Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Series: Is Dentistry in the UK Colour Blind?

I want my platform to not only share information, but also be an opportunity for others to speak up and share their experiences and views... so alongside my COVID-19 diaries, I am launching the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion series where dental professionals and students can talk about their experiences with race, equality and the Black Lives Matter movement. First in the series is Len D'Cruz, head of BDA Indemnity and General Dental Practitioner based in Essex. 

The coverage of the black lives matter marches following the death of George Floyd on May 25 2020, in Minneapolis Minnesota at the hands of white police officers has stirred strong emotions across the world and prompted many people to reflect on their life experiences of culture, race, heritage and ethnicity. There has been much more soul searching about the way we treat each other, how the police profile its citizens, the history we study, the statues we put up as well as the use of language in our everyday lives. 

Your cultural background and heritage are incredibly personal and everyone has strong views about them. 

Debates and sometimes angry discourse across social and print media and television as well as dining tables at home have raged for the past few weeks and see no sign of abating. 

Everyone has some sort of story to tell and the older you are the more graphic and painful that will be. Having a brown face in England in the 1970's and 80's attracted the pejorative epithet of "Paki", commonly with "go home". The confusion I experienced as a young boy in secondary school was obvious. I was in fact Indian and whilst I was born in Kenya, my home was definitely North West London. Trying to educate anyone about this fell on deaf ears even though I bravely tried this on the many occasions I was called it and the few occasions I was threatened and punched for it. But that is not emblematic of my relationship with England. We all have personal stories of intimidation, insult, ridicule, aggression, ill judged humour and ignorance about where we come from, no matter where you come from and whatever the colour of your skin. 

My own personal view is that England is a very different place than the place I grew up in. Unrecognisable in fact for the tolerance, assimilation and celebration of cultural diversity. there are of course still prejudices and animosity simmering beneath the surface in many communities and provably in some institutions and the black lives matter marches have stirred this along with Brexit. COVID-19 and its apparent disproportionate impact on BAME people. 

We should be cognisant also that the term BAME helps identify particular groups who may share a risk to a disease or medical condition and is used to target healthcare resources and research. It is not a lazy short cut to group vastly different people from all parts of the world with different backgrounds, ethnicity, religions and heritage into one amorphous cultural soup. It should be obvious that the "A" in BAME refers to Asians who could be from anywhere across the entire Asian land mass[1]. 

I would argue that the dental profession does not mirror that animosity. It is now, in 2020, I believe a meritocracy - you get a job, promotion, elected and selected because of your ability, skills and attitudes irrespective of the colour of your skin or racial background. There might still be patronage but I cling to the belief that if it is, it is not based on colour. 

I have faced very little racism in my older years as a dentist, either overt or subtle and I would hazard a guess that I am not unique that in London in particular. Of course I might be the only brown face in a particular place, at a particular time which I only become aware of it I consciously make the observation. Equally in London amongst a large group of dentists at an LDC meeting or group of vocational trainers, white faces may be hard to find. Harder still to find black dentists. This is obviously not the case in other parts of England. 

My hopeful belief is that younger dentists see less racism directed at them than their older colleagues or parents. Anecdotes, like mine, are not research and organisations like the BDA will doubtless address this[2], but in the meantime I would be interested through Natalie's blog to hear the stories of black, Asian and minority dentists growing up and working in the UK

Do you want to write a post for the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion series? Please get in touch! Whether you're a dental student, foundation dentist, dental core trainee, associate, dental nurse, therapist I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

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