Since the murder of George Floyd, along with so many others from around the world, we have been reflecting deeply on our failure to be a truly anti-racist organisation despite good intentions. Last summer we met with colleagues and artists from across the cultural sector in Oxford over several months to identify ways of achieving radical and systemic change which has resulted in the launch of a joint manifesto. We are now working with local partners to implement the commitments we have made in that manifesto, we are meeting internally to educate ourselves about colonialism and we are linking in to the national conversation to help us improve our practice around key areas such as recruitment.
Meanwhile, representatives from Oxfordshire’s social sector have been having conversations about equity, diversity and inclusion. We are all taking a long hard look at ourselves, our organisations, our sector and the power and responsibility we have to address systemic exclusion.
Racial justice has come up as a persistent theme but also other aspects of discrimination and exclusion – along with a collective commitment to change.
We have focused on a determination to understand the everyday impact of structural racism and discrimination, and how we can get better at disrupting the status quo, using our power and privilege for justice and demonstrating strong allyship.
Allyship is about using our personal and positional power and privilege to amplify voices and stand by those who experience racism and other forms of discrimination. It means not speaking for others but also not leaving others to do all the work in challenging that discrimination.
It is about asking who is sat at the table, who isn’t, why not and how do we get them there, as well as making sure the voices of people with a wide range of lived experiences are heard.
I am very aware that I hold a position of privilege and power as the Director of this organisation and as a white, able-bodied man. Colleagues and partners don’t need me to lead on striving for change. In fact, sometimes they need me to get out of the way. But, as Director, they need to know that I fully support our efforts to become more equal, diverse and inclusive and that I will either lead or support others in leadership as required.
I commit to working with colleagues and partners to create and implement plans to tackle systemic discrimination in our organisation. I realise that I may fail to notice discrimination and may fail to challenge it adequately when I do notice it. I realise that I may be drawn into the busy-ness of the day-to-day and fail to give the necessary time to listening to others and unlearning discrimination. But I commit to trying as hard as I can to improve and, when I am challenged for failing, I commit to listening, learning and trying harder.
It is not enough to be non-racist. We need to be actively anti-racist.
And we need to apply this same energy to confront ourselves and others with regard to other forms of discrimination – particularly with regard to disability, sexuality and class.
This work is hard. It is not just about re-writing a few policies or making a public statement (though we will do those things). It involves deep reflection as well as action. But it is also a fantastic opportunity to unleash generosity, creativity and optimism.
I look forward to working with those around me to achieve radical and lasting change.
– Jeremy Spafford, Director