It feels that the world is finally waking up to systemic racism. What happened to George Floyd, to Ahmaud Arbery, to Breonna Taylor and to countless others has filled us with horror. We stand in solidarity with the black community in the US but we cannot forget that racism, the marginalisation of black people, persecution and prejudice is not just an American problem.
America’s story, its racial divisions and centuries of suffering are fundamentally part of our own history of slavery, colonialism and empire. We see this racism manifest itself in the UK. Perhaps most acutely at the moment, in the vast disparity between Caucasian and BAME risk rates in terms of COVID-19, which fall on top of the additional socio-economic impact of the crisis being felt by many in the latter group due to pre-existing inequalities.
We thought about whether it was useful to issue (yet another) statement in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Of course, we stand beside the movement and all those long campaignings for racial equality. However, we know that words alone are not enough.
Social enterprises have always done things differently and as a sector, we are proud that 13% of social enterprises are BAME led and that 35% of social enterprises have BAME directors. 42% of social enterprises led by people of colour are also less than 3 years old – we hope that this is a sign of a more representative future. But we must do more to ensure this becomes the case.
The way we do business is deeply tied to systems of racism and inequality. Modern capitalism was built on colonial exploitation and slavery, our wealth as a nation was gained by taking wealth away from other parts of the world. Racism is part of our country, it is evident in who has power and who doesn’t and it is part of how we do business. Social enterprise models offer solutions to systemic problems in our socio-economic structures. But systemic inequalities permeate here too.
If we are to tackle systemic racism at a global level, a major part of this will require changing how we do business, tackling the inequities and racist underpinnings of mainstream capitalism. Social enterprises are businesses set up to reduce inequalities, this includes and must include racial inequalities.
However, if we want to achieve this, we must be more open to the prejudices and inequalities within the social enterprise world. That investment goes disproportionately to white-run businesses, that BAME businesses are less likely to scale. That research, policy work and stories of social enterprise – as well as many of the spaces and support available to social entrepreneurs – remain dominated by white culture and white privilege. As a movement, we have much to do. We must get out of our bubbles. We must listen to our peers. For white people, there is learning and understanding to be done. For people of colour, there is a focus on inequalities and prejudices towards and between different groups of people.
At SEUK we are proud to be the membership body for a sector that is doing so much to combat racism but we know that we must do more. We pledge to challenge ourselves to drive change, to acknowledge white dominance where it exists and to pro-actively include and empower people of colour. We will strive to do more to help break down the barriers still faced by too many people.
We know we have not always got this right. We will keep trying, we will get better.
We will fight for a fairer, more equal and representative society. This is the moment we begin real change.
We will update on more detailed plans soon.