I thought I understood.
I know that a lot of racist individuals the world over start their sentences with, "I have black friends" before moving on to a "but" or a "however", and then continue with various racist tirades, so I am not keen starting this post with that very phrase. But I will.
I do have black friends, and these friends are the very same ones I had from a very early age growing up in a very multicultural, diverse part of London. I went to school in Acton at Acton High School, I played football for Old Actonians and Larkspur Rovers, I played cricket for Acton Cricket Club and most of my teenage years were spent in and around Acton, Ealing and the surrounding areas. All of these experiences exposed me to people from many backgrounds, of many religions, and of many colours whether that was from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and everywhere in between. I have spent many hours, days, nights, weekends and weeks in the company of my multicultural, diverse group of friends, and we have travelled the UK and further afield as the closest of friends. We still do.
As a white man of privilege I thought all of this meant I was educated more than most, that I was aware more than most and that I had seen more than most when it came to racism.
I thought I understood.
But last year during the Black Lives Matter movement I realised how very wrong I was. I had only seen the blatant examples of racism, the in-your-face examples based on ignorance and a lack of education, the often alcohol-fuelled-on-nights-out types of racism. What I didn't see or rather didn't feel was the racism my friends endured on a daily basis. The type of racism I will never see or never feel, and will only hear through the stories they tell. Those stories were not one-offs, they kept coming - from stories of jobs they didn't get whilst being the most qualified candidate, the inappropriate comments made in professional and personal environments, the looks of disgust being in certain places they "shouldn’t be", the crossing of roads so certain people didn't have to walk past them, the overly obsessive security guards following them in Harrods or Selfridges. The horrible reality they endured. The horrible reality they still endure.
During that time last year I spent a lot of time talking to my friends, talking to work colleagues and talking to a number of other people I have the pleasure of knowing. I wanted to learn; I needed to learn and I wanted to take ownership for my learning but I also needed some help on where to start. While they were tired and fed up of carrying the weight of pressure to educate the uneducated they helped me, and they took time out to guide me. Whether it was pointing me in the direction of the book "Biased" by Dr Jennifer Eberhardt, whether it was the documentary on Enoch Powell's infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech or whether it was just telling me what I can do to be a true ally they took time out to help me.
Now I need to help people.
And it starts with awareness but awareness can only be the very start. More is needed; so much more is needed. I can't go back and change the past, but I can ensure I will be the best version of an ally I can be moving forward, in every and any way I can. At this moment in time, that means me taking what I have learnt over the last 12 months and sharing that knowledge - sharing it with my wife, my family, my children, my friends, my work colleagues & anyone else that hasn't yet truly tried to understand.
But be prepared, you will never understand.
I will never understand.
Matt Myszkowski - experienced Customer Success leader & founder of CustomerSuccessMatters