So, we started 2020 with the massive issue that is Brexit. This affected us all as at points during the year we were left thinking what exactly will be the changes - for me, businesses not being able to plan their training budget had a direct effect. As I am a Mental Health Trainer.
Then Covid hit, and businesses and communities were given an immediate knock, a heavy one. The Government spent more time talking about how “British common sense” was going to get us through quicker than any other country in the world. But that did not turn out to be quite so true. So training took a back seat as businesses struggled to re-arrange their business to be Covid-safe.
And then we started seeing the images of the NHS people that had lost their lives trying to save our lives. And those faces were hugely disproportionality black. Everybody had to acknowledge this truth, but the investigations into why this was happening were laughable. First the Government said that racism was not the cause. Then it said there were many factors involved, and that filibustering continues to this day. And so we were damaged, again. All black people were. Our mental health took a battering. And still I had next to no work as a Mental Health Trainer.
And then came the police murder of Breonna Taylor, and Daniel Prude, and George Floyd. And black people everywhere were suffering a trauma as they saw their own sons, brothers, husbands, nephews laying on the floor, saying ‘I can’t breathe’ as a murderer in a uniform could take away his life. And then came the police killing of Rayshard Brooks, and we all felt completely helpless. We attended Black Lives Matter protests – even though we were criticised for doing so. I was not able to convince my white friends that I had to go, even during Covid, and so friendships were lost, never to return. We knew society would refuse to change, unless it was forced to do so. We heard all the nice sounding statements from white-majority society leaders. There was some sort of glimmer of hope that at least we were actually doing something about racism, and some white allies were there with us.
For a while, organisations were asking me to help them with getting their statements out there, and develop an action plan to help them get better. But they never paid me for it. If I had been a white diversity consultant they would have asked me how much I needed to perform this work. But because I’m black I’m seen as an expendable member of their organisation, useful for now, to help them now, but never to be seriously considered as a future leader of their organisation. And I did help for free, because I’m a generous person. To fund the lack of training courses being requested by everything happening in Covid, I started doing gardening and other odd jobs. Eventually I started working in a private care home. A location where verbal threats and actual assault is a daily experience. And where the staff were 80% black, but all the residents were white. The residents were happy to play into this racial imbalance by just dropping things on the floor for staff to have to keep bending down and picking up. But their actions are excused as being completely down to their mental health issues. So - keep bending down to your knee, Mike, even at work.
Then some organisations started to realise that they should help out their black staff, a bit. So they developed some programmes which on the surface looked good. Except if you took advantage of these, and when invited to comment told the organisers what you really felt, you were asked to resign from the programme. With statements such as ‘we have a robust quality control of the way our participants should behave – your behaviour was considered unsupporting to what the instructor was trying to achieve’. So I was dismissed from some of these programmes, and replaced by more “malleable” people in others. All at the direction, of course, of white programme managers (who most certainly would have had some sort of unconscious bias training).
And so how did the year end and 2021 start? Well, for me, mental health training never picked up. Lockdowns put paid to that. The Government has yet to determine the factors that cause disproportionate deaths of people due to their ethnicity. Organisations that remain white-led and white-majority are still struggling to make any headway in diversity, finding out that any sort of change will be resisted by those currently staffing them.
And the future? Well I keep working hard at odd jobs, part-time jobs, and the very occasional mental health training opportunity to pay the bills. It is one day at a time. But I cannot tell you how my mental health is, because I’m a trainer in the area and have to keep that under wraps or I’ll lose even that as an income stream.
I’ll stop now, as it is exhausting having to relive these things. Even though I am reminded of them every, single, day. And my depression is deep. But my mask is held on with strong glue.
Because I cannot let my children see me damaged or broken, as they have all this to go through one day by themselves.