‘Nothing about us without us’
2018-09-01 17:14:34 -


By Katrina Goldstone


Twenty years is a long time in anyone’s book. In the more than twenty years, on and off, that I have been involved in asylum rights and minority issues, landmark reports have come and gone, heralded with enthusiastic fanfares and promises of levelling playing fields, opening up access, improving legislation, a whole plethora of initiatives purporting to improve lives and access to everything good in our society, for Travellers, racialised minorities, migrant women — the list goes on.

The recession became what seemed like a legitimate excuse to defer actions taken, with anti-racism and community development being the areas hardest hit in defunding. So we can be as sure as daffodils mean spring, and cranes on the city skyline, that the fresh round of equality initiatives — now mostly named under a diversity and inclusion banner — signal an improving economy.

But are the initiatives improving, too? Do they put front and centre the needs and wishes of those they say they intend to serve? Have they been rooted in genuine listening and real consultation, not a lip-service approach? Have they involved the many experienced trainers from minority backgrounds who, as well as having appropriate qualifications, have lived experience to draw on?

I have lost count of the times I proffered the example of gender equality training, and wondered what the attitude would be should a host of men get up and start telling women in what ways they are disadvantaged by gender.

By chance, recently I happened to hear a BBC Radio Thought for the Day about attitudes to the homeless. A bishop from Manchester spoke of the friendship that developed between himself and a homeless man; the clergyman felt compelled to become involved in projects to combat homelessness, and he sat on the steering committee for one organisation which has produced recommendations rooted in the principle of co-production. In other words, the recommendation of those experiencing homelessness became an integral part of the final report.

According to the National Library of Ireland, this September will see ‘consultations, workshops and discussions with diverse groups’. Are there other ways groups will be engaged, recruited, identified and invited? To what extent will their input centrally shape the policies which are developed? Will the role of stereotypes in misshaping provision of arts, culture and heritage be explored?

Those that come new to the field sometimes don’t understand that many people are consultation weary, and have grown somewhat cynical about giving precious time, energy and intellectual input only to see that contribution sidelined, ignored or, even worse, becoming a footnote in a report which joins other policies and recommendations gathering dust on a shelf.

Considering these factors deeply will make an important, indeed vital difference as to whether or not these efforts will bring about genuine and meaningful change in institutions whose remit is to serve the nation, when the nation is now multiethnic and multi-faith.

The slogan ‘Nothing about us without us’ arose as a mantra within the disability rights movement in America in the 1980s, as a reaction to policies created without proper partnership with the people they purported to serve. It has survived and thrived because of the core truth embedded in those straightforward words, and it has been voiced and adapted many times since, but it has rarely been bettered in succinctly expressing what should be the starting point for change. And it still rings true today.

- For information on how to submit input or join the October roundtable event in National Library of Ireland, email diversity@nli.ie.


Katrina Goldstone was on the steering group for the Arts Council Cultural Diversity and the Arts research report 2009.


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