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Relative difference

23 October 2020

During Black History Month and beyond, we want to share stories about our staff’s experiences. Here, a staff member, Carol Carter, and her son, Dr Jermaine Ravalier, a Reader in Work and Wellbeing (Psychology) at Bath Spa University, spoke about their experiences as a mixed-race family living in the Trust’s local area, and whether the Black Lives Matter movement has shifted their perspectives.


This year the BLM movement has brought racism and inequalities into sharp focus. What impact has it had on you both personally?

Carol: “It was only in the past month or so that I asked you whether you’d ever had any problems growing up.
I suppose, knowing that you had your dad’s side of the family and had contact with them, made it different to if you hadn’t had that. I knew you were getting both sides of the spectrum in terms of race, so it wasn’t ever anything I felt I needed to make a point of discussing with you.”

Jermaine: “BLM hasn’t had much impact on me specifically; but I talk for a living [about some of these issues], and I know it has inspired much discussion across the country. The next thing is to see whether the talk turns into feasible and viable action and how long it takes for that to happen. The movement has been positive but we haven’t seen any tangible action come from it yet.”

What prompted you to write the article for the British Psychological Society’s magazine? 

Jermaine: “I was responding to an article published a few weeks previously, that had suggested that BLM was a ‘furore’ and that there’s no real evidence that things such as ‘everyday’ racism and micro-aggressions happen – aside from the daily lived experience of millions of people in this country.

“There hadn’t been many black voices within the BPS magazine either, and I know there are issues to do with health inequalities, and education, media, judiciary, social care and politics, which all systemically seem to work against black and working class people. I wanted to expand people’s knowledge about the issues.”

Did you discuss race and racial difference with Jermaine as a child, to help him deal with situations or people he might encounter?

Carol: “We didn’t really.”

Jermaine: “It’s got to be difficult though. You’ve never had had those experiences so wouldn’t have been able to talk about them, even though you would have been there and aware during the race riots and Stephen Lawrence, it wasn’t your personal experience.”

If not with your mother, do you recall having those types of conversations with anyone else?

Jermaine: “I spent lots of time at Gran’s and had those conversations with her. She would always tell me to keep out of trouble and say, ‘you have to work harder than other people to get to the same place ‘they’ do’. As I got older, around 14 or 15, I did have these sort of discussions with my Dad, because I started to have questions about why most of the kids I grew up with, were getting suspended, expelled, and in trouble with the police.”

Carol : “I was just so grateful you didn’t go down the same path as them. Why were you different?”

Jermaine:”I think it’s lots of things; temperament for one. I was the quiet one. I got into stupid trouble at school, but that’s not the same as getting into trouble with the police. Also, when Ben (a close friend) got stabbed to death, it made a huge impression on me.

“It comes down to who your role models are; who you look up to, and model your behaviour after. I had grandparents on both sides, my brother. There’s lots of research showing that if the house you’re in is quiet and calm and not overrun that has an impact on childhood behaviour leading to adulthood.”

Do you have a first memory of feeling that you stood out or were different from your other friends? If so, how did that make you feel?

Jermaine: “Growing up around here, where I spent the first 18 years of my life, having black, mixed race, Asian, friends, it was just so mixed, race didn’t register. It wasn’t until university, that race became an issue.
Most of my friends at Uni in the south west were white. The area is predominantly white, which makes you feel conspicuous and conscious of standing out in lots of ways and lots of places. I experienced some racism.”

As the white mother of a mixed race child, can you recall ever experiencing prejudice or racism – however subtle? If so, how did you handle it?

Carol: “I’d get some funny looks walking down the road especially when I had Mark (who’s white), and you and your Dad. Or in the later days when I had you and Phil and Sarah, (who’s white). People giving a double take. I took the view that I didn’t care, it was their problem; as long as they weren’t upsetting you.

“I remember an incident one New Year’s Eve, being somewhere and the conversation came around to somebody’s daughter, with one of the guests asking how they would feel [as parents] if she came home with a black man. One of them said, ‘I wouldn’t have it.’ That was it. I left the party. I objected to the fact that you, with your degree, Masters and going for a Phd , just because of the colour of your skin, would have been considered not good enough for their daughter. I didn’t say anything at the time, I kind of wish I had.”

Jermaine: “I don’t think there’s a right way or wrong way to react to something like that. I can see people having those views in the privacy of their own homes and a lot of the time directly confronting that isn’t the right way to deal with it because you don’t know what will happen next.”

Controversially, racism has been termed a mental health issue – do you think that’s true?

Jermaine:”No, racism is not a mental health issue. It’s ignorance and prejudice and it’s wrong. If you go down that route you give people an out – a justification – when they express those views.

“Most racism isn’t walking down the street and getting bananas thrown at you; a lot of the time, it’s those conversations that happen behind closed doors. Or subtle things you don’t understand.

“In a classic social psychological research, they found that people with white-sounding names such as Greg and Jennifer were 50% more likely to receive an interview call-back than those with more black-sounding names like Jamal. That’s not a mental health issue that’s a systemic problem. If it [racism] was a mental health disorder the majority of the country would be afflicted by it.”

Are there any practical things that can be done to reduce the types of systemic racism discussed in your article?

Jermaine: “Think about recruiting more black social workers, teachers, prison staff, police officers, we need to have more representation across all our public sector organisations.

“Black history should be taught more often than one week a year. The history of Britain from 10,000 years ago has examples of Black people playing an important part. If we educate and work with young children now, they hopefully will grow up differently.

In the workplace, you can have blind shortlisting which don’t reveal any personal details just experience and that can help to reduce discrimination.”

Carol: “We have that as part of our recruitment at our Trust. We have a lot of initiatives for non-white staff to get them into more senior positions. It’s good, but it shouldn’t have to be that they have to have special courses or training, they should just be able to go up the ladder, but it’s better than not doing anything.

“Actually this Trust is working quite hard. Our Chief Executive is the Senior Responsible Officer for the NWL Proactive Population Management & Reducing Inequalities work stream,  and co-chair of the NWL Proactive Population Management & Reducing Inequalities Board, which is looking at how things can be improved.”

Jermaine: “It should be that the best person gets the job, but we know that’s not always the case, so doing something [about it] is better than nothing. But schemes like you’re talking about, allow racists to argue ‘what about me?’ so organisations need to be prepared for that.

“I guess in acknowledging something needs to be done, implicitly, higher-ups at your organisation recognise there’s a problem, which is in itself is a good thing.”

Ref: Bertrand et al. (2003)