The urgency of racial justice and the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement have not subsided despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and to that end leading voices in Kingston joined for a virtual discussion on race equality, education and employment recently.

The panel discussion was held Tuesday evening (October 13) and featured a number of notable speakers including Kingston’s Mayor Margaret Thompson, Recruiter Jonathan Azah and Achieving for Children’s Dr Kathryn Kashyap.

The talk was one of a series hosted by Kingston Council (RBK) and Kingston Race Equalities Council (KREC).

Last month, health and crime were the main focus of the discussion, with October’s event moving to focus on the impact of structural racism and injustice on BAME peoples’ education and employment opportunities and experiences.

One key issue address in the talks concerning racial injustice and employment was the question of unconscious bias, as Jonathan Azah described:

“Naturally you’ve got a level of unconscious bias... you hire people who look like you, speak like you, that went to the same school as you...naturally flowing into those things without necessarily doing it,” he said.

“I don’t think people are necessarily trying to exclude people but do it unconsciously,” he added during the video call.

Indeed, a number of institutions and businesses have adopted unconscious bias training for workers in order to help combat this particular problem, which remains stubbornly persistent in society today.

Kingston University (KU), for example, adopted a number of measures in 2015 to tackle race inequality including unconscious bias workshops on site.

Speaking after the event, KREC’s CEO John Azah said he felt the project was moving forward well, and indicated the gains the borough had already seen addressing racism, with reference to RBK’s CEO Ian Thomas impact in particular.

“It’s early days yet but I would argue that there’s a conscious effort to make progress here. We are moving forward and I feel that it is very positive.

“We want to engage with communities who are out there, so they can tell us what we need to change, what needs to happen within out communities,” he said, pointing out its importance for the 32-33 per cent of people in Kingston borough who are BAME and urging them to get involved.

Concerning the negative impact of conscious and unconscious racism on higher employment and education chances on those communities, would the prominent Kingstonian be in favour of positive discrimination in order to further racial justice in this sector?

“I have a problem with positive discrimination. I support positive action. My fear is that the (incorrect) argument persists that institutions change the rules when they hire BAME people. Positive action meanwhile could provide people with extra tools to help them thrive during the selection process so they can better cope with that environment,” he said.

The third discussion in this ongoing series hosted by KREC and RBK will take place on November 19, and will address the impact on young and old people.