Black History Month must not be a symbolic gesture...


Since 1976, Black History Month has celebrated the successes of Black people globally. However, since the senseless murder of George Floyd in 2020, Black History Month has become an even more powerful call to action for us all to address the racial disparities within society so that all Black people are celebrated and treated with respect and fairness. Peter Alleyne, Associate Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Race Equality explains:

Black History Month cannot and must not be a symbolic gesture in one month of the year. While the rights of Black people have progressed, there is still much work to be done. A recent survey by the Black Equity Organisation (BEO) and reported by The Independent newspaper, showed that the majority of Black Britons are discriminated against by doctors and nurses. It also found:

  • Black patients in the UK are subject to more intrusive treatments, such as injectable anti-psychotics, and are less likely to be offered talking therapy for severe mental illness.
  • In November 2021, a parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) found that more than 60 per cent of Black Britons did not believe their health was as equally protected by the NHS as that of white people.
  • Participants told researchers they felt their concerns were not listened to or incorporated into their treatment decisions. Black women particularly felt practitioners were dismissive of their pain because of the misguided stereotype of the “strong Black woman.”
  • Seventy-five per cent of Black people aged between 18 and 34 have experienced prejudice while visiting doctors and hospitals, the national survey found.

BEO’s survey (and other examples of race discrimination) amplify the need to move from words to action.

"Black History Month is not just a time to recognise and celebrate the resilience and achievements of Black people – past and present, it continues to be a vehicle for us to recommit to driving out racism from our places of work and wider society."

At Rethink Mental Illness we are focused on implementing our Race Equality Action Plan which expresses our commitment to become a truly anti-racist organisation. Since 2020, we have:

  • Introduced new roles that are focused on addressing inequalities and injustices within the social care system.
  • Facilitated the co-production of new models of community mental health within NHS England by Black people, for Black people.
  • Campaigned for reform of the Mental Health Act so that Black people are treated with respect and dignity and worked with NHS England to ensure the full implementation of the Patient and Carer Racial Equality Framework.
  • Continued to apply pressure on the government publicly and privately to implement Seni's Law, the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018.
  • Internally, we have launched our Race Equality Leaders Network for our minority ethnic colleagues to share ideas, discuss issues and support to each other and constructively challenge our senior leaders on race equality and anti-racism.
  • And we are launching a reciprocal mentoring programme to help increase understanding of the lived experience of our minority ethnic colleagues amongst our senior leaders.

We know that there is so much more we need to do – which is why this year’s Black History Month theme: Time for Change: Action Not Words will serve as a powerful call for all of us to relentlessly focus on creating racial justice and equity.