When the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown first hit the UK, like so many organisations, there was a moment of panic for anti-racist charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC).
“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” SRtRC founder and chief executive Ged Grebby told UniteLIVE. “We of course furloughed all our staff who couldn’t work – on full pay. Then we had to have a fundamental rethink of how we deliver our work.”
Show Racism the Red Card, a charity Unite has long supported, has delivered anti-racist education to schools and workplaces for more than a decade.
Formed in 1996, the charity goes out into communities, classrooms and football clubs and educates roughly 50,000 schoolchildren each year in England, Wales and Scotland about racism, using football and other sport to inspire.
“With the pandemic, we of course couldn’t go into schools or take children into football clubs,” Ged noted.
Challenging racism in workplaces
But they rolled up their sleeves and soon got back to what they do best – their work, after all, is far too important to postpone, pandemic or no pandemic.
“At the beginning of lockdown the NHS asked us to do a film about challenging racism in the NHS,” Ged explained. “The film was very successful and looked at institutionalised racism in the health service.
“Just to give you an example, 44 per cent of NHS staff are from a Black and Asian Ethnic Minority (BAEM) background. The NHS relies, as everyone knows, not only on Black workers but on migrant workers, and that’s throughout the service from nurses to administrators. And yet racism is still rife in the health service.
“We interviewed one nurse who told us that a patient said they didn’t want to be touched by her just because she wore a hijab. These experiences are sadly very common.
“We also looked at why are Black people are overrepresented in key worker roles that are often the lowest paid and on insecure work contracts like zero hours, while at the same time there’s hardly any representation of Black people in more senior roles – this is how institutional racism operates.”
After the success of the NHS film, Show Racism the Red Card has over the last few months expanded further into adult education, and has worked closely with Unite to create similar educational films for workplaces, featuring Unite members.
And, like schools themselves, the charity quickly adapted many of its materials to reach children online, through for example, Microsoft games.
Black Lives Matter
Just like no one predicted the massive impact the Covid-19 pandemic would have globally at the beginning of the year, no one saw coming another unstoppable force that would sweep the world – the Black Lives Matter movement.
“For months everything was secondary to the Covid-19 pandemic, and then everything changed with the murder of George Floyd,” Ged told UniteLIVE. “What struck me is the number of young people and people of all races getting involved in the movement.
“It’s been really inspirational – we’ve never had so many people approach us wanting to get involved. People from everywhere have started raising money for us – people selling Gucci handbags, people shaving their beards, people running laps in the park.”
For Ged, Black Lives Matter was a movement waiting to happen.
“We’ve been saying for years that racism is on the rise everywhere – and while many people, Black people especially, have long known this, there wasn’t that global, widespread recognition. So many more people now recognise the reality of racism – that’s from schools to companies and much more in between. We’ve never had so much demand for our work.”
Wear Red Day launch
Ged spoke to UniteLIVE ahead of Show Racism the Red Card’s annual launch of its fundraising campaign Wear Red Day on Thursday (September 24). Typically held at Unite’s headquarters, the charity’s sixth launch event was convened online for the first time.
“The only real difference with this online launch compared to other years is that we expect to get audience figures in the thousands – typically there’s only a couple of hundred of us packed into a room but now we can reach so many more people,” Ged noted.
This year’s Wear Red Day launch event saw a range of superstars from football and other sport contribute, including John Barnes and Howard Gayle from Liverpool FC, Chelsea FC’s Paul Eliot, Nevil Southall from Everton FC, Arsenal FC’s Paul Davis and Rachel Yankey, as well as Tottenham’s Chris Hughton, Leroy Rosenior of Fulham FC fame, Newcastle United’s Shaka Hislop, and England cricket legend Monty Panesar, among dozens of others.
Simone Pound of the Professional Footballers’ Association as well Labour politician Laura Pidcock were also in attendance, while Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett moderated the discussion.
‘My favourite charity’
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey gave an opening speech highlighting why the charity’s work was so close to his – and his union’s – heart.
“[Show Racism the Red Card] is my favourite charity because it deals with perhaps the greatest evil in our society – and that is the evil of racism,” he said. “The idea that people are subjected to discrimination and abuse because of the colour of their skin or where they come from is something that is the mark of a society that isn’t right. A civilised society embraces people no matter what colour or gender they are.”
McCluskey praised how “Show Racism the Red Card hit on this idea of using this beautiful, beautiful game of ours – the national game – to utlise their anti-racist message and to take that message to young people.
“This isn’t just about kicking racism out of football – this is challenging what’s going on in our societies.”
McCluskey went on to thank footballer Marcus Rashford for his campaigning on child poverty.
“Although child poverty affects all children of all creeds, the fact is that Black and Asian ethnic minority children are disproportionately affected. I have huge admiration for the work Marcus is doing.”
He noted that Unite is ‘100 per cent behind’ the charity’s work and is committed to continued sponsorship and involvement.
“The impact this organisation is having will make sure we have a better future for all our children and all our nations,” he added.
Ged also hailed the relationship his charity has long had with Unite.
“Our partnership with Unite keeps building and we’re very keen to further develop adult education with Unite members,” he noted.
More than anything, Ged encouraged everyone to keep the Black Lives Matter movement’s momentum going and take part in Wear Red Day on October 16, where participants wear red and post pictures on social media to raise awareness about the charity. People are also encouraged to donate to Show Racism the Red Card.
“This year, you can take part by wearing red at home, and get others in your household or social bubble to join in and post pictures on social media with the hashtag #WRD20. Last year, 77,000 people participated and we expect this year to be even bigger.
“Our theme this year is ‘keep up the momentum’ and our strapline is ‘You’ve taken the knee, now stand up with us against racism’,” Ged added. “Wear Red Day is a unique opportunity under the current restrictions of the pandemic to come together and stand together against racism. We don’t want the Black Lives Matter movement to become a moment. We want it to have long-lasting change.”
By Hajera Blagg