Reflections on Black History Month
Black History Month has a particular significance this year as globally the issue of race, identity and power have been part of mainstream conversation. How do we talk about difficult things without defaulting into the role of victim? How do we face ourselves, our organisations, and our society without feeling paralysed by pain, shame, or disgust?
At the Tavistock Institute, one of our core skills is the ability to work with difference and to create or hold the space for difficult conversations to happen. For some, stepping into the space offered is difficult due to the challenge of looking at these topics honestly. The writer Shirley Abbott reminds us:
“We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiralling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.”
It is equally difficult to incorporate personal knowledge of the subject/other paradigm from either side. Whether slave or slave owner, whether racist or the abused, the meaning for each person in that dynamic, if they explore the difficulty of it is hard to bear, because of what it does to our sense of self: the internal questions it generates.
Looking back at our own recent history and our Archive Project, I am reminded of something that Rita Keegan said to me during an interview in 2017. Keegan states;
“It’s important to document creativity, it’s important to show that people create no matter what, it’s not about gender and it’s not about race, it’s just about doing. We make. We are makers.”
From her role as an artist, Keegan recognises that humanity has a relationship to information that has a materiality to it; laced with intimacy and expressions of identity. The information encoded in our histories, exists as part of a continuum, and as an intersection across time and disciplines. As attitudes, society and knowledge grows, our understanding of the world shifts and changes, it expands and contracts reminding us that there is movement in the world.
The growth in literature relating to questions of ethnicity and identity is now freely available. The conversation is on the surface, but can there really be acceptance in our difference, recognising, as Dwight Turner (2016) pointed out in his article: “We are all other”?
This has been an extraordinary year: not just because of the pandemic, but because it is forcing the whole world to behave in new ways and embody the truth that change is possible. Perhaps this will be true for Black History Month – something new will be realised.
Coreene Archer MA
Principal Leadership Coach and Organisational Development Consultant