Belonging Book Club

In May, we launch our Belonging Book Club. This new offering, for non-members of B in Bath, exists to support our learning and growth as a community.

Particularly over the past 12 months, a large number of books and resources have been published that discuss and address issues around race and racism. We welcome this. In order for us to create an environment and community where everyone belongs, we need to be able to discuss race and combat racism. However, we understand that conversations around race, racism, language and sensitivities, can be difficult to dive into. We believe that belonging is created with everyone in mind, so we want to support everyone to learn, grow and understand these issues.

So we decided to start the Belonging Book Club.

We aim to introduce conversations and ideas around race at a level that is suitable for everyone, regardless of whether you have ever thought about or discussed race before or not.

Here, Rich Francis, who will run and facilitate the book club, talks to Renée about his thoughts behind it.

What will be the first book?
The first book we will read is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

Why?
Look I know it’s not the best book out there, but it’s a gentle introduction and it introduces some key topics, also it is written by a woman who is pretty easy to relate to, and might provide a “way in” for a lot of people. It’s sort of a softly-softly start, which is not exactly my way, but I think will welcome people. It also offers lots of opportunity to critique. There are people who will say that reading a book by a white woman about race is a bit wide of the mark, and that is fair, but Robin doesn’t claim to be an expert on the experience of being another race. She talks about how discovering that she was complicit in a system impacted her, and she talks a lot about the coded way white people speak. It is not the best book we will read, but it does bring people in.

Have you read all of the books yourself?
Yes, I have read each book on here and they have all spoken to me in different ways.

Which was your favourite and why?
My favourite is always the book I have read last, as each book seems to give me something new, that said there are some stand outs for me. Emma Dabiri is a stunningly brilliant writer, and her book What White People Should do Next really speaks to where I am at this point in my life. Also anything by Bell Hooks, she writes like she is your old friend and brings you into her life. For me it is so key that the books are intersectional, and really she taught me that.

Which was the most challenging to read?
I think this is really interesting because when I started reading books on race it was all hard. I had never really formulated my own thinking about race. As a doctor I knew it was made up, and I had been raised to be “colourblind” and never ever mention race. I have always had a diverse group of friends and partners, but the books really shook me, as I realised the superficial way that I had treated race probably limited my relationships. The most personal book was Audre Lorde’s Your Silence Will not Protect You, but the books that left me reeling were Black and British (David Olusoga) and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. 

Why a book club and not a book list?
Well a book list is great but there is no accountability, the book club will hopefully act as a way people can really try to open themselves. Start from where they are and do the work, and we can all be accountable to each other.

What can people expect from the book club?
People can expect a radically open space, where you can ask good faith questions and can make mistakes. An environment where you can learn and grow and hold your self accountable. But to be clear it is not a space that will accept intolerance, or bigotry. You should be open and try to engage.

What will it be?
It will be an hour or two once a month, we will have a guided discussion about the book, and build on our knowledge.

What won’t it be?
It will not be a give-your-opinion-on-the-book-and-drink-wine sort of thing. People will be expected to have read the book and have questions and critiques (but I will provide some prompts a week before).

What’s the format?
A sort of “curated discussion”.

Who is the book club for?
Of course the book club is open to everyone, but it is specifically targeted at white people, I want to emphasise that this work of learning about racism is our work. Non-white people are well aware through lived experience.

Why is this needed?
Different people will be drawn to this for different reasons, maybe people want to relate to other people, or they want to understand what is going on globally. Maybe people have an idea that something isn’t quite right but want a framework for thinking about it. For me it is all about building the kind of world I want to live in, and it really clicked when I saw just how connected all the oppressions were, that’s when I saw my role and struggle as being directly linked and connected.

Why is it important?
I think there can be nothing more important in the world than learning to de-centre yourself and truly listen to another person. This is a totally vital skill to building deep relationships and understanding the world we live in.

Anything else?
This is very much what you make it, it can be just me talking to the void, or it can be us all together trying to uplift each other and grow and learn.

You can see the current Belonging Book Club reading list, here:
https://bib-network.org/reading-list/

Why B in Bath

Why formerly Black in Bath?

When I launched B in Bath (Black in Bath) a few months ago, it was not as I had planned. Anyone who spoke to me about it at the time would know that it was the early launch of something I had long been planning. The murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and the conversations that were happening in the media and in peoples’ homes prompted me to launch one small part of a bigger vision. And that part served the Black community.

As the days and weeks went by, and I was having conversations about my original idea, and how I wanted Black in Bath to grow, I realised that I could not continue to solely focus on the Black community. It felt too far away from my overall vision and I released that to achieve my aims, I needed to expand the network. So I did.

Why B in Bath?

The vision for B in Bath is to be a tool for creating change in the City of Bath; supporting our members in their workplaces and businesses, and promoting collaboration and integration while developing and adding to the community of Bath. 

Bath is an affluent city, but there is also vast inequality. To create a city where everyone feels at home, safe and as though they belong is a challenge for all of its residents. By focussing on the workplace, as well as the challenges that business owners and leaders face, B in Bath can work to create that belonging in the place where a lot of us spend the majority of our waking hours and on an aspect of our lives that impacts our financial and mental wellbeing. Perhaps this says more about me than I would like, but the majority of my friends are people I met through work, when I feel successful it is (often) success at work that drives that feeling – my work-life greatly impacts all other aspects of my life. And so, B in Bath exists as a tool to drive change in one area of the lives of people from underrepresented backgrounds, and an area that will greatly influence all other aspects of their lives.

What next?

  1. To grow the network. The B in Bath network is only as strong as its members, there is power in numbers. Creating a place where people from under-represented backgrounds can feel safe, as well as grow and develop is key.
  2. Learning and support. Two of the themes that uphold the network are continuous learning and offering support to members.
    By attending B in Bath events, members can learn how to deal with challenges they might face (from finance to networking), and continue their professional and personal development. By taking on a mentor, members can focus on achieving their goals in a personalised way. By mentoring someone else, members can pass on their knowledge and skills and support others in the network.
    I am also keen to work with the wider community having conversations and creating and delivering action plans to ensure that workplaces, business groups, etc are best positioned to support their staff and improve on their diversity and inclusion.
  3. Create the model. I want to ensure that the B in Bath model is understood by members and potential members, and is repeatable. Over the coming weeks I will be working on a simple explainer for it. I will share it  when it is complete.

If you would like to be involved with B in Bath, become a member, or find out more, please get in touch!

Black Lives in Bath: Time for Action


Yesterday I took part in a roundtable discussion with the MP for Bath, Wera Hobhouse, Dr Sean Sobers, Toni Swaby, Rob Mitchell, Alex Raikes, Lloyd Notice and Chris Baker. The discussion was around the lived-experience of being a Black person in Bath and the panelists (myself included) talked about times they had faced discrimination in the workplace, in education and in their daily lives and the impact that facing racism has on their mental health. The stories were both shocking and unsurprising. I have never been under the illusion that racism doesn’t exist in every facet of life, as I too experience it regularly. I hope that the conversation served to highlight the issue to those who do not experience racism but the question remains, “what do we do now?”

In my brief talk during the discussion, I pulled out three areas where we can look to make changes. I want to go into a bit more depth about each of them below:

Institutions

By institutions, I mean universities, schools, the police force, courts and justice system, and I am calling these out separately to employers (which I will go on to below) because they have a foundational impact on the way our country behaves, looks and functions. Their reach is broad and overarching, and these institutions shape our country (by educating our children, for example) and/or set the tone and rules regarding what life should be like. That is a huge responsibility.

Our institutions have the difficult task of representing all people who live in this country. In terms of supporting Black people, it is not possible to do that without cultural understanding. At the very least, this should include being conscious of events that might be important or significant to Black people. When talking to some students at Bath University, they told me that the faculty (including staff responsible for pastoral care of students) did not think it was important to check on Black students in the wake of George Floyd’s murder – this shows a lack of understanding of what is significant to students and of the things that will be impacting them. The fact that it is a refusal to do something that is essentially so simple, and should be part of the role of anyone working in a University (ensuring and supporting the mental welfare of students), is also deeply worrying. 

In all walks of life we need to ensure there is a safe space to report incidents of racism, harassment and hate crimes. The same students reported to me that they are often worried about the repercussions of reporting racist incidents, especially when these might relate to the behaviour of a lecturer who is responsible for your success at university, and that when incidents are reported they are down-played or not taken seriously. 

Too often, issues of anti-Black racism and the experience of Black people within institutions (and employers) are bundled under the BAME banner. This banner has not served us in removing racism from institutions or ensuring that the people who fall under that banner are appropriately supported. It is an easy catch-all and is too simplistic. The experience of a Black person in education, including attainment, continuation in higher education, etc, is very different to that of a person from a South Asian background, for example. It is not possible to properly address the issues faced by Black people within institutions (or others who fall under the BAME banner) without a real focus. When considering that “BAME issues” are usually bundled in with all “diversity and inclusion”, it is clear to see why progress is not being made. We need experts in this space, not generalists. 

Employers

Much of what I have said above can be applied to employers, so I won’t repeat myself. In addition to the above, employers need to look at the systems they have set-up to support the business and check whether these adequately support employees. This check starts with recruitment and flows through the “life-cycle” of an employee to when they leave. It is worth noting that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, so it is important to measure your “diversity” statistics, even at the hiring stage when possible, to truly understand how your Black employees fare within the business in comparison to others.

I will talk about this more in other posts, as this is a key area of focus for the Black in Bath network.

Individuals

Everyone has bias and prejudices, both conscious and unconscious. That is the nature of being human and also of being brought-up in a society that perpetuates certain biases and prejudices. As individuals, the first step is for us to accept this. I must accept that I have biases and prejudices, I must identify them and then, finally, work to remove them. This is difficult work that many people have started recently. I hope that this internal work won’t be a fad, or something that people give up on quickly. It is fundamental to building the changes that we need to see in the world.

We can all start by educating ourselves and there are plenty of resources available, which anyone can find by doing an internet search. It is important to remember that there are no “quick wins”, the systems that uphold our country have bias, prejudice and racism built into them and dismantling that will be painful. By doing the work as individuals we can ensure that when we collectively build new systems, prejudices and biases are not built-in. We can also ensure that in our interactions with others, both professionally and personally, we are not allowing biases to creep out (as we will have worked to remove them) and colour those interactions and relationships.

There is a lot of work to be done but it is not the case that this is “just the beginning.” Activists, individuals and organisations have been working for years to make the very changes (and more) that I have detailed above. Where are these experienced experts? They appear in all walks of life, a few of whom spoke in the roundtable discussion with Wera. It is not possible for these people to be everywhere, but with the right focus and investment (time and money) we can pool the knowledge and resources that we already have, develop new resources where there are gaps and start to build a society with institutions, employers and individuals that can support and serve everyone better.