Race, ‘normality’ and Mental Health at Work
Product Manager, Mental Health at Work
I hope you’ll allow a few personal ruminations on how life has been recently.
I’ve become aware of a repeating theme in the news, in discussion, and in daily life: ‘normalness’ versus ‘otherness’. It’s one of those things that, once you see, you can’t stop recognising everywhere.
The dominant narrative about ‘lockdown’ often overlooked the experience of those still going out to work in extreme situations and of those who were already isolated in the first place. The cries of “When can we all go out again?” overlooked the experience of all about the prospect. And—a personal bugbear of mine—the national discussion of people’s behaviour focused on Bournemouth beach and Soho pubs because, well, all normal people live in the south of England, don’t they?
Once you see it, you can’t stop recognising it everywhere.
Many of us are starting to see what we should have seen all along
Those examples, of course, now pale into insignificance. Maybe, in the future, historians will agree on why it took the murder of George Floyd—just one murder among a very great many—to trigger a change that led many of us to start to see what we should have seen all along.
We are now confronting the fact that our professional and civil structures are based upon, profit from, and reinforce a culture that is—let’s just say it—White. And, for that reason, there’s no getting away from the fact that this website was produced within, and continues to reflect, a particular power structure, and a dominant White worldview. I wouldn’t have known, or thought to say, this a year ago. I can’t not say it now.
It’s a very small team of us who work exclusively on Mental Health at Work, and we’re all White. As far as I’m aware, none of the people who recruited us, and nobody I worked with from the earliest days of devising this site, would have identified with any racial or ethnic category other than White.
It’s recognised that there is a diversity problem in the charity sector, among national charities in particular. We’re (very proud to be) three employees at Mind, and our colleagues here have gone on the record about how race and mental health are inextricably linked, and about how we need to improve our representativeness. But here, I’m not talking about charities, or about Mind more widely; just about Mental Health at Work: this specific product, its origins, and the fact that we want to improve it.
Anti-racist practice is a vital part of promoting employee wellbeing
Anti-racist practice is a vital part of promoting employee wellbeing. We haven’t said much about that, and we could. Across our stories and blogs, colleagues from minority ethnic backgrounds are severely underrepresented. Perhaps that exactly reflects the sectors we write about, or perhaps it doesn’t—but either way, we could do something about it.
More fundamentally, we spend a lot of our time finding things that might help address workplace mental health, and categorising who they might help: large or small organisations; the self-employed; different regions; different job roles and sectors.
But the truth might well be that this whole project is a subset of a much larger set of assumptions and biases that we’ve been blind to. Who have we just never resonated with at all? What privileges and disadvantages are we perpetuating? Amid all this, where does the balance of power lie?
We don't want to rush and publish something uninformed, superficial or unhelpful
I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’re working on ideas right now. But, as a small set of people who, alongside so many others, have (inexcusably) only recently woken up to our own ignorance, we don’t want to rush and publish something uninformed, superficial or unhelpful. We’re having to take our time, think, research and—mainly—listen.
Neither do we want just to say “we must get better” without committing to anything in particular. We might as well just say “thoughts and prayers” and leave it at that.
So, instead, my commitment here is: by the end of September we will have made the first of a number of specific positive contributions, and we will have told you more about what our plans are to keep improving.
Black lives matter. We’re going to do better. I hope you’ll check whether we do.
For the thinking behind our decision to capitalise both Black and White here (and, from now on, elsewhere) I recommend this article by Kwame Anthony Appiah in The Atlantic.