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The yo-yo diet

It’s that time of year again. When we make a commitment to shed a few pounds. Everyone thinks of dieting in the New Year, and I am no exception. Last year I’m sure that we thought about losing those lockdown pounds, but I wonder how many of us succeeded.

I’m also curious about who had made the commitment to work on addressing racism, and just how many were still working on it by the end of this year. If you find the connection between dieting and working on race equality a bit of a leap, allow me to explain. In my experience, race equality work can become the latest fad diet. Many people, I’m sure, felt compelled to do something last year, but didn’t quite recognise that stating they were against racism – or wanted to become anti-racist, isn’t quite enough. They actually have to invest in the diet to lose the pounds.

Working on race equality – or, more recently, engaging in the pursuit of anti-racism – tends to feel like a yoyo diet. There is something very painful about our stop-start efforts and how quickly those efforts wane after the initial investment. We often want to take shortcuts. In equality terms this means that we point to representative efforts, like the appointment or inclusion of someone from a Black* background into our organisation as a way of proving that ‘we’ have really changed and have developed the ability to sustain race equality.

We expect our efforts on race equality to bear instant results (losing those pounds as quickly as we can) and when this doesn’t happen we lose interest, move on to the next ‘ism’ and disinvest our ‘commitment’. This ‘all-or-nothing’ approach not only frustrates us, but it also disappoints those who experience racism. Yet again hopes are dashed when our commitment wanes, leaving racism firmly on the table.

Let’s remember that:

• quick diets with little effort and no pain really don’t exist…

• investing in the latest fad diet, often means that we don’t really change our eating habits

• losing pounds quickly often means that weight loss is not sustained

• there is a lot of evidence about dieting – review it and understand it before starting your diet

There is no shortcut to understanding racism, how it is sustained, and our role in sustaining it. It is a long-term diet of unlearning and relearning. It involves continuous effort and ongoing commitment to achieve the ‘desired’ weight. For those organisations and individuals who have made a commitment to anti-racism, chip away at it. Don’t let it slip off your agenda. Remember: if you’re on the right diet you may not see a huge difference instantly, but if it’s the right one you’ll shed the pounds slowly and steadily. You will also need to exercise. One day, others will notice and comment on how much weight you have lost. You will have changed your eating habits, you will be fitter, and the diet will have transformed you from the inside out. Have a purposeful 2022 .

* using this term in its racialised political sense


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