The killing of George Floyd can be the catalyst for positive change and greater appreciation of everybody’s culture says Kennedy Assoumou, Software Tester at Agilisys – even if that means having some uncomfortable conversations.

Working for Agilisys, I haven’t personally faced any issues because I’m a black man. I’m based in the Hammersmith Office in London. There aren’t a lot of black people in the office, but it’s still a diverse culture with plenty of people from minority backgrounds. Whilst I feel comfortable, I’m also aware that my situation isn’t shared by all black people employed across the UK.

Racism and prejudice are real problems. At my previous company, one of my colleagues told me how it’s hard for black people to progress because we can seem aggressive, for example. Biases such as this have been the subject of various studies. For example, a study from the University of Toronto and Stanford University revealed CVs containing surnames from an ethnic minority had a lower response rate compared to their white counterparts.

I can’t say that personally I’ve had first-hand experience of issues like this, but it is something you’re warned of, so it becomes part of your subconscious. As a result, while I’m comfortable at work I do filter my personality, and I have felt that I need to refrain from expressing my opinions. Sure, I would do that in any social situation, but I’m more aware of it when I’m in office.

The question of whether I’m holding myself back, or simply maintaining professionalism is a difficult one to answer. Everybody, regardless of race, has a social mask (or multiple versions) that they wear from the moment they leave the house. For example, you may run into someone from the past and put on a different mask because that’s Kennedy from 10 years ago in secondary school, who was a completely different person! That social mask may be very different to the one you wear at work – and if you’ve been told that you may come across as more aggressive, your social mask develops in a certain pre-prescribed way. That’s racism and prejudice very much in action.

Uncomfortable conversations

The good that can come out of the killing of George Floyd is that it will prompt conversations regarding race. These conversations will be very uncomfortable because, unfortunately, racism and prejudice are prevalent in society. There are still laws today that need to be changed because of racial discrimination. But every conversation goes a small way towards breaking down stereotypes and ironing out racism, even if it is happening subconsciously.

It’s important to have these conversations because they’re uncomfortable. You don’t grow without doing something that makes you uncomfortable. The first time we had to do algebra was uncomfortable! We spent our primary school years learning about numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and then letters are added into the mix! But once you get over the discomfort, once you venture out your comfort zone, you start learning.

I remember back at secondary school, my maths teacher said that just because you finish school doesn’t mean you stop learning. Every day is a school day. Reading about cultures, tuning into what’s happening around the world, finding something that interests you; it all goes a long way to understanding the society in which we live. We all need to better connect with the person you sit across from and understand what matters to them, their perspectives, their issues, their emotions. We should never stop learning.

I say this because racism is taught. I was pretty much taught to watch my tone. Not from a person of another race, but from my mum – who has experienced racism. From those who I’ve worked with – who have experienced racism. As a black (BAME) person, you’re taught that you have to work harder to fit into the white man’s world. I want to teach the younger generation – my children, my nieces, and nephews that it doesn’t have to be this way. Something that’s taught, such as racism, is very hard to unlearn. There’s no basis. It’s a pre-judgment that someone is inferior because of their skin colour. We must learn a better way.

Human spirit

One of the most powerful books I’ve read is, The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, detailing the events of Soviet Russia’s Gulag prison camp system. To read through it and understand the culture and the perspective of what people lived through under Stalin was truly amazing. This book empowered me because it made me realise that through atrocities, something beautiful can still shine through. I learned that the human spirit is resilient that it is beautiful, and in spite of being in the Gulag, people were able to find joy.

That’s the good that I think should come from the memory of George Floyd. It was a catalyst for change. A catalyst for having greater appreciation, not just of black culture, but everybody’s culture, in a world where we can talk about race and grow society together, is something to strive for. Even if it happens one uncomfortable conversation at a time.

Don’t miss: For more of Kennedy’s thoughts on the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent events that have unfolded, check out his Enraged and Empowered blog here.

We stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. This blog is part of a series, read the first entry where Louise Ah-Wong, Senior Partner – Digital Transformation, details how Agilisys is committing to support staff and fight racism.