Wayne’s story – #YoungAndBlack

As part of our #YoungAndBlack campaign, we hear from Wayne, at Coca-Cola European Partners, who we work with for programmes such as Reach Up. Here are Wayne’s experiences of being #YoungAndBlack in Britain.

Growing up

I wanted to share something about my experience of being a Black man in Britain in support of UK Youth’s #YoungAndBlack campaign. I was born in the 70s. Back then the UK was an unapologetically racist society. I was the youngest in my family, with two older sisters and I was very told very early on in life that I had to defend myself against those who did not appreciate my colour.

There was no reason for this apart from being Black and foreign. It was hard to understand but looking back it made me strong, determined not to fail and also to also be very aware.

The experiences I have faced are not too different from many other black people of my age or those who are now young, Black and British.  The way was paved by those before me.  My uncle came to the UK in 1954 and his experience was much worse than mine. You’d like to think that level of racism and hatred wouldn’t exist today, right?  Or would it in a different way?

I had two lives growing up. The safety of family and extended family made up of friends, and ‘aunties and uncles’ from the West Indian community. Despite living in a predominantly white area, I had a mixture of friends and this helped me build my confidence in knowing that not everyone had an issue with my colour. 

However, there was the other life. The other life was dealing with racism daily. Being subject to blatant verbal and physical abuse and just having to deal with it. Not fighting back or calling the police. Just dealing with it one way or another.  A normal day means always being alert because the expectation is:

You’re looked at differently. Spoken to differently. Treated differently.

Racism in the UK

Racism exists. It’s taught. You’re not born that way. You learn it. Some people embrace it to justify their position, opinion, fear and ignorance. What you see in the United States is just as alive and relevant in the UK. 

  • I have been racially attacked and faced discrimination throughout my life. I have also experienced some of the following ‘typical’ scenarios associated with being a black man in Britain.
  • I have been subject to Stop and Search on numerous occasions and even arrested once in a case of mistaken identity. Of course, I was never been charged with a crime because I’ve never committed one!
  • I have been asked if I sell drugs at college, university, in bars, nightclubs and even the gym! I’ve never once taken an illegal substance but that’s the stereotype!
  • I have been refused entry to venues whilst my white friends had the door opened to them.  
  • I have witnessed and been subject to blatant discrimination, conscious and unconscious bias.
  • I could go on.

My Strength

I learnt about my cultural history at home. It wasn’t on the school curriculum when I was growing up. Where we’re from and why we are here has been misinterpreted for generations and the recent debate on leaving Europe ensured that the negative rhetoric resurfaced.

My parents didn’t come to Britain for handouts or to take jobs off of people. It was because we were invited to Britain as part of the Commonwealth to help rebuild a broken country after the war!

My heroes are all those people who fight against oppression and win. From Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela to Michael Jordan and Barack Obama. Black people who endure so much and still demonstrate strength. Despite systematic racism, we are doctors, professors, scientist, artist, nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs, builders and managers! I know we can do anything! We’re more than fast runners and great singers! Our culture is so rich and influential in so many walks of life that cannot be ignored.

So why is there is still a glass ceiling in general, unfortunately especially in the corporate world?

I’m the only Black Sales Manager in my company! I was asked if that makes me feel unique? I had to laugh. “I’m unique without the label” but it does highlight the fact that our business [Coca-Cola European Enterprises] needs more diversity in leadership roles.

I’m an Ambassador in my workplace as part of the JustBe Inclusion Ambassador Network. I volunteered so I could demonstrate the benefits of inclusivity and diversity but also challenge the business to create an environment where Black ethnicity and culture can thrive, be oneself, be valued and belong. This needs to be a central part in recruitment, development and promoting to leadership roles.

The Black Lives Matter movement is NOT new. It’s just back on the agenda. But it does have new allies

It might be an uncomfortable conversation for many people but it should be talked about. It has to start with education. Education for all. “Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race” [Reni Eddo-Lodge] is a great book that opens up the conversation and explores everything from eradicated black history that should be taught in schools and discussed in the home, to the link between class and race.  I recommend it for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today and the wider issue with inequality.

Until the colour of your skin is the target. you may never understand. But that’s not an excuse. Be an ally visibly. Challenge racism and discrimination where you see or hear it. Be aware of privilege and the impact it can have on those less fortunate.

Other Corporations are now realising they have issues with a lack of diversity and inclusion with many publicly providing statements of intent.  I think my company is demonstrating it’s intent in many ways but we still have a major challenge with diversity and specific to me, Black representation at all levels of the business. I truly hope we start seeing the massive step change needed across society.

Thanks for taking some time to read my thoughts.

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