Understanding Racism and Multiple Disadvantage

April 09, 2021

Last year, along with many other organisations and charities we loudly declared our support of the Black Lives Matter movement and protests as well as the rallying cry for systemic change. As a team we embarked on a journey to explore the matter of racism and multiple disadvantage, considering what it means for how we organise and lead our coalition towards delivering on our ambition to improve services and systems for people experiencing multiple disadvantage. We posed ourselves difficult questions such as who’s lived experience does our work automatically centre and whose dose it de-centre? Through the way we frame our work, how are we, as a coalition, knowingly or otherwise, complicit in perpetuating every-day systems and practices that fail to address racism and inequity?

Engaging with issues of systemic racism (1) and White privilege (2) is challenging on a range of fronts. By their very nature these are politically charged issues that impact people’s sense of identity, self-concept, kinship and other networks in which people are embedded and/or excluded, as well as people’s personal values. They’re also about power, trauma, entitlement and denial. All of this evokes strong emotions, which itself adds to the difficulty and challenge of exploring systemic racism and the “privileges” that accrue from it.

Our conversations as a team were rich, challenging and uncomfortable. They were underpinned by our developing understanding and appreciation of the pervasiveness of systemic racism and White privilege within our society, our coalition, the local areas we support, and the policy environment we seek to influence.

They were based on a willingness and openness to understand and examine the systemic inequities that result in vastly different experiences based not on people’s needs but on who they are and what position they hold in the system. As we progress our work, MEAM will prioritise confronting systemic racism and multiple disadvantage, manifest as racialised disadvantage.

In all our work, it’s vital we understand and acknowledge how different forms of discrimination intersect with and amplify experiences of multiple disadvantage. In adopting an intersectional (3) approach, we aim to grasp and understand how the overlapping identities of racialised people experiencing multiple disadvantage (e.g. class, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, disability) impact and inform the way they experience oppression and discrimination via structures, and support services, including those advocating for person centred approaches.

We are at the start of a journey and we do not have the answers. We are however committed to learning, challenge and development as we aim to better understand and include all experiences of multiple disadvantage in our work.

Although we are at an early stage, we want to open this conversation up to the networks we support across the county. We invite you to join us in conversation to explore this further, thinking about what this means in your place, for the people you support and perhaps more critically those you do not and for the work of your partnerships.

We will be hosting a facilitated conversation on this for MEAM Approach and Fulfilling Lives areas at 2pm on 13 May 2021 and you can register to attend here.

Improving support services and systems for people experiencing multiple disadvantage by focussing on systems change can only truly be realised by also dismantling systemic racism.  We’re well underway in exploring how we go about this within MEAM and hope that you will join us in the conversation.

A note on language

(1) Racism is built into and embedded in the systems, structures and institutions that shape our lives and is rooted in a system of power hierarchies based on race resulting in racial inequities across the board. A systemic approach allows us to look beyond instances of interpersonal racism and examine the root causes.

(2) White privilege describes the set of advantages that White people have as a result of their ‘race’. It is not used to suggest that all White people are privileged but to highlight that any disadvantages they experience have not come about as a direct result of being White. It is important to note that privilege and disadvantage are two sides of the same coin and one can hold both to differing degrees. White privilege is a result of systemic racism and it is White privilege that allows systemic racism to endure.

(3) Intersectionality is a concept that reveals the complex ways in which people’s social and political identities both flow into and deviate from each other, creating the unique cluster of privileges and disadvantages experienced by each individual. For example, racism as the disadvantaging of Black people and privileging of White people both impacts on and is impacted by other forms of disadvantage/privilege, including gender and sexual orientation. So, how racism is experienced by say a Black woman will in some ways be the same, in other ways differ from how racism is experienced by a Black man.