David Gibbs: Vision in a Current Distress

In the 5th post in our series #NSUNCovidLife, David Gibbs writes about hope and how Covid-19 must not derail anti-racism work.

David Gibbs: Vision in a Current Distress
Illustration by Tamar Whyte

I am a Black British Christian man who has very little in common with the Governor of the Bank of England. Yet on hearing the words of his March emergency statement there was a certain visceral reaction and resonance with some of his comments. He commented that the Bank’s role is to “help prevent a temporary disruption from causing longer-lasting economic harm.” It reminded me of the importance of the work of peer support and being anti-racist and that no matter how serious the temporary Covid 19 pandemic it must not derail our endeavours.

Our work remains to bring wholeness, flourishing and hope not harm in a time of anxiety and challenges to our mental health. The self-isolation, social distancing, lockdown, panic -buying and incessant news coverage must not take our collaborative focus, passion and experiences from speaking truth to power and showing empathy to others. Carney continued that to be productive and capitalise our impact we must co-ordinate our efforts acting in unity with what is said and crucially what is done to bring stability. Our temporary focus on urgent needs and crisis must not destabilise our resolve to transform the cultures in which we operate – the places where we exercise, have medical treatment, live, shop or sites we engage with on the internet.

External forces and our internal working models impact on our interpretation of and engagement with our cultural context. The external includes the historical factors, the intellectual influences, zeitgeist and politics. Over the last 10 years this has been dominated by austerity and Brexit and now the Coronavirus. We have little control on these factors but yet they expert pressure on us. Inside, we ponder, discern, experience and then may act (influenced by the external) based on our relationships, hopes and struggles.

As experiential people, peer support workers and anti-racists part of the inner dialogue and desire is for social equity to decolonise structures, to experience true justice, greater inclusion and genuine co-production with a pedagogy of mutual learning. The world is in a fragile state but we must be diligent and cognisant to ensure the temporary and immediate do not replace, overshadow or deny the ongoing fight against the practices that continue to dehumanise. The response to Covid 19 has showcased the highs and lows of human nature. It exaggerates our fear, egotism and myopia. It also provides a space to think communally to shape a better future.

The current crisis has persuaded maybe even necessitated a change in thinking formulating new insights about how we use our assets, space, technology, time and power of speech. Whether in humour or all seriousness the virus is top of the world’s agenda in conversation for resolution. It dominates the news cycle, has knocked the world economy and invigorated agency. The more profound viruses of xenophobia, prejudice, pseudo-science, racism, and white supremacy that have infected structures in academia, politics, business and communities remain. They require similar determination and focus to dismantle all forms of discrimination whether it is implicit or explicit, intentional or inadvertent, unconscious, subtle or ‘just the way things are.’

The Government strategy supported by Chief Medical and Scientific Officers is to Contain, Delay, Research and Mitigate model. It appears to have a modus operandi based in racist and discriminatory thought. There is a history of using “Science” to justify racial differences. In our struggle we face containment because it works to isolate and gaslight activists who lead the charge for change and equity. Often you are the lone voice in the wilderness. Delay comes wearing a mask calling for more talks to clarify the issues or upon the current dilemma sorted. I’m writing from Birmingham, West Midlands but writing in 1963 from a Birmingham, Alabama a prison cell in the South trying to be “patient and reasonable” Martin Luther King said:

“For years now I have heard the word “wait.” It rings in the ear of every Negro with a piercing familiarity. This “wait” has almost always meant “never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.””

The words of the Biblical Psalmist enquires, “How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” The tactics of delay waits for the ‘right’ time and perfect conditions but actually they maintain the status quo. It feeds into the never-ending desire for more data and research to find answers to anecdotal knowledge. Too often the obvious conclusions, voluminous research and calls to action are frustrated by “the paralysis of analysis.” The final stage in this model is mitigation which through a limited response attempts to reduce the severity of perception and experience, ‘flattening the bell curve.’ Frequently the retort is “that was not the intent” to minimise actions but without fully acknowledging historical factors, the prevailing culture and lived-experiences and post traumatic stress.

We know we are in serious and interesting times but the struggle for new ways to use our bodies, minds and energy continues. How do we capture the desire and goodwill of a million people who volunteered to help the NHS? How can they be equipped to enhance peer support, do racial equity workshops and be ambassadors of cultural change? Difficult choices must be faced, hard decisions made and opposition faced but we must endure thinking new thoughts. However, we must not fail to act.

The Governor-elect of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said that because of the pandemic their engagement has multiplied meaning more advice, interactions, reviewing data and maintaining flexibility. They are realistic and future orientated not in reserve but moving forward in a choreographed response. Can we learn from their approach? It’s mission, like ours is “to promote the good of the people of the United Kingdom” including peers, family, friends and neighbours.

It is about organisational, institutional and societal transformation changing lives and attitudes. We will not rest when the current pandemic has abated because as Labi Siffre sang: “Something inside so strong I know that I can make it.” We will come triumph in the end making it a better world.