About a year ago, well after Theatre Deli’s Brexit-born theme for this year, ‘Unity in Diversity’ was in planning, I made a comment in a conversation that changed the direction of my life.

I was sat in the bar with a colleague and his friend, a respected and successful black actress. She was talking about how she lived on a very nice street made up of cottages. She was making a joke about how while there was a range of houses on the street - the really nice ones being at the top - it didn’t matter she was at the cheaper end because she had the status of being the-only-black-person-on-the-street. That was until another black person moved on to the street and into the ‘nice’ end leaving her in - joke horror - a kind of double race/class status usurp. It was funny. My response was this: ‘oh wow, like kinda being racist to yourself.’

The awkwardness afterwards was short but palpable. And it sat with me for days. At first I tried to disable my discomfort with defensiveness: ‘what I meant was class, obviously, I just used the wrong words. I’m so leftwing, I’m so feminist. I have black friends. I would NEVER discriminate against anyone. I’m comfortable talking and recognising race and diversity. I stand up to racism. Look! I’ve named a whole season ‘Unity in diversity.’ Anyway what I said wasn’t racist. I AM ABSOLUTELY NOT RACIST.’

But when the discomfort didn’t disappear despite this conversation with myself I did what any mature white person would do and looked for evidence that I was definitely right. What I found was deeply disturbing to me in terms of my own perception of myself. Even a quick superficial review of my life revealed there were very little signs of anything other than middle class cis-gendered straight whiteness. Almost all my friends are white, my social media feed was completely white, my community is white, and the staff in the organisation I run are white.

A week later, I had come to this now embarrassingly obvious conclusion: who the f*ck am I to talk about race, or think that I’m not racist?

I realised that not only was the intention minimal, I had taken no action, and that no action meant that I was, at best, doing nothing. At worst, I was being racist.

I started small: I diversified my feed. And just this one act was life changing. My world suddenly opened up to emerging activists like Rachel Carlyle, Layla Saad, Adrienne Maree Brown, and Aja Barber, who I am thrilled will be writing for Theatre Deli.

Through engaging, reading, listening and educating my viewpoint is now irreversibly changed:

I have grown up being told that discrimination means acts of conscious hate, with white supremacists the far end of that. I now see white supremacy is one of our current systems, interrelated with Patriarchy and Capitalism. In Britain (and most other Western European nations), our economy is only successful because it is built on a deeply unethical colonialist, oppressive, past - in the UK we literally stripped 25% of the world of its resources and have been living off them ever since. I knew this but had not acknowledged that it was justified by creating the concept of race and the narrative of a human hierarchy that puts (white) Europeans at the top, and then deeply embedded that concept into the narratives and structures of empire and country.  

I learned that over the last 100 years pretty much every major social justice movement has been started by black women, including current giant social movements that we are all directly benefiting from: Tarana Burke started #metoo , Nina Shaw co-founded ‘Times Up’, Kimberle Crenshaw developed intersectionality, and Erykah Badu popularised the idea of wokeness. That women of colour have to fight for space given this profound level of innovation and leadership amounts to a massive loss to the whole of society.

I learned I was definitely helping uphold this system. And if I’m being really honest, as I unpick my privilege and discover a wider set of problematic views from race to gender to sexuality, I’m probably holding up other parts of the system too.

Recognising this has been uncomfortable, sometimes it’s felt shameful, and it’s definitely been humbling as it has revealed just how much of my life, career, home, outlook and even those feelings themselves are entirely the result of privilege. Not talent, or merit, or attitude or luck.

In theory, what I’m left with should be a great sense of loss. I’m not me. My status is phoney. My identity has been constructed for me. The talent is a lie. We know how scary this reveal is: it’s this fear of loss that drives defensiveness, status quo, discrimination and hatred.

But is it a loss? In her brilliant book ‘Emergent Strategy,’ Adrienne Maree Brown says, ‘I find complexity delicious.’ It’s true. Because in beginning to unpick the systems that imprison people in social concepts, systems that insidiously reduce humanity in order to dominate and steal from them, you also untangle yourself from the invisible bounds that reduce and steal from your own soul. In other words we can be free. This is not loss but a huge gain of exciting, compelling, enticing possibilities.

However, the biggest learning is that this change in me only matters and I only stop being racist (or transphobic, or misogynist, or ableist) if I take action in every part of my life. Diversifying my feed and unpicking my privilege is education, not real action. Action is paying for the education, it’s making space for others with less privilege, and it’s about finding ways to dismantle the systems.

This year this organisation will undertake a giant shift: we aim to do work that supports the undoing of social and psychological barriers created by the unholy trinity of white supremacy, patriarchy and Capitalism. We will change our programme, staff, operations, online content and marketing; we are recruiting a new board; and we’ll be testing new leadership models. We’ll be providing open training for our communities in privilege and anti-bias.

Most importantly we’ll be working with some incredible artists and creatives: John Rwoth Omack, Louise Orwin, Aja Barber, Fat Rascal, Lauren Little at Dark Yellow Dot.

If any of the above resonates with you, or you want to know more, start here: with Aja Barber’s brilliant When Race Hits You Like a Ton of Bricks 101.