Would anyone like a piece of diversity pie?

Would anyone like a piece of diversity pie?

It was a party for Grandma. It had been a long day and few straggling family members were left sitting around, laughing and telling stories. Then someone realised that the toddler wasn’t in the room, and she was very quiet. A couple of people got up and then we heard the loud “Oh no!”. So, we all got up and went into the dining room and there she is. She is sitting on a chair at the table with Grandma’s birthday cake. This 2-year-old has removed the rolled icing like a coat, completely intact, and is eating chunks out of the sponge cake with her hands. Her mother is horrified, everyone else, including grandma, is laughing, loud.

What our bookshop does is pretty unique, the hair education program, the anti-racist training, the craft mornings, the safe space, the way we love and support black authors… well I could go on, but if you know us, you know that this is us, this is what we do.

Over the past few months, we have been really encouraged by well-wishers, fund raisers, advisors and genuine offers of help and support. But I have also noticed another group of people. The pie eaters.

When the 2-year-old approached grandma’s birthday cake she looked at the icing and decided it was not for her. She didn’t destroy it, she just didn’t want it. She wanted the other bits and she wanted them on her own terms. She was not waiting for anyone else to slice that cake so everyone could have some, she was taking it in fistfuls, hand to mouth.

There are people who approach us like this. With their version of help for the bookshop. Sometimes they offer us a space and it seems good, but…

You chat a little bit more and you realise they don’t want Afrori Books, they want a chunk. They usually want the chunk that makes them look good and requires no effort on their part, no change for them, but a convenient tick box. On closer inspection I usually find these organisations are all white, with no history of diversity.

Just like the toddler who didn’t really care about the fact the cake was ruined for everyone else, these pie eaters give no thought to the fact that Afrori Books workshops, clubs, pop ups are all interlinked. They work because, like the community that we love, they work together, using the strengths and weaknesses to create a solid structure.

 If it was a bowl of flour and some eggs and other stuff, it wouldn’t be a cake. And to create the cake someone , somewhere is doing the labour to bring it all together. But the pie eaters don’t think about any of this. The labour of the community to create a safe space where white mama’s can feel at ease with their brown children is forgotten. The labour of black men coming out of their comfort zones to give space to the questions of white allies is never recognised. The fight of the headteacher to convince staff and governors that the money for an antiracist kids club is worth every penny, is never even spoke of. The staff member and volunteers who go above and beyond loving, caring, befriending mums, dads, and carers? The pie eaters don’t care.

They come and offer us space, not on the same terms and conditions as their other users, no secure tenancies, no contracts, just a casual agreement. A pop up in a commercial space that would fit us perfectly, but no we can’t have the space. When we ask them how this helps us, the answer seems all about them.

They just want a chunk of pie, they won’t touch the rest of the pie, they do not see the bigger picture. They just see what they want. Yes, it might run the whole pie, but that won’t be their fault, will it? And while they had it, it was good.

I am fiercely protective about what we have built here, not because I think it is mine, but because I think it is yours and you asked me to look after it for you. You trusted me to protect it and to ensure that it remains something that benefits many, not a few. Something that is here for as long as you need it. So I will not let it be broken up and shared by some diversity box tickers and become something unrecognisable.

I’ll keep it in one piece where it will have its biggest impact. Because that’s how we are gonna change the world.Would anyone like a piece of diversity pie?

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