2020 continues to be a year of upheaval and, in many ways, horror at times. From bushfires and Brexit to Coronavirus and now, once again, the ugly spectre of racism rears its head.
The death in the United States of George Floyd while in police custody is shocking and heart-breaking and I salute those who are stepping up to raise awareness and protest at this and the many injustices we are challenged with. There seem to be so many this year it can be overwhelming and hard to know where and how to act, at times it feels like being a heavyweight boxer caught on the ropes, taking a pummeling.
Speaking personally, each incident has given me pause for thought on my own life, what are my options and how can I proceed in a way that feels right to me, so I live in accordance with my values and best to honour the people, communities and planet I hold dear.
After some reflection and time to noodle on this, my decision is to work on the things I can control or positively influence and re-examine my own thoughts and actions. I’m also going to choose to turn down the volume on things I cannot control. As my mentor and friend Dr Steve Noonan once taught me, there is no value in inflicting the violence on endless repeat. That only generates anxiety and such fear that thought and action becomes clouded.
I’m making the conscious choice to respond and in a moment as incendiary as this, not react. To do so risks extending the reach of hate. I choose not to incite or propagate hate of any kind.
As a person this means digging deep to examine my feelings, values and motives.
As a business owner and role model, this means making sure I hire and work with people because they are the best fit for a job and to not discriminate. On this I know I can do more - which is not to say I’ve been actively discriminatory, that’s not only illegal, but utterly against my values. But it is to say that I will seek greater diversity in future. It also means choosing my words and actions carefully and thoughtfully, to try to lead by example. It also means making services and products that help.
As a global citizen this means standing shoulder to shoulder with those who are not the same as me but share my values. I’ve done this again and again, from attending marches for better conditions for teachers (TBH that was me being taken along by my mum as a kid) and against Brexit, to campaigning for marriage equality in Australia, to supporting charities and events that do good. It shows up in my choice to be vegan and live in a wonderfully diverse community full of people who do not look, sound or act like me. All of these decisions are driven by a deeper desire to inhabit and explore a world that is a fascinating, fun and fair place. But it’s not like that for everyone. In fact, my life is utterly charmed when compared to so many. And that’s the bigger point here. I, like most (if not all of you) who are reading this, have had advantages from the very start. We have been running in a race that has not had fair rules.
I’m seeing a lot of messages that racism has no place in veterinary medicine. I agree, 100% with this sentiment. Nice soundbite, but does it stand up to scrutiny, or is it just a nice graphic to post when a convenient moment arrives? Something doesn’t feel right to me, just walk around a conference and you’ll see what I mean.
We visibly lack diversity when it comes to race representation (and gender). The most recent survey of the UK vet population put some numbers on the problem, just 3% of vets are from an ethnic background different to the white majority. In the US this number is apparently even lower. These numbers are not proportionate or representative which is a problem it would serve our community to address. This may not be a sign of open racism, but it does show that things are not equal. It’s an area for work and improvement.
So again, the question for us all is what can we do that is within our sphere of influence and talent to ensure that we are a fair, diverse and just community?
That might mean raging on social media to you. But it doesn’t mean that to me. And that should be fine.
Rage if you must, this is the moment. But let's also be kind to each other. Attacking good people inside our profession who also care because they don’t say or do the same things as you is, at best, ironic because it demonstrates that the point of diversity has been missed. At worst, it is shaming or bullying behaviour and that is another form of hate that no-one needs.
Silence on social media does not mean you don’t care. Silence does not mean you don’t act. Silence does not mean weakness. It does not mean your work or business has no value.
There are many ways to protest. Many ways to act. So you do you, and more power to you. I’ll do me. And we’ll stand stronger together against the things that need to change.