douglas-Todd [01:09:49] That’s exactly what I’m saying.
Tracie Jolliff [01:09:49] As Mohammed was saying, if we’re comfortable having these conversations, the likelihood is we’re not doing anything to shift the dial. So, Laura, can I go back to you and just say any next question in the box for David?
Laura Simms [01:10:00] Yes, thank you. It’s another question that came in earlier, actually, David, from Anita Day, from Worcestershire Acute Health NHS Trust, it’s a question on trust. Anita says, as an ethnic minority leader in the NHS, what are the most important things we can do to start building trust that we need to address racial health inequalities?
David Olusoga [01:10:22] I often think, you know, when things have failed by the dynamics of the conversation. If as a manager you have a situation where a person of colour is trying to explain or prove the existence of racism on racial systems and that conversation takes place, things have failed. And that’s what I’ve seen in the industries that I’ve been involved in and I have to say the liberal arts, the worlds I work in, television, publishing, newspapers are every bit as every bit as indicted as the NHS. I often think, actually it’s the financial services that are doing better because they’re so driven by money. They don’t care the colour of the person who might be a city trader. Their greed makes them less racist, in an ironic way. But, the dynamics of those conversations are an indictment of failure and you see them everywhere. The damaging, the experience that causes weathering, is trying to persuade people who don’t believe your lived existence, who believe that their systems are pure and innocent and can’t be called into question as the same energy you’ve allowed that damp place, then I don’t think you’re on this journey.
Tracie Jolliff [01:11:32] Laura, we’ve probably got time for one quick question to David.
Laura Simms [01:11:37] Thank you. We don’t have a specific question, but we we have some themes, I think, coming up about people feeling silenced and how people can have their lived experience honoured, how we create a condition and culture for that.
David Olusoga [01:11:53] Well, I think it comes down in lots of ways to to the idea that there are certain stories that are deemed to be legitimate and certain stories in our society that are deemed to be illegitimate. That lesson from the Windrush scandal that people didn’t, we don’t know each other, that people don’t know each other’s back stories because our history has been full of holes that we actually can’t appreciate the incredible stories that have brought us all together. That’s the heart of the problem. I mean, we’re a country that’s 14% BAME, projected to be 30% BAME by the middle of this century. If we don’t have a national story that includes everyone stories, then we cannot function. We can’t serve the society that we are already now and the society we’re increasingly going to become unless everyone’s stories are included and I would say the National Health Health Service has got to take the lead in this. It’s got to be, you know, the shining example, the shining city on the hill because it is so loved. If the NHS gets it right, it’s like if you look at the history of race in America, which is the organisation that’s done better, it’s actually the American Army. The American Army is often led in diversity, fighting against segregation. It’s not a perfect history by any means, but the American Army from the Civil War has actually been in the lead. The NHS could perform the same function for the United Kingdom and it would be even more beloved and even more significant and important if it were able to perform that function and seise that opportunity.
Jenni Douglas-Todd [01:13:25] Can I just add to that Tracie? Not only is the NHS beloved, it’s the fourth largest organisation globally, the biggest, most diverse workforce in Europe and so it has a responsibility also to be in that shift.
Tracie Jolliff [01:13:40] Absolutely and on that note, Jenni, you know, and thinking about what David said around appreciating the incredible stories that have brought us together, that’s what we need to start to do more of. We also need to embrace the challenges and there be many, many on today’s seminar series. So here we are, having had another great conversation as part of the seminar series. So, it’s left to me to say a huge, huge thank you to historian David Olusoga. And David, I’m sure we’re going to call you back because we haven’t even begun to surface some of the issues that you have talked about today and you’ve helped us to explore the critical conversation about what we can learn from our unjust racial history in order to inform how we might create a racially just future. Can I also say a massive thank you to all of the people who are behind the scenes and have worked so hard, without which we couldn’t put this seminar series together and wouldn’t be here today. Many of you behind the scenes right now, so thank you very much. And to our panel members who are supporting the system in really busy day jobs, but have taken their time out to be with us today. Prerana Issar, Mohammed Hussain, Jenni Douglas-Todd and Felicia Kwaku, thank you so much for your truths and your insights and your stories. I’m sure they’re going to keep us thinking for a very long time. We hope that you found this third seminar series to be supportive, stretching and helpful. If you haven’t already done so, please help us by completing the diversity data form. The link is in the chat box now or scan the QR code to complete the form on your phone or tablet. And remember that you can join an action Learning Set if you are an Executive Leader to work on your inclusion challenges by signing up through the Executive Suite website. Please also spend a few moments to complete our feedback form. We really value your contributions and this will help to shape the seminars of the future. So whatever you’re doing, please take care of yourselves and we’ll see you next time with another guest and some interesting conversations on the Racial Justice Seminar series.
Goodbye for now.
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