Working through the pain: COVID-19, George Floyd and Racial Inequalities

I have not written anything on my blog for quite a while. Firstly, this was due to COVID-19. My blog is primarily based on self-development and with everyone going through their own unique challenges and pain in this time, I did not feel fit to speak on the topic. My last blog post was about using the time wisely, I believe that we should always aspire to doing that, but I had seen too many people using motivational mantra such as “this is just temporary”, when people had lost close friends and family. It felt extremely insensitive for me to look past that while writing.

Furthermore, we lost a legendary UK rapper, Ty, to COVID-19 recently. Ty was a great rapper that I have a lot of respect for. He previously showed love to me and my cousin Dwain for one of our songs on homelessness when he didn’t have to pay any attention to it at all. He is one of the UK foundations to the art form that I love so much and someone that has inspired many. His passing really brought the seriousness of this situation home to me and it saddens me so much that he is no longer here.

Secondly, I have been reading more deeply into black history and the subject of race. This is not a topic that I have shied away from in the past, but with the target that I set last year to read 200 books annually, it has allowed me to read more broadly than I previously could have.

One thing that really struck me was the idea that self-development in itself was not enough. It can be seen as a triumph when one person makes it out of difficult circumstances and at times it is viewed as proof that there are no inequalities. For example, I remember starting out as a graduate at IBM. Part of the induction included a section about the importance of diversity at the company and it’s proud history of hiring Richard MacGregor in 1899, it’s first black employee. Following this, one of my white colleagues said to me “I don’t see any issues with diversity and inequality. You got into IBM”. There was more said than this and I am paraphrasing here, but this narrow thinking follows the concept that ‘if you can do it, anyone else can do it’. Despite popular belief, ‘colour blindness’ allows biased stereotypes to remain prevalent. The choices that we make as individuals are important, there is no doubt about that however, certain circumstances have a huge impact on the choices that we make and the life that we are able to lead.

To not acknowledge this, plays down the uneven circumstances that people have to overcome. It focuses only on the individual rather than society and the structures that produce inequality. The more I have been thinking about this, the more it has made me want to look more deeply into the broader issues rather than just zoning in on individual self-development.

To add to this, we witnessed the recent death of George Floyd and it has hit me hard. Unfortunately, this type of atrocity by those who are supposed to ‘protect and serve’ is not irregular. There are many names that can be listed that have died unjustly by the police in the US and the UK in recent times.

I believe that this happening during the time of COVID-19 has had a multiplier effect. There are less distractions. Our emotions were already unsettled and this has added to that in a big way. I am encouraged by the awakening that it has sparked across the world. However, I can’t help but have some skepticism. I have seen brands and people treat this like a bandwagon to jump on. Undoing prejudice takes hard work. We all have to look in the mirror at how we contribute to the situation. Hitler is perceived as pure evil, it was seen as unthinkable that someone could have ideologies that led to such horrible violence against Jewish people. Did those same people look in the mirror when the huge injustices against black people were taking place? Did they rethink their views on racial purity and second class citizens? What does it mean to make America great again? What does it mean to be truly American or British? These are deeply entrenched racial views that have played themselves out in various ways over centuries. I do however, have hope that this recent atrocity helps to create change and ignites the right conversations beyond this particular moment in time.

In my own day to day, I have found it challenging to manage this ‘double life’. I am trying to cope with my deep hurt and pain while working in a professional corporate environment. I am glad to see however that the company I work for is starting to have some hard conversations. I feel that I should be doing more to move the needle and to fight against racial injustice and I also feel like I need to do more at work to grow my career and use that platform to help others. Other than being the best version of myself, one thing that drives me is the idea of getting far enough to help more people. The Jay-Z line “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win”, is something that I have referred to before in my blog. It is a line that plays out in my mind over and over again ‘I need to be more, I need to do more, I need to give more’. It is one reason that I am so obsessed about educating and improving myself. However, I have really questioned in recent times whether capitalism is the path. Money does talk, there is no doubt about that, but I don’t have all of the answers. Therefore, I am digging deep to educate myself more broadly on the areas that contribute to these injustices.

This digging deep is something that I was doing before the horrible deaths of George Floyd and others such as Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Belly Mujinga, but I feel that it is even more relevant now. Here are some of the books that I have been reading below:

One book that seems relevant in this moment is ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. It is a book about a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War 2, called Viktor Frankl. Viktor was close to death each day, he saw those imprisoned with him get killed and had to deal with the likelihood that his family had been murdered. Somehow Viktor managed to find purpose to fight and stay alive. We are all going through this period differently. There is no one right way to feel or act. Do what you need to do for you, your loved ones and those you care about and remember, we all have our own lane and way of making a difference.