Azeem Rafiq’s testimony highlights the need for authentic anti-racism not knee jerk reactions

Azeem Rafiq’s damning, honest, powerful and emotional testimony this week has struck many chords. Black and Brown people are not shocked by his story, it is all too easily recognisable and relatable and should shine a light on racism in every workplace.
Giving evidence to the cross-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Azeem spoke of a racist culture, one where all Black and Brown players were given the name Kevin, where the P-word was consistently used, where his Muslim faith was made a mockery of and how he was pinned down at age 15 and had red wine poured down his throat.  He also spoke of feelings of isolation and humiliation. This is bullying. This is bullying based on race. This is racism. Azeem’s treatment should be shocking, but the reality is, it isn’t. The way he was treated is a symptom of the cause, the cause is racism.  When he complained and raised concerns, he was dismissed, belittled and ignored – evidence of structural and institutionalised racism, and when the racism goes right to the top where do you turn? You only need to read the comments on the media articles sharing his story to understand why so many Black and Brown people simply do ‘put up with’ this kind of treatment.  There is no safe space to share.  There is nobody listening who has been impacted by racism.

• Playing the race card
• If it was ‘that bad’ why didn’t he leave
• He’s jumping on the bandwagon 

Representation alone will not fix this. Anti-racism is what’s needed. We often see companies jumping to ‘fix’ the problem by immediately appointing more Black and Brown people, and on the face of it this can seem like a good idea, and they should certainly be involved in making decisions about what should be done next, but without considering the culture of the organisation, this can in-fact do more harm that good.  Representation and diversity are of course important, but by increasing representation and or diversity without considering the safety of those you are including is harmful. We believe that representation naturally happens through equity and inclusion – both of which are a direct result of anti-racism. Azeem spoke of a colleague who he described as a ‘good man’ a man who never used racist language – but at the same time, never spoke up against it either. Racism was so deeply ingrained that it even affected White players’ ability to stand up against it. No one could speak about it.  It was the accepted cultural norm.  It was interwoven into the fabric of the institution and upheld by the leadership.
An anti-racist organisation is one that educates and supports all staff to recognise and stand up against racism in all its forms.  One that maintains a zero tolerance of racism and any form of discrimination.  An anti-racist organisation is one that creates a space where people can be there authentic selves and are NOT afraid to speak out and rather than a place where somewhere where ‘you can’t say anything anymore’ an anti-racist space creates open conversation, open discussion and a safety for shared learning and un-learning.
As an organisation committed to campaigning and supporting individuals, communities and organisations to create an authentic anti-racist county, a place where we can all live authentically and achieve our human potential, we urge you to learn from the mistakes of Yorkshire Cricket Club and make it your responsibility to look to anti-racism as the path to equity.
We give thanks and admiration to Azeem Rafiq for a shining a light into the shadows.
As James Baldwin said: ‘not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’