Confounding expectations

Posted 18th July 2018 on College of Policing guest blog

I’m now well into my role as an Administrator at the College where I’ve been tackling the multi-layers of administration which (along with big dollops of patience) goes into the delivery of the Sergeants and Inspectors exams across England and Wales.

Before the College my dealings with the police were of a very different nature. As a government press officer, one of my jobs was to work with the police forces across the Yorkshire and Humber region in coordinating royal visits.

In this role I was part of a strategic planning team which along with police included Lord Lieutenants’ offices and press officers from the Royal Household.  With security as priority we worked out the best way of accommodating the large numbers of press attending and it was my job to manage them on the day.

It was at one of these events that I found myself having to plead my way through a police barrier, when, despite wearing identity passes from Buckingham Palace, the National Press Association and my own government department, the policeman on the door could in no way be persuaded that I was in charge of the press. Apparently no matter how ‘badged up’ I might be, as a black woman, I did not fit his description of someone authorised to manage a royal visit.

Eventually I got into the venue to do my job but only after the Chief Inspector on my team was called out to vouch for me.

I can tell the story with a certain level of amusement now, although at the time it was both humiliating and frustrating; but this, and similar incidents I’ve experienced over the years, got me thinking about how you can be born, educated and British in every way, yet still be regarded as ‘foreign’ or ‘other’ in Britain because you confound people’s expectations by not ‘looking the part’.

It seems to me that finding new ways of exploring diversity issues is key to a better understanding of human relations not just in the policing world but everywhere. That’s why the VEDI (Valuing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) initiative of the College is so important. While there’s no doubt that e-learning and videos are great knowledge-building tools, I’ve recently devised a presentation of my own called ‘Hair Apparent- a Voyage around my Roots’ which embraces race and inclusion issues from a different angle.

With vibrant images and music ‘Hair Apparent’ aims to be as entertaining as it is informative while taking a quirky look at the experience of being black and British. It does this by using changing attitudes to natural afro hair as its vehicle.

When I recently presented it to colleagues in Harrogate they rated it ‘poignant and funny’, ‘thought-provoking’ and ‘inspirational’. Whatever it is, I believe it has an energy and immediacy that gets people talking.

Meanwhile I continue to play a very small part in the huge investment of time, specialist expertise and dedication that goes into ensuring the promotional framework within the police is fair and effective. And I like to think that that ‘bobby’ on the door at the royal visit, has now passed up through the ranks and has broadened his horizons in every way.