It’s hard to find the words
to talk about things like the death of black people in the street and the systemic racism malaise that this has highlighted and I may well do this clumsily and get things wrong, so please forgive me and feel free to call me out or educate me, I want to learn.
It is precisely because it’s uncomfortable that I feel I have to lean into it, and be available for and open to this discussion, because the discomfort I feel at writing about a topic like this, the ‘risk’ of getting it wrong and accidentally offending anyone or of being judged is minute compared to what POC are dealing with at an insidious level on a daily basis.
It’s not something that I have been completely ambivalent to or unaware of, thanks to people within the UK vet profession like Navaratnam Partheeban bravely calling out racism in the British agriculture/veterinary industry and the work of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society. However I have really had my eyes opened in the last few days and have been doing a lot of reflection, and sitting with a lot of difficult feelings.
What has writing about this got to do with Vet Harmony, or coaching or career-decision making, i.e. why do I feel called to write about it?
Because the “this isn’t an issue that affects me or that I know much about” stance is a big part of the problem. It’s white privilege and although I didn’t choose it and don’t support it, I do by default experience the benefits of it hence sitting in some difficult and conflicted feelings over the last few days.
As the white mother of a white child, I don’t have to worry at all about Eva’s ability to progress through her education, life or career being held back by the colour of her skin, and this is simply not the case for so many others. One of the aims of my own amazing coach Suzy Ashworth is to show her three children that being black does not mean you cannot be a massively successful changemaker (she runs a multiple-six-figure coaching business that she built from scratch in 5 years), and that’s a fight I simply don’t have to face.
My own rumbles with ethnicity and diversity started when I left my quiet, rural farming village in East Yorkshire, in the North of England (not a place known for its diversity and where there was a fair amount of prejudice towards POC and also the LGBTQ+ community) aged 20 and arrived slap-bang in central London at vet school.
My new-found exposure to diversity on every level was an amazing adventure that I drank in and loved and it really opened my eyes. I have always enjoyed being around people who are different to me – who have different viewpoints, cultural influences, ways of speaking, opinions and preferences.
However, when I went to London that diversity was NOT coming from my veterinary year group, lecturers or environment at the RVC, much as I love my uni, year and lecturers. It came from my Halls of Residence and from the clubs I was exploring at night and London’s multicultural environment.
Thanks to the work of BVEDs and others, I have been aware of the work to rectify the fact our profession is still predominantly white middle class. A close friend of mine is a yoga teacher in Wales and since this issue catapulted to the forefront of our minds, she has spent time googling to try and find POC who teach yoga locally and has pretty much drawn a blank in her profession too.
Listening to the voices out there over the last couple of weeks, and reflecting on where I live, my own team at Vet Harmony and my child’s school etc. has made me realise that I was simply not aware enough of just how much of an unacceptable level of systemic racism and lack of diversity is going on out there in certain professions, and yes I mean here in the UK rather than just the USA.
As the amazing Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
I am writing this because I want to do better. I want to learn more and it feels like what’s needed now is to listen, reflect and then see where you can take action in your own life
So, in my own life and business I will be doing the following:
- I only have a small team currently of 2 amazing people, but as I expand and create more roles I will consult a DEI Coach to help me to look at how I can expand the diversity in my professional network.
- Reading and educating myself on this issue more from a list of resources my own coach has provided and those on BVEDS website and FB page
- Ensuring my community is safe for POC and allowing rather than shutting down any conversations on this topic, even if they are difficult to have
- Asking my own friends from different ethnic backgrounds to talk to me more about this issue and how it affects them as it seems like it’s something that’s wrongfully ‘normalised’ or not talked about openly with white people
Argh! It feels vulnerable writing this and again, please forgive me if I’ve phrased any of this inelegantly.
There is so much pain and division, fear and anger out there at the moment – from the changes we are going through with Covid and now the racial inequality that has been so traumatically re-highlighted in recent weeks.
Lots of opportunity for seeing our differences in stark contrast whether that’s our working arrangements, financial or health situations, opinions on how we should proceed and our coping mechanisms.
However, what I know to be true is that you cannot cure hate and division with more hate and fighting.
You can only cure it with love, and by focusing on how you can start with yourself. It’s about taking time to think about who you want to be, and then really looking at how you can embody that, with openness, self-compassion and love.
It’s felt like an immense balancing act these last few weeks
Balancing our own self-care and mental health, the needs of our own families, keeping work or income going and contributing to our communities while riding the emotional rollercoaster of the ups and downs.
Also walking that tightrope between not caring too much and being defined by what other people think, nor going to the other extreme of not caring at all, and closing off emotionally.
And finally balancing finding out what’s going on in the world so you are informed, but not being consumed by and drawn into every report on the news and being glued to social media and absorbing the collective fear and anxiety too much as this keeps us in fight-or-flight mode and we can’t be effective for long in that state.
No wonder many of us are feeling more exhausted than ever!
And yet I’m also seeing more connection than ever as well, with collaboration, community, laughter, support and shared times digitally.
As humans we are hardwired emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually for connection with others.
This was evident in bucketloads at Wellvet Weekend’s virtual event where I was speaking a couple of weeks ago.
For anyone struggling to cope with the amount of change around at the moment, many people on the day said that the hopefulness and usefulness of the lectures, and the community spirit was a very-much needed tonic right now.
My talks were on “It’s ok to not be ok” and also a panel debate on whether we should “Keep calm and carry on, or let out emotions out unchecked”, both of which are very relevant to what’s going on right now, plus there were brilliant lectures on mental health and change-management as well. I think a lot of what’s going on around us at the moment is taking its toll, and we don’t have to go through this alone.
If you missed Wellvet you can still purchase tickets to access the replay for the next 12 months. I am not financially affiliated to the event and waived my fee to support the event; I’m just trying to think of any useful resources.
Resources that may give a helping hand to staying emotionally well and feeling connected which is what we need if we are to continue getting through Covid and facing up to racism everywhere it shows its ugly face.
If you care about racism in the veterinary profession and aren’t already following BVEDs and accessing their resources so you can learn more, you can do that here:
Much love to you all and thanks for reading this far, stay safe and well.