It’s finally here, 2021! So let me start by saying Happy New Year.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us are happy to say good riddance to 2020 and we will welcome 2021 with open arms. For obvious reasons, this New Year feels extra special, as we all yearn for our lives to return to normality. Like when we used to travel across the globe in a large contraption that magically remains airborne? I think it’s called an aeroplane. Ahhh the good ole days.
Although I join the many voices crying out for ‘normality’, there’s something about this that doesn’t sit entirely well with me.
Throughout the last nine months, the phrase “new normal” has been repeated by the media, politicians and medical experts as we all adjusted to no longer being able to hug our loved ones, wearing masks in public and having to wash our hands more times than we cared for. All of these instructions made us feel uncomfortable, possibly increased our anxiety levels and required us to swallow changes enforced on us by a global pandemic. Yet, by doing so, we’re also helping to keep us and our family and friends safe.
It is normal to feel uncomfortable with change. As human beings, I think we take comfort in repetition. It gives a sense of being in control. However, when something like a global pandemic takes place, it can shake us to our core and force the most adamant individuals to change their habits. When it comes to achieving tangible actions for racial equality, I question if the same shake-up is required and why? I mean, when did racism become a debate?
‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM) is a statement that became more well-known following a summer of civil unrest. Conversations about racial equality nipped at the heels of the virus and rested themselves on societies after years of pretending there hasn’t been a problem. Similar to the virus, racism has cost society peace, cohesion, prosperity and lives. It too needs an effective vaccine to put an end to a colossal issue.
Coronavirus brought to the surface an uncomfortable truth that this deadly disease continues to disproportionately impact (and unfortunately kill) Black, Brown and other ethnic minority people. This isn’t because of DNA or the virus preferred to latch itself to people of colour. The truth is much simpler. Over exposure to the virus through working in lowly paid jobs means individuals cannot work from home, inter-generational housing gives little to no room to social distance and taking time off, even when ill, is frowned upon and runs the risk of losing a job, all these factors contribute. Yet, the most difficult part is how society (people and government, now and previous) have become comfortable with this knowledge? (Myself included). I understand that many of us have to work our way to the top, but surely that climb should be getting easier for each generation? For too many, it isn’t.
As we take steps into 2021, British society stands on different pinnacle points for change. This year will see the country emerge without its membership of the European Union, office workers will no longer be bound to their desks as working from home becomes commonplace and action will be demanded after the country was forced to engage in conversations about racial equality throughout 2020, regardless of whether they made people feel uncomfortable or not.
Hearing people’s truths isn’t always accompanied with a soothing beat. Each time I’ve shared my experiences of racism, my emotions have wrestled between being uncomfortable and whether others felt the same awkwardness and nerves, as naked truths were laid bare.
Change is uncomfortable. Whether you’re starting a new role or a business, moving to a new area or a country, or leaving your partner to find a new one, the process and aftermath can be difficult But, once settled, the steps taken can result in new and exciting ventures that can make you question why it took you so long to make the decision in the first place?
Listening to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s Archewell Audio podcast, they ask their guests to share their hopes for 2021. Rachel Cargle, a Black American author, academic speaker and anti-racism activist states her wish is for: “awaken minds and hearts to turn into footsteps of action for real and tangible change… (2021) is a year where the courage, the creativity, the power and the possibility that’s been resting in our bones shakes lose and emerges as our new skin.”
All very inspiring. The word that stands out to me is ‘awaken’. This possibly suggests that people were once sleeping. (One day we’ll debate when individuals woke up and why it took them so long), however no one can doubt that the two key events in 2020 have played major roles.
And what of those people who are now awake? Did they literally change their thinking overnight? Did past beliefs immediately disappear? I doubt it. Just like learning a new skill, practice, patience and most importantly taking instructions from those who are equipped are required. I’m certain being uncomfortable went hand-in-hand with their arousal. Having to admit to old mind sets, or honestly question family members or friends whose ‘odd’ inappropriate jokes are no longer funny or rolling their eyes or gasping with exasperation after attempting to explain for the hundredth time why ALL LIVES MATTER is not the same as BLM to bemused audiences who mock their ‘wokeness’.
Yet, this didn’t stop their awakening. Whether it’s an admittance to themselves that old mind sets no longer serve them or that venturing into conversations they’ve spent most of their lives avoiding, elements of discomfort are a part of the process. You cannot have growth without some sort of challenge.
As the new year begins and steps are being taken to distribute vaccines across the world to overcome coronavirus, the fight for equality will still rage on. Yes, more protests may take place, however the real change starts with one self. Being uncomfortable needs to be the new normal if society wants to continue to evolve. The sooner people get used to it, then progress can happen at a faster rate in comparison to the decades it is currently taking to level-up the playing field, in regards to race, class and gender. People should also remember that discomfort is temporary and the strength you gain from it is everlasting.
So in addition to your new year resolutions, let’s all embrace being uncomfortable. Whether we’re learning empathy by walking in the shoes of others for the first time, speaking out so our voices are finally heard or telling our favourite cousin that Facebook really isn’t the best place to get their daily news; a little discomfort never really hurts anyone.