For the last 18 months or so I’ve been on a conscious, if somewhat haphazard, path to read more about issues of inequality and privilege.
I’m white, male, straight, middle-aged, middle class and relatively wealthy. That’s about as privileged as one can be in Britain in 2021. I was also brought up in the 1970s and 80s, a time now looking back in which prejudice against people who weren’t British White, straight and male was rampant, and undoubtedly has shaped my outlook. My childhood was a time when blackface was acceptable, when casual sexism was rife, when homosexuality was institutionally seen as wrong. People of our generation have a lot of unlearning to do.
This was a path that I began before the BLM movement last year, focused initially on sexism particularly within the technology industry I work. For some years now I’ve been of the view that whilst inclusive and diverse workforces are ethically the right thing to do, they are also the right thing to do to drive better outcomes. In September 2019, in one of the last in-person events I attended before the pandemic, I organised a panel at a tech event to explore these themes.
Being a person in a position of immense privilege means that I can do something. It’s sometimes hard to know what that something should be, especially because the last thing I want to be doing is reinforcing that privilege.
One thing that I can do, however, is read. and that’s been a big part of me educating myself. Here’s some of the things I’ve read in the past two years or so that have helped me expand my horizons…
Invisible Women – Caroline Criado Perez
An exploration of how assumptions that the world is male impact on how products and services are designed in ways that make it harder for women to use them.
A History of Ireland in 250 Episodes – Jonathan Bardon
I was born in Ulster, and half of my family was from Ireland (and from both side of the “divide”). Exploring other themes made me realise that I didn’t understand much about the history of half my family.
Estates – An Intimate History – Lynsey Hanley
Part autobiography (the author grew up living in one of Europe’s biggest housing estates), part history of social housing, this was a good grounding for me as I started my role working in technology at RHP.
Natives – Akala
Themes of race and class told from the perspective of a black British man a few years younger than me.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
How racism manifests in Britain today.
Empireland – Sathnam Sanghera
A look at the history of how the British Empire shaped Britain (rather than the usual narrative about how Britain shaped the countries of the Empire).
Jews Don’t Count – David Baddiel
Opens the lid on anti-Semitism and how Jews are often excluded from other efforts to drive equality and anti-racism.
There are then a couple more books on my to-read list:
Broad Band – Claire Evans
A history of technology that includes the women who were involved.
Ladies Can’t Climb Ladders – Jane Robinson
The stories of the first pioneering wave of women in professions in the 20th Century.
Black and British – David Olusoga
Tracing Black British history to way before Windrush.