When is Change a Coming?
Sitting in my inbox was a message waiting for a response. It contained a familiar request which in itself was disheartening. It was from a student trying to make sense of what in my skin is nonsensical and tiresome, to say the least. I flagged the message and put it on my list of when-I-have-time. Then my conscience pricked me, so I typed a brief reply and hit send. I wrote that I could meet on a specific day, at a specific time and that this was non-negotiable, within seconds an appreciative answer appeared, the date was set!
A few days later we met at Yumi, in Hyson Green. We ordered beverages before we sat down to business (I had a hot chocolate with cream, marshmallows, and chocolate sprinkles).
She was a fresh-faced student who instantly made me feel at ease. She also seemed to genuinely believe that her research would result in change: ‘...I’m conducting research into the stereotyping of Black people and hope to make recommendations for fellow students and staff...’ she said, as she sipped her café latté.
Aww, the sheer innocence, if change was made from recommendations I’d have had my tropical island by now. I paused, should this be a sugar coated view or a this is how the world is and it ain’t pretty day?
I opted for the latter stance and began with why it was necessary to found Nottingham Black Archive, an organisation committed to collecting Black history, heritage and culture. I talked about the racial attack my daughter experienced 12 months ago and how no one, on a tram full of passengers, intervened as she was physically and verbally assaulted by two thugs. I talked about how children, as young as four years old, ask me if I am from the jungle. I explained that there had been a number of Acts and recommendations and intentions, which had not created real change and that institutions continue to omit people like me from strategic roles.
Then I dropped the bombshell: things won’t change. The system is too deeply ingrained, but most of all people are not committed to meaningful change. I explained that I was no longer in the business of seeing racism as a problem I had to cure and that I’d rather spend my time developing initiatives that I had a voice in. She looked suitably distraught at my disclosure. ‘When it comes down to it,’ I said, ‘it’s not neuroscience, if organisations want to diversify their workforce they will, but they don’t want to, so they don’t.’
After a reflective silence, we agreed that we had both talked enough. We said our goodbyes and I left her to make her way to the tram stop. I stopped at Mac’s Mini Market to purchase ripe plantains before I made my way back to the car. Throughout the drive home, I wondered would her journey for justice be the change.
Panya Banjoko is a Black-British writer of Caribbean descent whose work reflects her mixed cultural heritage. She has been published in IC3 by Penguin Books and in Out of Bounds by Bloodaxe Press. She is Co-founder of Nottingham Black Archive, Patron for Nottingham City of Literature and runs a Black Writers Network.
To find out more about Panya, see below: