This is a guest blog by Shelter’s Anti-Racism Steering Group. The group formed in June 2020, identifying opportunities and barriers to dismantling systemic and institutional racism. It aims to be intersectional, representative of all areas of the charity, and for at least 60% of the members to be people of colour.
In early June we, and many others around the world, publicly declared our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. A black and white graphic was posted across our social channels stating our intent to become an actively anti-racist organisation.
Our mantra is ‘our enemy is social injustice’. We can’t be true to this mantra unless racism is also our enemy, and unless we defend the right to peaceful protest – indeed, peaceful protest is central to our history as a charity and a movement.
In response, we received a small handful of good and necessary questions, such as ‘is your management team and board reflecting diversity? Do you seek input on policies from more diverse staff?’ to which we could only respond,
We must recognise the significant role race plays in housing inequality
We’re sure that this summer you reflected, as we did, on the Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the globe in response to the death of George Floyd. On a much bigger scale, they were a reaction to countless historical instances of violence against Black people, the majority of which are not captured on camera phones and shared for the world to see. They were a reaction to the insidious systemic racism and anti-Blackness experienced by Black people and people of colour every day.
We all suddenly had a lot of time to think about the overt injustices and seemingly innocent microaggressions that happen every day, and to reflect on our own privilege. Weeks of lockdown, people stuck at home and losing income, frustrated at a lack of leadership, scared and confused with little else to do but scroll through social media and ask, if the people setting the example – not just for the pandemic but for basic human decency – don’t follow the rules, why should anyone else? Why should anyone else honour the social contract that has been broken by those appointed to maintain it?
As well as questions, we also received a handful of complaints about our statement of solidarity. People suggested we should stay in our lane, that we ‘stick to housing’. The fact is, our commitment to standing with the Black Lives Matter movement goes hand in hand with our commitment to working toward better housing for all.
A person’s identity has an impact on their housing. There is irrefutable evidence that people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) background are more at risk from Covid-19, and we know that bad housing and homelessness are at the heart of that greater risk. We have proved in court that sex and disability impacts access to a decent, affordable home. Research by The Albert Kennedy Trust estimates that one-quarter of all homeless people under the age of 25 are LGBT and found that 69% of them have experienced familial rejection, abuse and violence.
We are confident in our conviction that this is our lane – it’s everybody’s. What you’ll witness from us in the coming weeks, months, and years, is an acknowledgement that the fight against systemic and institutional racism is fundamental to our purpose of defending the right to a safe home. Shelter has been slow to act on these links and we need to improve. The fight for everyone’s right to a home must recognise that racism plays a significant role in housing inequality.
Just the beginning
Step one was being joined by our CEO and leadership team in the commitment to make Shelter an actively anti-racist organisation. The importance of leadership, recognising this work needs time and space to be truly effective, can’t be understated. We know what we want to do, which is to get from where we are to where we want to be: an actively anti-racist organisation.
Our next step is mapping out how we’re going to do it. This is where we’ll develop a strategy informed by everyone at Shelter, and we’re thrilled to be working with futurist, cultural strategist, keynote speaker, and artist Adah Parris on our approach.
Before we even began this work we could already see some obvious ways to help achieve this goal, such as getting a better understanding of the people we help. For example, by conducting specialist research into barriers faced by domestic abuse survivors, we made recommendations on how services could be better designed to help them. This is research we’re keen to replicate, ensuring housing and homelessness services are better designed to help people of colour in the UK.
In a recent blog to honour the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire, we talked about how overcrowded homes are a symptom of inequality. According to recent government data, 12% of BAME households live in overcrowded homes in London – compared with 3% of white households. This means BAME households are four times more likely to live in overcrowded accommodation than white households. As we mentioned before, BAME communities are also disproportionately at risk of death from coronavirus.
Seven ways Shelter is dismantling racism right now
Of course, this work needs time and resource to be done properly. And we’re under no illusion that we can undo 50 years of inaction overnight. Change will become evident in our policies, research, service provision and more, but for now we’re conscious that it may have seemed as though we simply posted a statement without making any meaningful change.
Our anti-racism work hasn’t been too visible from the outside, so we wanted to update you on what has happened in the past few months, and we promise to continue sharing updates on our progress in the future. Hopefully soon, when you ask ‘is your management team and board reflecting diversity? Do you seek input on policies from more diverse staff?’ and more, we can confidently reply, ‘Yes’.
- Launched an Anti-Racism Steering Group: We are a group of around 15 people from across Shelter, and since early June we have met regularly to identify opportunities and barriers to dismantling systemic racism inside and outside of Shelter. We are by no means the final and definitive iteration of the group; it will continue to evolve with new membership, and our aim is to be intersectional, representative of all areas of the charity, and for at least 60% of the members to be people of colour.
- Holding a Day of Learning: This week everyone at Shelter is invited to shut down their emails and participate in a full day of learning and reflection to cement our dedication to the cause. We’re extremely pleased to be working with consultant and #CharitySoWhite organiser Martha Awojobi to get the most out of the day, in which we’ll hear from guest speakers, get into uncomfortable but necessary discussions, and collectively set our commitment to tackling systemic racism.
- Running a Shelter survey: More needs to be done to understand how different demographics experience Shelter. The people who know the charity best – staff, service users and volunteers – are being invited to complete an anonymous survey. The results of that survey will inform recommendations made to the Shelter board on making our charity an anti-racist organisation.
- Launched a BAME Affinity Group: This is a support network and safe space for Shelter’s Black and Brown employees. The group provides support for wellbeing, mentoring and sponsorship, and is working with Shelter’s leadership team to make sure they’re committed and held accountable.
- Examining how we communicate: The language we use, pictures we choose, who’s featured in our videos, the way we reply to social media comments – how we communicate is too big and important to not address. We’re beginning work to update our communications so they’re more inclusive and challenge the status quo.
- Exploring a recruitment overhaul: Our HR team is embarking on an audit of how Shelter recruits employees, after which we will make suggestions to our leadership team on how our recruitment practices can be updated to make Shelter a truly diverse organisation.
- Launched an Ally Group: The Ally Group is an exchange forum to educate and utilise one another. The onus is on allies to do their own research and take on the mental and emotional labour that comes with that, rather than turning to the people of colour in our lives who are already dealing with an extraordinary amount of emotional strain.
What can I do to address and dismantle systemic racism?
More than anything, if you want to dismantle injustice of any kind, we encourage you to consider where you sit in the system, and how you benefit from it. Recognising the power and privilege you have allows you to see which injustices you’re in a position to fight. Men have an important role in fighting sexism; non-disabled people can help dismantle ableism; heterosexual and cis people can help fight against homophobia and transphobia; national citizens can speak from a powerful position when it comes to fighting anti-immigration sentiment; White people are needed to help dismantle racism.
Back in June we shared some resources you can use to dismantle racism in your own sphere of influence. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, and there are plenty more anti-racist books, podcasts, films, articles and more that have been created in recent months, such as the Nice White Parents podcast the Whiteness at Work seminar, and this gal-dem article on being a person of colour with a White racist parent. While not new, the About Race podcast is well worth a listen, especially the final episode, which asks ‘what can I do?’
Finally, we would like to hear from you. If you have thoughts on ways we can work towards our goal, please feel free to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.