Over the past few years I’ve been gathering a network of supportive senior people of colour in the arts sector. Mainly women, they have been a huge part of my career so far and have helped me to make great connections, make sense of my feelings and build confidence in a majoritively white sector.
At the same time I’ve found myself naturally gravitating to other people of colour who are finding their way in the sector. Quite simply, there is a level of understanding and shared experience that is reassuring and affirming here and that can often not be found with white peers in the sector. Having a space where you can speak freely about your experience and specific issues you are facing without having to worry about how it will be received is something that could be taken for granted by people who don’t have to worry if they will be labelled ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘lacking in humour’.
Whilst all of this has been and remains a hugely important part of my support in the sector, I am coming to realise that whilst useful for my own mental health – having discussions with other people who ‘get it’ doesn’t necessarily do anything to move the sector forwards. It allows us to vent much needed frustrations but it doesn’t help us create long term solutions to the problems causing them.
Over the past few months I have been in discussion with a range of people within the children’s sector about diversity and representation. At times I’ve felt that weight around my neck – the anticipation from others as they wait for me to bring the ‘D’ word out, but I’ve also had some hugely enlightening moments speaking to people who I ordinarily would not gravitate towards – in particular; white, middle aged, men.
We spend so much time talking about power and who has it, and generally speaking the majority is held by this particular grouping. So perhaps it’s been natural that I’ve not thought they would be the most open to change – a change that ultimately asks them to relinquish some of that power. In some cases this may be true, but I’ve been heartened to find myself in conversations where such men have openly said that a discussion with me has altered their perspective and, therefore, how they will continue in their work.
This got me thinking…
In my whole time speaking with other people of colour, whilst fulfilling and necessary for me and my own sanity, it hasn’t created even a proportion of the potential change that two conversations with these white men has.
It’s timely that i’m currently reading Helena Morrissey’s ‘A Good Time to be a Girl’ in which she talks a lot about finding allies in men as she pushed forward in a male-dominated financial sector.
In the past few days reading this book and having these conversations, something has clicked for me… this is the way forward. This is where I should be focusing more effort – finding open minded white men in positions of power and privilege and spending some time to share my views and experiences with them. There is something about the polar opposition of gender and ethnicity that is interesting here, more so than I’ve found in conversations with white women (perhaps I need longer to unravel what this polarity does).
This isn’t about preaching a new way of working or giving them a lesson in privilege – but simply sharing the way I view the world and making it clear that we all can only view the world from our own perspectives and this therefore effects the decisions we make in personal and professional contexts.
No matter how well meaning we are, we can only live our own life and therefore we will always be lacking understanding of someone who lives a very different type of life be that down to class, economic situations, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender, disabilities, neuro-diversity… (the list goes on of course). That’s fine, so long as we recognise it and then consider how we can use our own privilege to push things in the right direction.
It’s got me thinking a lot more about horizontal mentoring and how we can find more relationships whereby people in power share their knowledge and expertise with those who need it and those people then share their knowledge and expertise from a very different context back. Very different to a top down mentoring approach where the mentor is there to support the needs of the mentee (there is still absolutely a place for that and I gain so much from my mentor in this way) – this approach is about an equal relationship where the two mentor/mentee’s are sharing and learning in equal measure.
I’d be very keen to learn if this has happened in the arts and cultural sector and if so, what the outcomes were. I have heard of similar relationships in the health sector but the more I think about it and speak with other artists about their own experiences of such relationships, the more I think this needs to be a wider experience.
Featured image: the closest representation to a white male I’ve found in street art… taken at Festival Club in Ibiza 🙂