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News & opinion

12 JUN 2020

Economic inequality as it relates to social injustice and systemic racism

The death of George Floyd at the hands of a US police officer has rightly brought sharper focus on racial inequalities, racism and the experiences of black people across the world. It has prompted people the world over to reflect.

We want to publish this contribution to the issue by UK based surveyor Bola Abisogun OBE FRICS. Bola is Founder and Executive Director of construction and project management business UrbanIS and he also established DiverseCity Surveyors, a peer-to-peer network offering support services, education and training to black, Asian and minority ethnic surveyors.

Approached by RICS to contribute my thoughts on the recent cessation and murder of George Perry Floyd Jr, I was both humbled and conflicted. For the record, all of my contributions to RICS effort(s) to date, have been proffered in a pro-bono capacity, as part of my ongoing contribution to the profession – although, on this rare occasion, and like the billions of other people across the world (both black, white and every shade in between), I have been directly affected by this tragic and senseless act of violence.

By way of an introduction to the plight of many of the black population in the UK, which stood at 3.3% in 2011, in the same year they:

  • were involved in 17.5% of fatalities by guns used by the police
  • made up 8% of all deaths while in police custody
  • when compared to 4/1000 for white people, were 10 times more likely (per 1000 individuals) to be stopped and searched by the police
  • made up just 1.2% of the police force in the UK.

(source(s): 2011 Census / ONS / IOPC)

At the time of an RICS inquiry (June 2016) into BAME representation, the declared statistic for BAME in the Surveying profession was also 1.2%, although it has marginally improved since that time. The challenge for the profession regarding better equality, diversity and inclusion was initiated by Amanda Clack PPRICS, during her tenure as President in 2016/17 via the Inclusive Employer Quality Mark.

Facing the global reality

The current global reality has demonstrated that it is the appearance of the epidermis on the individual that is the real culprit here, in contrast to the underlying dermis which is, in simple terms, virtually the same in every human being on the planet. Differentiated solely by the amount of melanin within, the beauty about the epidermis is that it is actually designed to be a ‘protective shield for the body’, which inter-alia can defeat pathogens, UV light, other chemical compounds, and has a unique capability to ‘renew itself’ every month.

But with all that said and done, the epidermis rather regrettably, cannot protect any individual from the social construct called racism, which in and of itself comes in many forms: structural or systemic, covert and overt. That my own epidermis is of a significantly darker hue when compared to others in the UK, singularly presents me (and millions of people that look like me), with the daily and concurrent challenge of cultural, economic and institutional racism – a challenge that since October 2017 RICS have been keen to ‘publicly’ unpack. A recent lunch meeting with Sean Tompkins, CEO and Matthew Howell, MD - UK Markets (along with Ayesha Ofori), held in February of this year, sought to establish a well-meaning BAME initiative that is seeking to identify and address a number of key issues, or barriers, that directly affect the retention and forward progression of black surveyors. But for the ongoing COVID-19 furlough activity, I am confident that RICS are in full support of an independent initiative, that will challenge the entire leadership of the surveying profession; UCEM have also partnered with us too.

Cultural difference and prejudice

The public outcry and global condemnation against the inhumane treatment of Mr Floyd has been well documented by many scholars, articulating the social injustice and blatant disregard of his human rights. To this end, I wanted to focus on the economic injustice and systemic inequalities that continue to co-exist and have been mooted as far back as 1998 via the Macpherson Report, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, prompted by the untimely death of aspiring black architect, Stephen Lawrence; citing the conduct of the Metropolitan Police at that time.

At the very heart of any social construct that delineates along the lines of cultural difference with unjust and wholly unfair prioritisation, guided by the subjective association(s) of humanity and superiority; inevitably, the economic inequalities arising from such construct(s) are only ever going to amount to a ‘hostile environment’. And by the way, while there is nothing wrong with prejudice, the critical challenge – for all of us – is not to (ever) use one’s own prejudice(s) to disadvantage another group or individual, in pursuit of a clear and residual advantage to your own self. This is also the unique challenge for the surveying profession, with a particular focus on the aesthetic make-up of the professional services firms – at all levels – and RICS itself. If we continue to fail in this regard, the emerging, global talent pool currently in pursuit of the RICS APC qualification and adding value to the many emerging markets that warrant their myriad offer as Chartered Surveyors, will not be as successful as one would like to see.

In summary, and aside from the ongoing paradigm-shift of technological disruption to the global profession, I feel compelled to escalate the daily pains (of my oppression) into the hearts and minds of others in an informed attempt to disrupt the many consequences of ‘privilege’; a concept that remains elusive to me as a black professional. Notwithstanding, I for one would be happy to conduct and continue the wider conversation about our individual and collective differences over a liquid smoothie, preferably at the home of RICS HQ in Parliament Square (but more than likely via Zoom or MS Teams).

And on the topic of solutions, I will leave you with this proposal. The imminent success of the medical community currently trialling a new vaccine to defeat the COVID-19 virus, is being considered as a mandatory application for all. Taking leadership from an observation on the Andrew Marr show [7th June 2020], I would ask that if a vaccine for racism was safely produced and certified within an acceptable medically approved framework, and made mandatory as an infinite cure to racism; would you take the vaccine?

In the hope that organisations such as DiverseCity Surveyors are no longer required, it remains that without fear or favour, we must ALL make a tangible contribution to eradicate social and economic injustice so that the pandemic of racism (in the UK) that is alive and well, achieves complete annihilation and permanent expulsion from our society. I’m off to take a moment (in my thoughts and actions) to pause and breathe, for exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds.