Black History Month reflections
02 November 2020

Black History Month reflections

by Debs Lewis, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor and BAME Staff Network Secretary.


Is this the first time you have taken notice of Black History Month?

Black History Month (BHM) has been celebrated in the UK since the 1980s, but recent world events have pushed it into the spotlight.

There have been negative posts; “Now they want a whole month to themselves”, “What about white history month?”.

Actually, we don’t just want a month. Black history has been around from creation, but for some reason as with everything being black it is a struggle for anyone who is not black in the UK to understand.

We are not taught about our history in school, and we are given even less information as we grow older. We are underrepresented in every aspect of life other than the ‘good bits’, mainly sport, music, and the few actors who have made it.

We are all exhausted from the constant negativity, the constant pressure of having to prove ourselves, the constant fear, and the heavy responsibility of always having to ‘check ourselves’.

This brings me to the NHS. We all know from the recent Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) reports that the above is translated into the workplace. We face a lack of promotion opportunities, even in cases where we are more qualified than our colleagues. We are more likely to be taken through the disciplinary process, and we face microaggressions like the dismissal of our ideas. The list goes on, but slowly but surely the powers that be are starting to listen!

This year the Sussex Health and Care Partnership took a decisive lead, forming the BAME Disparity Response Programme, and celebrating BHM with an online conference hosted by the irrepressible Dame Marianne Griffiths CEO. Presentations we made by a variety of speakers, including Prerana Issar – Chief People Officer for the NHS, Shahana Ramsden – Head of Workforce Transformation, NHS South East Region, Darrell Gale – Director of Public Health, East Sussex County Council, Mark Power – Interim Director of Strategic Workforce, Sussex Health and Care Partnership, Roger Kline OBE - author of The “snowy white peaks” of the NHS report and Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu, Emeritus Professor of Nursing, University of West London and author of Mixed Blessings from a Cambridge Union, who gave a moving speech about her life.

Our own Chief Executive Siobhan Melia was on hand to listen and discuss what SCFT have learned from communicating with their BAME staff individually and via the BAME Staff Network, but also acknowledged how much more has to be done. Siobhan reiterated that SCFT has a blanket NO RACISM policy. That means no innuendos or microaggressions about our hair, food, clothes, or accents, and no insinuations that we do not belong.

There are so many issues to address, from creating a strong pipeline of BAME talent to senior roles, to transparent and fair access to training, secondments and rotations. Will there be a change, or is this new focus just a knee jerk reaction to the worldwide political situation? Will there be a push back? Of course there will, as people don’t like change, but to be honest for the first time in my career I truly believe that change will happen, especially at SCFT. Our Executive Committee really seem to get it. They are listening and actively bringing about real and meaningful changes to help create positive workplaces for us all.

We are not asking to be treated differently, just the same. As equals, with no pre-conceived ideas or stereotypes. If you can’t be accepting of your colleagues’ differences, how are you going to accept and treat your ever more diverse patients? Shocked I asked? It’s an honest question. There are many barriers in our way, but if everyone brings their best selves to work then an open and accepting culture really can be achieved.

So join our BAME Staff Network, become an ally, or just take the time to talk and broaden your own knowledge and horizons, as I for one don’t want the words “BAME disparity” to become the norm and focus of our BHM celebrations in the future.

You can follow our BAME Staff Network on Twitter and Instagram, and SCFT staff can find out more on the network's Pulse intranet page.