First off, thanks for visiting my blog. This is my first post, and since this site is all about diversity I’d like to begin with a rundown on some diversity-related stats about me.
I’m 35. I’m a white man and I grew up in a middle-class home with a mum and a dad and a brother and a sister. I had all the things that help a person grow up to be well-rounded – love, support, education, culture, and the stability of having a roof over my head and food on the table. I didn’t have access to private education but I was fortunate enough to be admitted to Oxford University and gain a degree from a world-class institution. I don’t have any disabilities. I’m not a member of a religious minority (in fact, I’m an atheist). I don’t struggle in life, really, and just about the only thing that counts against me when it comes to privilege is that I’m gay. You could be forgiven for asking why, then, I decided to start this blog.
I’ve felt strongly about social justice ever since I can remember, but I’d like to go back fifteen years to my time at university. I vividly remember a conversation (which turned into more of an argument) about the unequal playing field for state and private school pupils applying to Oxbridge. I didn’t verbalise it well, a problem not aided by the ingestion of a few beers beforehand, but with or without alcohol I didn’t have the language to explain what I now know as privilege and equity – that is to say, the concept of having an inherent advantage in one or more aspects of your character or person (in this example these include social class and educational opportunities) and the idea that we should not only provide an equal playing field (equality) but rather one that recognises that those who start with the least privilege have to overcome more challenges to get to the same place (equity). In retrospect I’m sure it all came off as a bit self-serving, but that wasn’t my intention, and I wasn’t really talking about me – I was just trying to communicate the idea that unfairness was baked into a system that sold itself as a meritocracy.
University was also the first time I got involved in a society or club based around my sexuality. I joined what was at the time called LGB Soc early in my first term, but I didn’t really know why and I rarely got involved with it for the rest of my time there. The reality is that I joined because I was away from home for the first time, I’d gone from the stifling environment of high school to the freeing environment of university, and I had the opportunity to be more open about who I was. In my second year I found myself (by virtue of little more than being gay) nominated as LGB Rep for my college. While it did have a bit of a welfare role, it primarily consisted of having an envelope of condoms and lube stuck to my door so that students who needed them could access them. I never got involved in any of the politics, I never really understood what the purpose of an LGB Rep was beyond a vague mandate of supporting other LGB students, and I didn’t see much relevance to me or my day-to-day life beyond my sexuality being a part of that narrow acronym.
It wasn’t until I left university and entered the world of work that I really began to learn more about diversity. I was (and am) lucky enough to work for a company that really cares about this area, and through everything from informal mentorship to formal trainings had opportunities to learn about general topics such as privilege and bias, more in-depth issues and thinking specific to women and minority groups such as LGBTQ+ people, and how to be deliberate with diversity in areas such as allyship and management. These are things I was passionate about, and I loved being able to learn about them at work. As I grew my knowledge both in and out of the office, I found myself more able to verbalise those concepts I had struggled with in that conversation fifteen years ago – being an ally to the less-privileged, being aware of unconscious bias, and understanding the importance of not only equality but also equity. I could see them not only as theoretical concepts, but as practical issues for which we could work towards solutions.
Along with all this came getting a bit older and having greater confidence in who I am. I have more lived experience now than I did fifteen years ago, and I see the importance of not just living in the shadows but openly talking about both positive and negative experiences I’ve had in order to encourage progress. As I get further into my thirties I care less about what people think of me and I don’t have the same qualms about speaking up, especially when it’s to support others. That student fifteen years ago couldn’t have told you why I was LGB Rep, but right now I can tell you with absolute certainty that my motivation for being involved in our LGBTQ+ group at work is first and foremost to support people who have less of a voice than I do, for example because they aren’t out in the workplace. LGBTQ+ diversity can be hidden, even in a supportive company, and by making sure I’m a visible advocate and role model I aim to ensure that that those people know they can talk to me. Secondly, I aim to educate and build allyship, encouraging others to learn as well.
Beyond LGBTQ+ diversity, I try to be a good ally in all areas, but gender and race are probably the two I feel best-versed and therefore most confident in. That’s not to say that I don’t have a base level of knowledge in others, but I’m realistic about my blind spots and know that those two are the areas where I’ve had most exposure and can talk to most in-depth. That is, of course, not to say I won’t continue to listen and learn to build my knowledge. I will do, and I’ll no doubt make mistakes along the way. In fact, making mistakes is pretty crucial when learning to be an ally – it’s better to try but make mistakes, than not try at all. With that in mind, everything I’ll write here is said with positive intent, but if I do make mistakes please remember no offence was intended and kindly call them out so that I can learn.
Ultimately, all of this has culminated in me getting to the stage of starting this blog. I’ve gone from passive understanding to active engagement, built my knowledge and experience, and then over time I became involved first in training diversity courses and then writing them. Although the timing coincides with a general raised awareness of topics such as privilege and bias due to the recent Black Lives Matter protests, I’ve wanted to start this blog for several years now and this isn’t in reaction to any one event or issue (although, of course, the fight for racial equality is integral to what I’ll be discussing on here and will no doubt be the subject of future posts). Instead, I just knew I didn’t previously have the depth of understanding for me to add value, but more recently I feel like I’ve got to a stage where I know enough to at least talk and write about diversity in a helpful way.
Being able to write and comment in a helpful way is, of course, not the same as having a right to write and comment. By starting this blog I aim to be a good ally and to try to educate and inform without taking from authentic voices. I can write from a first-person perspective on LGBTQ+ issues (or more correctly, that of a gay man, which does not in many cases transpose itself to the lived experience of the other four-letters-plus) and as I mentioned I have some wider understanding of allyship, primarily on race and gender, but however hard I try I can never write with an authentic voice in those areas. Instead what I can do is listen to those who are educating me, believe their stories, and bring those examples into my writing. It is a privileged perspective to think we always have a right to an opinion, but we do not – if we are to understand authentic voices it’s crucial to listen to the people who have lived that experience themselves and believe them, so my intention is never to question those authentic stories but simply to use my power as a privileged ally to convey them in the context of wider discussions on allyship, privilege and diversity.
A few final notes. One, I’ve jumped right in and touched on terms such as privilege, equality, equity and authenticity in this post, and I know not everyone will be starting from the same base. I plan to talk these in more detail as time goes on, but as and when anything doesn’t make sense please do feel free to ask in the comments so that others who are also curious can learn and understand. I thought about having pop-up definitions on key words, but I don’t want to compress complex and nuanced concepts into a soundbite. Two, I touched on how much I’ve learnt in this space through work, to give you context of where I’m coming from; this blog, however, is entirely personal and separate from work, and does not represent my employer or their views. And three, if you’ve read all the way to this point, thanks for sticking with me. The reality is that my posts are all likely to be fairly long-form, and while best practice might be to split long posts into sections for readability I felt like it lost its flow when I tried that. This longer style of post is probably what you should expect going forward.
And with that, I look forward to having you join me on the journey, encourage you to engage in the comments, and hope you find something of value in what I write. Thanks for reading!