Talking privilege and race

Talking privilege is a blog series for MiQ employees to discuss different kinds of privilege and the ways they affect work and life in general. Privilege can be a hard topic to discuss. Many people who benefit from privilege on a daily basis aren’t aware their privilege exists. And people with less of the unearned power that privilege affords often have less power within their business too.

We started this blog series to reflect on the different types of privilege we all need to be aware of in MiQ, in our industry, and in society at large.

 

By Kayode Ijaola, Group Trader Manager, MiQ

Most people would agree that privilege is one of the most popular terms in conversations about racial equality. For me, it describes the access to opportunity based on conditions that sit outside of a person’s control. There is now a common backlash to this idea and an emerging thought that woke culture has gone too far, harming human rights rather than helping to expose social imbalances.

Racial privilege argues that there are social advantages offered to certain people because of their race. In Britain, it places the responsibility in achieving racial equality in the hands of the white community, it asks them to understand that people who aren’t white face unfair hurdles that they do not. Many white people may not want to be held responsible for establishing racial equality, or feel conversations about their privilege is a prejudicial attack on their racial identity, something they have no control over. As a black male, I often feel the responsibility sits with me to change the minds of others in the progress for racial equality, and that people are under less of an obligation to seek change voluntarily. This then opens up a wider problem among people of colour; it’s easier to change your character than it is to change a population.

There have been countless moments in my life where I have felt the weight of black stereotypes reduce my character. At the age of 15, I was forced to cut my dreadlocks by my father, his concern was one shared by many Nigerians, that dreadlocks are perceived as unpresentable and unattractive. He thought that the prejudice I would face as a result of my hairstyle would make it more difficult for me to establish a career. It actually had the effect of making me feel insecure and ugly. In primary school, I unknowingly made the decision to anglicise my Yoruba name to simplify the pronunciation. I was trying to fit in, I didn’t realise at the time I was actually distancing myself from my heritage. I look back now and there are several parts of my character that I have felt coerced to change or have adapted myself in order to fit in. More damaging is the amount of energy a person of colour may exhaust to distance themselves from racial stereotypes.

As a black person, you’re subject to negative stereotypes; aggressive, loud, rude, confrontational, lazy, sassy. Having these words circling in your mind pushes you to constantly check how you present yourself; does assertion come across as aggressive, is your confidence mistaken for bossiness? Within my career I’ve seen all of these misinterpretations made towards people of colour, proving there is substance to this concern. However, the damage isn’t always done by others’ expectations, or the feeling that you need to jump through hoops to fit into some perceived profile of a model employee of colour. It’s been internalised; the damage is also done by an expectation that people of colour set for themselves. They fear that showing the slightest resemblance to a stereotype could form a negative impression of them by their colleagues. At work, the stress a person can put themselves under to belong, or even to pass, is intensified. You can’t perform to your maximum potential when you put yourself under so much scrutiny and manipulation. It causes you to spend your energy reducing and diluting your personality, concentrating much less on what you say and too much on how you say it, maybe as a result you say nothing at all.

The importance of addressing privilege within the workplace isn’t to pull people back, reducing their access to opportunity by setting everyone on an equally unfair mark. The aim isn’t to strip the sense of belonging away from everyone, or to spread the feeling of having to micromanage yourself to be accepted. The intention is to highlight how everyone has a responsibility to pull others up. The advantages afforded to certain races shouldn’t be used to shame them, but these advantages can be used to create a fairer working environment for everyone.