Guest Blog: Sarah Penn. Project Lead of Happy Mums Foundation
We need to talk about race
Compared to the rest of the UK, and indeed the world, Cumbria is noticeably dominated by white people. Although the upcoming census is likely to show a significant increase, at the last count, our population is 98.5% white and 96.5% white British.
This has allowed many here, Happy Mums included, to be complacent about reaching people of different ethnicities.
Whether or not the numbers are may be comparatively small, it is the experience of minoritized women in Cumbria that is important. Indeed, because the numbers are smaller, women are perhaps more likely to experience exclusion, isolation and ignorance.
There are also shocking inequalities around childbirth in the UK: black women are at least 4 times more likely to die than white women, something you can read more about at www.fivexmore.com. Black women are also less likely to receive early help for their mental health but more likely to sectioned.
The last year has seen unprecedented attention on the issue of race and inequality. It has become apparent, as it should have always been apparent, that silence is as harmful as overt racism. So it is time to take action: for too long we have assumed at Happy Mums that because we felt welcoming, we would look that way to everybody.
Indeed, the very nature of peer support means there is always a danger that we recruit members who are like ourselves. Our mission to find common ground in the shared experience of mental illness around having a baby, can mean we fail to recognise the nuance of what makes us different – and in doing so cause more not less isolation.
So it is time we stood up and shouted: we stand against discrimination and racism. We are taking action to be more inclusive and most importantly we pledge to not just not be racist, but become actively anti-racist. In acting and talking about these issues we are bound to make mistakes but we believe it is better to open ourselves up to challenge than hide behind a fear of getting it wrong. Only then can we learn and grow as people and as an organisation.
The steps we are taking are as follows:
- exploring how we work with Anti Racist Cumbria in our endeavours to become actively anti-racist (you can understand what this means more fully by visiting their website www.antiracistcumbria.org and more specifically reading these blogs Anti Racism; what it means and where to begin and eight books to start your anti-racist journey)
- creating an equality and diversity strategy and ensure it is embedded in all of our day-to-day operations
- adding inclusion into our values
- making sure our publicity materials, website and social media posts reflect these values, even where this means going against our policy of using photos of existing group members
- consulting with other groups representing black, brown and minoritized people such as Multi-Cultural Cumbria/Carlisle, Celebrate Our Similarities
- we will guarantee interviews for any voluntary or paid roles we advertise, to anyone from any underrepresented group
- we are creating a new voluntary role: “Inclusion Champions” will be people from within specific communities which have been marginalised, excluded or faced barriers to accessing our support
- conducting a thorough external review of all our activities in terms of equality and inclusion
- using our position and platform to promote the anti-racist message and to advocate for improved healthcare for black, brown and minoritized women
We are just beginning to understand that this is about cultural, transformational change – a different way of thinking, working and feeling. The above measures are designed to proactively reduce the structural inequalities faced by minoritized groups and start to work progressively towards that change. We recognise that we are part of a system that benefits the majority, and, whilst that is an uncomfortable feeling for a campaigning organisation, it is vital we acknowledge this and use our privilege to reduce these inequalities.
And if we do so, we can only enrich and deepen the power of peer support. The huge potential of peer support can be tapped into to create points of connection between diverse communities. We don’t know and can never know fully what it is like to live someone else’s life. All we can do is ask, want to hear the answer, try our best to understand and work continuously to make changes. Then we can find points of contact, of shared experience, whilst also allowing for the difference of what we can never share.
Anti-Racist Cumbria – Local non-profit group formed in 2020 with the mission of “Tackling and ending racism through action and education to create a forward-thinking and actively anti-racist Cumbria; free from prejudice and systemic inequalities”. Their blog is an amazing resource for anyone who wants to learn how they can help tackle racism in Cumbria.
Black Mothers Matter – A campaign group working to improve resources, advice and networks available before and after birth for black women, with the aim of improving outcomes and experiences for those women.
Five X More – A campaign group committed to highlighting and changing black women’s maternal health outcomes in the UK.