CHANGE THE CONVERSATION

By Angela Gordon, Company Secretary, Tokio Marine Kiln

I’m the parent of a 15 year old son. Being mum to a teenager is difficult enough; I don’t need the added torment of his being stopped and searched on his way to buy sweets. But I do need to tell you how that’s made me feel.

One very normal day when lockdown had first eased, I collected Marcel then 14 years old from school. He trotted off to the corner shop in our suburban Kent community. I had a call within ten minutes’ time to tell me that whilst making that short, incredibly normal journey he’d been stopped by a police officer, questioned, and patted down.

My dismay and anger at the decision to stop Marcel for no discernible reason other than the colour of his skin is strangely offset by an opposite, heartening behaviour. Whilst this authoritarian intervention in an ordinary boy’s daily routine was underway, a member of the public – a white man and a stranger – stepped in to tell the police officer that his decision to stop Marcel was an act of racial profiling.

Thankfully while this was going on Marcel called me and put the call on speaker. The tone of the conversation and the demeanour of the policeman changed when the conversation between two became one between four, my articulate son reported. But the indignity cannot be undone.

This is where I live, and we go through the things we must. Our little section of suburbia is predominantly white, though, and none of my friends or neighbours have experienced stop and search. Is it normal, I wonder, to impose an additional level of anxiety on someone because they are black? It is happening here, now.

The incident highlights the need for me as a parent to make my children aware of things in their lives that their friends and neighbours may not face… historical things they ought to think about, and current things like Black Lives Matter. I have to tell my son his worth, and remind him to be well-spoken, and highlight to him that when he is out with his friends, whether they are mixed race, black, or white, he WILL BE singled out. Fortunately he gets it, and it doesn’t get him down.

This isn’t a sob story. Marcel was shaken up by being stopped, to be sure, but he is fine. But I wonder: what does an entirely race-based stop-and-search do to a 14 year old mind? Marcel, like every other teenage boy, is on a journey. He is trying to figure out where he is in the world, to assemble and feel comfortable in a friendship group, to learn who he is and who he wants to be. How does active racial profiling influence his conclusions?

How can it be okay that Marcel or any other black 14 year-old facing normal teenager challenges is much more likely than anyone else to be the target of a stop and search? Home Office statistics released in November show black people are SEVEN TIMES more likely to be stopped than white people, and that more than one in five BAME teenagers has been stopped. How is it right that we can make an individual stand out for the colour of their skin, when that is the only thing that distinguishes them? How does being black pass the required test of ‘reasonable suspicion’? I’ve asked myself these questions, and now I ask you.

Perhaps most distressing of all is the familiarity of the anguished conversations I’ve been forced to have with Marcel about how he needs to act. My husband and I discussed and explored incidents

from our own childhoods, only to realise the conversations we had then with our parents are the same conversations we’re having now with our children.

Having conversations about these issues is the way to break the cycle. Allyship is really important. For Marcel, the racial profiling was called out in the moment, as it happened, but the incident was not without impact. It is repeated hundreds of times across the country without an ally to intervene and change the tone.

Parents and schools need to have conversations with people of all races and colours and genders, and young men in particular, about how such incidents make them feel. Then, when something doesn’t feel right, we need to call it out. If we all do that, Marcel may be able to have different conversations with his own children.