The month of October represents Black History Month here in England. First celebrated in 1987, today it is about celebrating the rich history, culture and achievements of black individuals, families and communities. Through pioneering, innovation, talent, courage and bravery, countless black men and women have paved the way of possibility for those that have existed after them, inspiring many and making it a little easier for others along the way.
Some people of note that I find myself celebrating this month are as follows: The Obamas, Kamala Harris, Rosa Parks, Madam C.J Walker, Ruby Bridges, Sislin Fay Allen and OBE Doreen Lawrence. Amongst those names are the first black president and first lady of the US, the first black female vice-president nominee and the ‘first lady’ of civil rights. Additionally, the first black female self-made millionaire, the first black child to desegregate an all-white school in Louisiana (marshals in tow) and last, but certainly not least, are the Metropolitan Police’s first black policewoman and the mother turned Baroness who sought police reforms following her son’s untimely murder. I encourage you to read up on any one of those names and learn something new!
On a personal level, I grew up in a predominantly white village and town in the county of Norfolk. With little to no contact with the Jamaican side of my family, I wasn’t exactly in touch with my heritage and never really acknowledged the fact that I was indeed the only person in my class that was not white. Slowly but surely, my eyes began to widen to the fact that I did indeed look different on the outside and because of that, at times, I would be treated differently. My naturally tight coiled hair was starkly different to that of my classmates, resulting in unkind comments until I would find myself doing everything in my power to blend in more. I recall the sheer discomfort I felt during A Level History, when covering the topic of slavery and having the entire class awkwardly staring at me. The countless times elderly people have referred to me as ‘exotic’ or questioned where I’m ‘really from?’ when I’ve politely explained that I’ve lived in England my entire life. The exceptionality of being treated visibly better than a girl with slightly darker skin than I, simply because I’m ‘a nice skin colour’ and am ‘surprisingly well spoken’.
These lived experiences gradually taught me that whether I liked it or not, some people in this world would treat me differently, simply because of the colour of my skin. With the prospect of a policing career ahead of me, I made a promise to myself that if I joined, I would strive to make my environment more inclusive for the next generation of young woman like me, by engaging with those that have the power to influence change.
I welcome Black History Month in all of its glory and am proud to be writing about it as both a woman with a mixed heritage and an officer for Surrey Police, a force that has been nothing but inclusive from the moment I have arrived, despite my initial reservations. As the current Vice Chair of SPACE (Surrey Police Association of Culture and Ethnicity) I have observed a real aspiration force-wide to make Surrey a happy, supportive and inclusive environment for absolutely everybody that joins the policing family, and in whatever capacity. Furthermore, schemes such as PALS (Professional Action Learning Sets) does wonders to nurture staff and officers within Surrey and Sussex from ethnic or mixed backgrounds, of whom want to reach their full potential and continue to break down barriers. Moving forward, I know that if we all continue to listen to one another without judgement, learn with an open mind and utilise diversity of thought, we will become an undeniably inclusive and supportive force that we all can be proud of.
Article by Police Constable Latia Suen, Police Now participant on our National Graduate Leadership Programme, written for Surrey Police.