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Volunteering at Scouts is changing to help us reach more young people

Volunteering is changing to help us reach more young people

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News | 18 June 2020

The part race has played in my life, and my hopes for the future

A personal reflection by Lexie Sims

Hello, my name is Lexie Sims and I’ve been a Scouts’ Trustee at a national level for five years.  

Recent events have brought Black Lives Matter and the subjects of systemic discrimination and inequality to the forefront. They’ve given us all pause to reflect on our reaction as an organisation and as individuals.

React we must. Even a non-reaction is a reaction. Ways of communication are immediate and often everlasting. Articles, posts, tweets, and statements are scrutinized word, by word. If readers feel that you did not strike the right tone or use the right words, then even the apology is critiqued. In the ‘cancel society’ (where support is withdrawn from public figures or companies after they have spoken or acted in a way that others object to) actions come swiftly. My first intention with my actions and words is to do no harm.  Some of these waters are unchartered, and in an immense effort to get things right, we may get some things wrong. 

There is discomfort when these subjects are discussed and that is good. Because, when something is uncomfortable, we do something about it. I called a friend and she said ‘I’m so happy you called. I wanted to call you, but I did not want you to think I was calling to discuss these issues because you are my black friend.’ Uncomfortable.

Personally, these last few weeks have been painful as I process my feelings, analyse the part race has played in my life and my hopes for the future. I have had days of despair and days when small acts have cemented my belief that this time, we will be able to make substantive change.

My journey

Over the past weeks, friends from the US and the UK have asked me if I relocated to London to escape racism. The thought never crossed my mind when I made the decision 20 years ago. I also thought no person of colour would ask that question. The skin is the largest organ of the body. I can no more escape discrimination than I can shed my skin.

My skin was with me when my US company transferred me to South Africa. Before accepting the role, I met with a psychologist as did all my colleagues on the assignment. On the topic of race, he said the South Africans will see you as an American. Yet, our Afrikaans driver and bodyguard would switch from English to Afrikaans when they said something unacceptable in my presence.

Black South Africans wanted to know what part I played during their struggle against apartheid. They did not ask this question of my white colleagues. My skin was with me when the same company later transferred me to Zurich. Some Swiss individuals would stare at me when I rode public transport. My white colleagues would speak to the individuals trying to protect me. For them, this reaction was new, for me, it wasn’t.

I wore my skin when my work colleagues in the UK decorated my desk with Union Jacks and Stars and Stripes, confetti, and balloons on the day I received my UK citizenship. One of the founders of the prestigious headhunting firm I work for walked by and enquired about the decorations. I explained that I had become a proud dual citizen. He said: ‘you know what you need to do now?’ I said ‘no.’ He said: ‘take elocution lessons.’

The unwritten rules

I grew up in a small, East Texas town. Racism and prejudice permeated every part of life. At an early age you had to decide how much you let it affect your life and defer your dreams. My parents taught me the unwritten rules: ‘You never leave a store without the receipt. You never take a purchase from one store to another that is not in a bag and you don’t have the receipt in case you are accused of stealing the item from the second store. You never touch anything that you do not intend to buy. You never leave home without current identification and cash in case there is trouble. If you’re driving and stopped by the police, you keep your hands on the steering wheel in the positions of 10 and 2. You do nothing unless instructed. You make no sudden moves. The only possible answer to any question is, “yes sir,” or “no sir.”’ Every parent of colour must have this talk with their sons and daughters. It could be a matter of survival.

My skin serves many purposes. At times, I wear it as armour because I know I am walking into a combative situation. I wear it with pride, celebrating the accomplishments of my grandparents, parents, mine and my nieces and nephew’s and grandniece’s and grandnephew’s generations. Attending President Obama’s inaugurations, was to witness what hope could achieve.

I have risen to director level in organisations in both the US and UK. My skin means I take on the extra responsibility feeling I, as the only one on the SLT or in a meeting or at an event, represent all people of colour. I experience extra pressure not to let the side down.

Skin is the largest organ of the body, but I am so much more. Being Black is part of who I am, not all that I am. I, like anyone, have many interests and hopes and dreams. I love blues music, BBQ and American football. I can equate every occurrence in my life to a Simpson’s episode. My favorite poet is Walt Whitman. I want to learn to speak French and play guitar. For just 60 seconds of my life I wish I could dance like Beyoncé. I get British comedies. Some Americans do understand irony.

What should each of us do during these times? 

I have no definitive answers. But we can all recognise that with pain comes healing.

We can all be more open and honest with ourselves and others. We can have the conversations and admit none of us has all the answers. It’s a period of reflection for us as individuals, as a movement with a long history, and as a society. For now, take pride in putting one foot in front of the other, together marching towards betterment and substantive change. 

Take a look at these resources to help volunteers and parents talk with young people about racism

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