Culture Change

The aspirations of black people aren’t different to white people, but the treatment of them is. In the third part of our Black History Month blog series, Liam Martin-Lane outlines how we can change that.

This year’s Labour party conference was refreshing. For the first time in my 8 years as a member, a Labour leader was unapologetic in praising not just any aspiration, but the aspiration of working class people.

Faced with a government determined to trickle-down instead of level up, Keir Starmer understood that time is not on the side of marginalised communities to escape poverty and discrimination.

I know this in my family. My mum’s side of the family are Black West Indians, who came to this country as part of the Windrush generation. My dad’s side of the family are white Britons, many of whom served in the Armed Forces. She served customers in a supermarket; he taught our nation’s children in our state education system.

Today, two Black parents working in those jobs are typically paid 14.3% less than their White peers, even with A-levels under their belt. My mum and dad believed that with hard work, I could achieve a better quality of life than they had. Doesn’t current pay inequality put that traditional British value at risk?

The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s recent race report found that 26.8% of Black people live in overcrowded accommodation, compared to just 8.3% of White people. How do environments like that support the development of young Black kids?

These statistics were prevalent before the crises of Covid and the cost of living, each of which have ripped through the Black community disproportionately. Black people still face these struggles six decades on from the civil rights movement.

It convinces me that in order to reverse these trends, we need to reverse the culture towards, and everyday treatment of Black people in our society. It’s time for our community to be seen with more positive eyes, and more open minds. I want Black people in the UK to be known for their social entrepreneurship and community spirit, and that demands more than just policy changes.

It means events like the Notting Hill Carnival no longer being juxtaposed with arrests or police incidents - especially when the Reading, Leeds or Glastonbury festivals don’t face such coverage.

It means people not questioning the ethnicity of a political opponent, and media outlets double-checking the face of a Black person matches the name.

It means allyship being taught in citizenship lessons, with school senior leadership teams stopping at nothing to eradicate the bullying that stultifies the self-confidence of too many.

It means establishing specialist leadership programmes - similar to the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme - allowing today’s role models to mentor and nurture tomorrow’s.

For too long, the perception Black people have felt is that we’re an underclass to be avoided, not a vibrant community to be celebrated. However, I strongly believe that Black values are British values. Black aspirations are British aspirations. My parents were never wealthy, but they taught me to do my best, and treat others the way I want to be treated, regardless of colour or background. Just think how cohesive our society could be if that mutual respect was instilled in more of us from the start.

I hope this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘Actions Not Words’ will inspire everyone to bring about a culture that no longer mandates us to work twice as hard to get half as far - or earn half as much respect.

Liam Martin-Lane is a Councillor for King’s Cross, Camden. He also sits on Labour’s National Policy Forum and tweets at @LML96_.

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