Could you tell me about the first time you experienced racism in your life?
The first time I clearly remember unequivocally experienced racism was an incident that happened to my aunty shortly after I arrived in the UK. She worked night shifts and took a bus back home in the morning. I lived with her and would meet her at the last stop for a short walk home together. It was our way of managing our lives. Breaking our ships in the night routine. One day she was not at the stop so I panicked. I was curiously walking around looking for her and could see a commotion. The bus at the next stop further on had passengers waiting to board, but it seemed to have its hazard lights on, a police car also parked alongside.
I walked up and could hear my aunty’s voice. What had transpired was that the driver had missed her stop. Quite a prominent one too as it was the local train station.
So stopping further along; he offered everybody disembarking an apology for his error. When my aunty was coming off, he, however, turned his face away and kept silent.
She asked him:
‘’You said sorry to everyone else why are you ignoring me’’.
He simply continued ignoring her.
Well, she decided to just sit on that bus until he apologised. He panicked and reported into the depot. So out came the police and the station manager. Everybody was polite, but the racial undertones were evident. The issue was they said, we can not make him say sorry as he did for everyone else, but she was also not breaking any law. She had a pass. Of course, the commuters waiting to get on board were also getting agitated. She got down as her intention was never to be a nuisance.
How did that feel?
At that time, I was only too aware of the public spectacle. She was a very reserved person, so I was also confused; why she did not just come down and ignore his behaviour?
I maybe even thought it did not serve any satisfactory purpose or resolution. She said to me:
‘’He treats me like that all the time and today I just wanted him to know it is not right.’’
Is racism a problem in pharmacy?
I would not say there is a racism problem in pharmacy. I would perhaps say that there is a lack of understanding of the barriers and challenges that some colleagues face because of their race. We are a profession that prides ourselves on our equality of access to our expertise and abhorrence of any sort of prejudice or discrimination.
This is what our patients and fellow professionals know and admire about us. It is, therefore, even more, critical that we ensure we actively listen to any voices that have concerns or experiences that do not align with such ideals. Their pain must be our failure. The sense of urgency and also a commitment to addressing such matters is also the only way to assess our genuine commitment to guarding said ideals.
Can you give an example(s) of how systemic racism has had an impact on your professional life?
I have been very grateful that I have no instance of systemic racism to share. That said, one of the things that you get taught growing up in a minority community is to stay out of the limelight. Never let others feel threatened by you so you will not be subject to their hostility.
A measure for each of us is to think:
“Have I not reached out to support, commend, mentor or relate with a/some colleagues as I would otherwise have done because of their race or ethnic background?”
It is such an introspective exercise that helps us identify ways we can remain true to our own values. Remember, evidence shows that we all change with time and with age.
Another test is to think if I heard an injustice happened to my close friend or colleague, what would my reaction be? Would I be ambivalent or seeking to help bring redress?
I am a white pharmacist. Do you think I have advantages over you in our profession?
The first thing is to say you are not the problem. The problem is that if all institutions and organisations must actively seek to foster equity. This will ensure everyone feels valued and supported. We will otherwise end up with people not being given a fair chance to access opportunities or even worse institutions or people feeling very uncomfortable when people who are not their experience of the norm show up to engage or participate constructively.
Just imagine if that happens after decades of the said norm prevailing. It can be a challenging experience for all.
Does looking at a white person evoke different feelings compared with when you look at a black person? Do you, or have you ever felt inferior to white members of the pharmacy profession? How do we fix it?
No. I will have a laugh, line dance and listen to country music with anyone. Who does not support Man United?
Only joking about the Man United bit.
You are an indigent person if you make choices on individuals based on how they look, where they are from or how they sound. It is therefore essential that we are not all made poorer by ensuring we guard our values of equity and diversity and use it to empower those in any way disenfranchised alongside actively supporting those in need of support. We do not have to look too far to find areas to improve: representation, attainment, progression to name a few.
What role do white people have in this healing process? What would you like them to understand that they currently don’t? Do you think the #blacklivesmatter is a watershed moment or will the problem remain afterwards?
I think we all have a role to play in any addressing any injustice. Discrimination through racism is not a personal view that I can park aside to perform my professional functions objectively. It is a poison that first damages me and then does the same to every contact you have with others.
The #BlackLifeMatters campaign is giving a voice of years of vile individual values tainting institutions and how we all become complacent if we do not actively seek out such evil to nullify it. Even worse if we pretend it does not exist.
Always remember one person’s experience of racism and discrimination will become a pain that is shared by many in their close circle initially before diffusing further. When people expect the worst from you, they have an understandably guarded and defensive outlook. That is how the perpetual cycles continue, growing in size and complexity. You won’t be surprised to learn after that after the bus incident with my aunt; I started walking to school instead – 45 minutes each way. Bought a bike in Uni instead of using the free bus. The dread of public ridicule even now makes me a rational enough person, knowing it is all in my mind act to guard myself. If the bus company had written to apologise to my her who knows if I would think and act differently, we can all speak up and do something to redress a wrong. Silence always feeds complacency.
Are there any white leaders in pharmacy that you feel have shown leadership in the battle against structural racism?
I truly believe all of our leaders treasure and embody the values of equality and diversity, but we need to seek out and speedily address the work that needs doing. Some leaders also maybe need to invest time to better understand the problems. To know always preceeds to change. Our Pharmacy House is not standing as tall and untainted as it should be. We must not just seek solace in procedures that protect whistleblowing or in diversity and equality policies. Every good thing happens when people make it a point to champion it. Samantha Quaye is one person always worth speaking to if you are unsure if there is really any work to do or how to.