Before me, my older sister worked in Lambeth and because of her I spent a great deal of time around Lambeth and Lambeth staff. Evenings of Black and white staff together – from the cleaners to directors – all with one thing in common, they were all Lambeth. I loved it and knew I was Lambeth at heart. I pursued every possibility of employment in the Borough. In October 2002 to my absolute delight I got a job in Central Rehousing Services. I now realise that I had unfortunately arrived at the tail end of an era of positive change for Black staff in Lambeth. Soon the Council entered a state of permanent restructuring and the unwilling exodus of many senior Black managers and many white colleagues who were no longer seen as fitting new Lambeth.
For the first few years I thoroughly enjoyed my employment and felt that I was able to positively contribute to effecting change for Lambeth residents. However, as the Council changed so too did my working life and my resolve to do what was necessary to challenge the devastating effects of restructures. The main purpose of many restructures seemed to be the removal of large numbers of staff, primarily Black staff. In anger at the destruction of services to tenants and the loss of increasing numbers of respected colleagues, I became a Unison shop steward.
As members of staff we are able to identify inequality and injustice in our workplaces however, as a shop steward these are magnified because of representing numerous cases of staff subjected to unjust and unequal treatment. Only then did I recognise scale of the problems facing the Borough that I had longed to work for. It was also at this point that I started facing personal consequences for challenging institutional racism. Until 2007 my employment had been without blemish, even receiving an award at a staff conference. But following a contentious restructure which required forthright action to redress inequality, I found myself subject to the full force of the organisation’s wrath. I faced several years of continuous disciplinary action, including criminal prosecution on faked evidence. With resilience and a commitment to outlast those responsible, I am still here in Lambeth and they are gone. I recommend this course of action to all staff when faced with adversity!
As the daughter one of the first civil rights leaders in the United Kingdom I am only too aware of the way institutional racism works. For instance, my father, Michael X was directly responsible helping to bring about the very first race equality legislation but was ironically the first to be imprisoned under this legislation. This would mark the beginning of a long and concerted effort by the State to vilify and penalise Michael X for challenging the outright, violent racist attacks faced by the Windrush generation.
Ultimately, even after leaving the UK to escape State sponsored hate, the consequences of race hate followed, and Michael X was executed in Trinidad with the support and assistance of the British Privy Council. But this was not the end. The State had not yet completed what it had set out to do. Information relating to a Black Civil Rights movement in the UK is notable only by its absence. The State erased our history and our children do not know and are not taught the history of their proud past and those who, along with Michael X, fought so we could have better lives.
My background prepared me for adversity and gave me an advantage – resilience and a profound understanding of how the system works to destabilise Black progression, while giving a false impression of cooperating in the fight for equality. I am also committed to ensuring that our history and presence in Lambeth is carved in stone.
I, along with my amazing UNISON colleagues have fought for the rights and continued presence of Black staff in Lambeth. We are not a minority! We are many and they are few, and though we struggle for equality Lambeth Black staff have demonstrated our power! That fighting spirit that kept our rebellious ancestors going for hundreds of years, courses through our veins!
To be Black in Lambeth means being alert to the possibility of recrimination for raising concerns generally, worse if our concerns relate to issues of race discrimination.
But together we know our collective POWER and are not afraid to assert it
To be Black in Lambeth means sitting in offices that are sometimes segregated along racial lines.
Yet our shared history in Lambeth is marked by our standing together at demonstrations and strike action for collective rights of ALL workers
To be Black in Lambeth means our white colleagues can work from home or Starbucks without having to plead and bargain for this right, as we have had to.
Through our lasting friendships we support each other emotionally and even financially in times of hardship
To be Black in Lambeth means being micromanaged so that even the time for toilet breaks are be monitored.
We won’t be worn down! Outside work we party together, attend weddings, special events and funerals of our colleagues, who are also friends
To be Black in Lambeth means knowing that the young white man who has arrived as an administrative officer will soon be our boss.
Yet we continue to hold Lambeth dear to our hearts and are committed to fighting for a better Lambeth. Our Lambeth that once saw better days and will again.