I write as a white British woman who began my anti-racist journey in 2020. I have worked on anti-racism projects with Dr Shungu Hilda M'gadzah since 2020.
I have already learned much from Dr Shungu and now more from her book. She writes as I find her, compassionate and understanding, yet not afraid to challenge my thinking or question her own to reach higher levels of awareness. Her immense life and work experiences, skills, knowledge and work done to date give her much authority on the subject. She models all she speaks of in her book; I greatly respect that.
As someone fascinated by psychology, I thoroughly appreciated Dr Shungu’s approach and gained much insight. She gives us a window into understanding ourselves, half the work on fighting racism. If we do not have sufficient self-awareness or empathy for others, we become a part of a broader problem. Dr Shungu’s message of ‘building bridges of empathy’ seems particularly relevant in our polarised times. Despite her significant experience and qualifications (a Doctorate in the field of Emotional Intelligence, no less!) and the Six Stages Framework being a psychological tool, this isn’t too hard to read. It isn’t too technical, theoretical or lofty in tone. On the contrary, it is thoroughly practical and down-to-earth – you don’t need to be a psychologist to understand it.
Dr Shungu offers support and challenge, not just to white people, but to all. There is enough work to do from reading this to keep me going a long time. I have annotated or highlighted something on almost every page, and will be returning to it repeatedly. It can be hard to translate what’s needed into practical actions, and the Framework helps. This book inspires me to know better, do better and relate better to those who are ‘different’. There is nowhere to hide; we are all exposed (but with understanding) and presented with an opportunity to do better and create change.
Some detail on the contents:
The first chapter sets out the Framework, a psychological tool for assessing where individuals or organisations are on their journey towards understanding and addressing racism. By understanding where we are, we can start to do the work to move through the stages. This is a much-needed structure for me, as I like to understand where I am heading clearly. The spectrum sets out typical thoughts, beliefs and actions, making it easy to relate to. It was revealing to see where I am currently on the spectrum and could see where people I know might sit on it too. Each stage is developmental and builds on the one before, in either a positive or negative direction. Dr Shungu notes that the tool can be used with anyone as we are all on a spectrum and can move along it in either direction. It goes a long way to addressing our tendency in recent times to be polarised and can help decrease our defensiveness when talking about racism.
In Chapter 2 I agree with Dr Shungu that every one of us is affected and that racial equity and inclusion need “to become everybody’s business, not just an issue for black and ethnic minority (BEM) groups.” The book is not for the faint-hearted, and I like it that way. Without being challenged, I tell myself that I am doing better than I am, which helps no one. There is a clear call to take responsibility for the change that is required and learn to become more comfortable with questioning why we are the way we are. Recognising our privilege, negative automatic thoughts and the need to start the work in schools are all explained.
Dr Shungu makes such an important point about emotional intelligence being taught in schools, and she was a pioneer in developing training for schools and local authorities. Dr Shungu recognises factors that can be barriers to our progress, such as fear of discomfort. She provides understanding but also sets out how to move beyond our current limits. Again, support and then a nudge forward. The need for cultural change became increasingly apparent as I read the book. I understood that it’s not just about what we do; it’s about who we need to be.
Chapters 3, 4, and 5 set out the Framework and its uses and consider the role of emotional intelligence in approaching racial equity and inclusion issues.
Chapter 6 further explores psychosocial factors, which I found absolutely fascinating. If you’re interested in psychology and how humans work, you won’t be disappointed with all that is pulled together here. I learned so much from this chapter! For example, why are some of us impatient for change and others sick of hearing about it? All is explained. Dr Shungu also provides commentary on the controversial Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Report of 2021, and it’s the best analysis I have read. Dr Shungu isn’t afraid to address racism as not just a white problem but as existing in all racial groups.
The book is so thorough in its exploration. Owning and acknowledging our own biases and stereotypes definitely resonated with me. We don’t talk about it enough, thinking that we are all meant to be completely free of them, but that’s just not how the human mind works. It’s good to know that we are human and can change and grow. Dr Shungu sets out how we can all support each other to change, using compassion, understanding, curiosity and empathy rather than attacking one another.
In Chapter 7 Dr Shungu changes gear and gets real about getting out of our caves of privilege and into action. She poses tough questions to reflect on. As she says, “This is not an accusatory process but one of self-learning, to help you understand how you have come to hold certain views and beliefs.” We’re being asked to increase our consciousness and humanity to a higher level, which I find an inspiring vision to pull towards.
Chapter 8 addresses organisational factors and the reality of progress made to date. It hits hard, and rightly so. Again, Dr Shungu presses for reflection when she states clearly that our words must match our actions. The benefits are made clear. Dr Shungu sets out what she means by “taking meaningful action”, rather than give empty words herself. She asks hard questions, such as whether organisations are ready for real change but also notes what else is needed to support change and what the true costs of change may be. She is also mindful of protecting black and ethnic minority peoples’ mental health and it’s good to see this included to prompt more reflection, such as on the impact of taking performative actions.
Chapter 9 addresses Human Resources processes and speaks to many failings I have witnessed myself in my working career of over 20 years and others that I have not witnessed because I am white. This is a thorough exploration and really informative. Chapter 10 takes the focus to the boardroom and explores leadership and what is required. We’re reminded that racism is about power and “for true change to take place … interventions must be at structural and institutional levels.” So nobody is exempt from taking their part in the change we all need. Again, there are questions to prompt reflection as there are throughout. Key challenges for leaders are set out with typical stances, justifications and payoffs – Dr Shungu’s experience is reflected here as she is several steps ahead and a talented guide.
By Sally Casterton, Director, Garner Financial Solutions Ltd