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2020: No Vision (I thought we were an autonomous collective)

Like many, I’ve watched 2020 unfold with a mixture of shock and horror. It began with Australian bushfires followed rapidly by the coronavirus pandemic and now the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. My real shock was that there could be so many global demonstrations during a major global lockdown. Do rules matter? Not really.

But then I was also amused by the fact that Fox News were fooled by a spoof activist post loosely based upon Monty Python.

From Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Arthur: Well we all are!  We are all Britons!  And I am your king.

Woman:  I didn’t know we had a king!  I thought we were an autonomous collective.

Life reflecting art reflecting life.

Monty Python have many classic moments and scenes. One of my favourites is the People’s Front of Judea or was that the Judean People’s Front?

Often, comedy reflects the stupidity of our world, as comedy is an observation of life and activity. The silliest thing we are seeing right now is the global mobilisation of people to march for things they don’t know what they’re marching for. In Britain, the BBC covered the protests in London and spoke to many protesters to ask what they were marching for? No idea seemed to be the commonest answer.

What do we want?

Change!

When do we want it?

Urmmmmm …

How do you want it to change?

No idea!

What do we want to change? When do we want it to change?

It’s interesting in that, a week before George Floyd’s death, I wrote about four scenarios for the future with one being the Negative Normal full of civil unrest and the possibility of civil wars. Is that where we are? Is that where we are heading?

I don’t think so, but I also think we are in a terrible time. A time where black people are treated as inferior, all the time, in the same way as woman have been throughout time. A time where everyone will be struggling to earn and to live, whilst a small few thrive and create even more wealth for themselves. A time where governments seem clueless because they’re led by the clueless, and societies need structure and order and direction. And a time where the financial system struggles to keep up, and the trading system has shifted from global to local.

Going back to my own basic principles of blogging, I don’t blog about politics. I’m a technologist and that’s where I should stay. However, it would be wrong of me to ignore what’s happening in the world right now, and the anger I feel about how people of race are treated.

I grew up in a world where we called foreign people terrible names. I thought, in the age of political correctness, we were getting over this, but it appears not. The point is well-illustrated by an email sent by a banker called Frederick Baba, a managing director in Global Markets. Did you see it ?

To everyone who’s asked me some variant of “how’s it going?” over the past month, I’ve probably lied. Or lacked the words to articulate it fully, but I’m giving it a shot …the past few months have been demoralizing, and family/friends/colleagues I’ve spoken with and listened to across the firm and country seem to share this feeling.

Mr. Baba goes on to draw a detailed account of his experiences, witnessing and being subjected to racial discrimination and aggression, including a 2011 encounter with Chicago police. Mr. Baba said the Chicago police slammed him against the hood of a cruiser because he matched the generic description of a black man wearing a t-shirt and shorts. “I went home and I cried for the first time in years,” he wrote.

I shared this on twitter and someone said great PR, #fakenews. It’s not fake news. Mr. Baba does work for Goldman Sachs and has a highly active LinkedIn profile showing he’s been there for years.

As a result of this and other protests of recent days, I ended up purchasing a book called Chokehold: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler, an American lawyer, which I recommend to all of you. Here’s a short extract:

The problem is the criminal process itself. Cops routinely hurt and humiliate black people because that is what they are paid to do. Virtually every objective investigation of a U.S. law enforcement agency finds that the police, as policy, treat African Americans with contempt…. The police kill, wound, pepper spray, beat up, detain, frisk, handcuff, and use dogs against blacks in circumstances in which they do not do the same to white people and it’s all perfectly legal.

…If the police patrolled white communities with the same violence that they patrol poor black neighbourhoods, there would be a revolution.

…If you are an African American Male, police and prosecutors are waiting for you, watching and regulating the conduct of black men is a major part of their work. Cops are eager to stop and frisk you. They are looking for a reason to arrest you. This will improve their reputation on the force and their precinct’s numbers on Compstat, a management system used by major police departments to track crime. If they make enough stops and arrests, they might make detective. Prosecutors too are working to enrol you in the system.

It goes on. Bear in mind, Mr. Butler is a former federal prosecutor. He knows what he’s talking about. However, this paragraph stood out for me:

“What is different is that the force of white supremacy can no longer be denied. When neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us”, Donald Trump said the marches included some “very fine people”. The president called Latino gang members “animals”, described African nations as “shithole countries”, said that people who support the removal of monuments to the pro-slavery Confederacy are “trying to take away our culture”, and, during the campaign, called for a “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”.

Food for thought …

… so, what can be done?

Sam Gyimah, a former UK minister, writes:

So what can be done? 

First, words matter, silence matters and people have to take a stand. While it can be fraught to talk about race, it is not enough to not be racist. We have to be actively “anti-racist” and that requires action not just intention.

For individuals, it requires being honest that while we may believe ourselves to be unbiased, our sense of what is required to succeed usually means people like us. Those who made the biggest difference to me were mentors who looked nothing like me, but gave their time to help me.

For organisations, there is no need for another government review. Public commitments must be matched by leadership that drives cultural change and objective metrics. Because what gets measured is what gets done. That means listing both our triumphs and where we must improve. But embedding diversity is not a box-ticking exercise. It is about drawing talent from the widest possible pool.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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