Well, this year has been one of unpredictability, adaptation and change while at the same time confinement, restrictions and long hours without guidance or compass.
Plenty of people are thinking about ‘returning to normal’ and wondering what the ‘new normal’ will look like. People wanting to ‘go back to normal’. I’m not one of them to be honest. I know there are structural reasons we need to go back to work – the economy of the UK, no, the world, depends on it – and students need to go back to schools, colleges and universities to learn and teachers need to get back to imparting that learning.
The events happening during lockdown which started with George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis can teach us a lot about what we learn and what we still need to learn about. Those nine minutes will be a turning point across the world and ensure that, as he wished, George Floyd will be remembered across the world…I wish he could be here to see it. I wish the hundreds of people of colour who are killed unlawfully across the world could be here to see the change that is starting to finally happen.
Debate is opening up about institutional racism, histories of slavery and injustice, the Commonwealth (which brought wealth to Britain and ransacked, pillaged and brutalised the majority of the rest of those lands that were part of the Commonwealth), Colonialism and the disparity felt by people of colour across the world, and in the UK and USA particularly.
As a nation, does Britain’s curriculum reflect a true history of the country, or is it a sanitised, glorified narrative which draws a veil over the sinful and shameful past which supported the political and financial power base it used to enjoy? I for one, believe it is the latter and I don’t believe teachers are the problem – the curriculum taught has evolved to where it is now and this was brought home by the events in Bristol in early June.
During the Black Lives Matter protest, the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was removed from its plinth and then ceremonially disposed of in the docks where thousands of the slaves he traded were unloaded. There’s a poetic justice in this act and one which has caused reflection – and a good deal of tutting and head-shaking about statues and what they represent.
The issue with the statue of Colston is not so much that he was celebrated as a philanthropist in the city, but that the reason he was able to afford to give away lots of money to the city was his industrial-scale slavery business and the 19,000 deaths that he caused on the ships he used to transport his human cargo. The money Colston made from slavery made him an extremely rich man, so rich in fact that he was able to use some of his immoral fortune to cleanse and sanitise his reputation, cleansed to the point where his statue’s epitaph mentions his ‘good deeds and virtue’ while whitewashing his unethical (but legal at the time) trade in humanity.
Galvanised by the huge Black Lives Matter protests in the USA, the community in Bristol took action to right the wrong they saw and pulled the statue down from its plinth. By deciding to resist intervention, the Police in Bristol allowed a long-running debate to reach a people-powered conclusion. The debate over the re-wording of a plaque to Colston had been dragged out for years and different sides could not agree on a form of wording, the discussions regularly kicked into the long-grass unresolved. I’m not advocating public vandalism or damage, bust simply highlighting that people of colour the world over are tired of being treated poorly, enrobed in inequality and given steeper mountains to climb to simply exist in the UK and USA. This has been exacerbated by the Covid epidemic, evidenced by the fact that people of colour (or BAME as the acronym has it) being more than twice as likely to die from Covid as their white counterparts in the UK. People have had enough.
So what does this have to do with me? A middle-aged, middle class white man in the North West of England?
Well, since 2006, when we started Innovative Enterprise, the concept of change and creativity, seeing things differently and doing something about it has been what we’re all about. We’ve worked with hundreds of schools and more than 150,000 young people on enterprise mindset and attitude.
While we’ve been in lockdown we’ve started to notice the language changing when it comes to the future and what going forward to the (new) normal might be like, rather than going back to the old one.
Local communities have been helping one another, we’ve seen a big movement to support local small businesses, a reduction in the use of – and maybe need for – huge retail corporations, the appreciation of those people whose work often gets taken for granted such as delivery drivers and council workers and the development of new tech-based informal support networks for the more vulnerable members of our society.
Schools have been at the vanguard of supporting key workers in the essential services and particularly the NHS and proving yet again to be an important hub for communities.
As lockdown eases based on perhaps shaky justifications, I’m hoping we see a new focus for business and trade – much more local, much more community-based and hopefully with true kindness and generosity at the heart of it. People who live within a community know best what problems that community experiences and – with some support, guidance and motivation – the best ways to support that community.
Maybe the future for the ‘Covid Generation’ of students and graduates there will be a wake-up call as large corporate businesses contract in size and reduce their number of apprenticeships, interns and graduate jobs?
Maybe the future for students who have missed exams will be an adjustment in the application criteria for undergraduate courses at universities, thus encouraging more students who would not traditionally consider university as an option?
Maybe young people will be inspired and empowered to do something for themselves, by themselves using the online, community and connection skills they’ve developed and improved during lockdown?
My hope is that through the Covid lockdown, we will all have seen the world in a different light, that we can see the power of community and acting together with kindness and purpose and those realisations will continue into the next phase of life in our communities.
When the ‘normal’ systems that society is structured around change, when they are revealed as different to how we saw them and are becoming less reliable as a guide to the future then we need to look to ourselves and our communities to be those guides.
Sometimes, like the protestors across the globe and in Bristol, we need to stand together for something and make the change ourselves.
This has never been more important for young people.
Thanks for reading.