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Umar Kankiya of Dope Black Dads told us how the intersection of Black Lives Matter and coronavirus meant black working dads had a particular experience of lockdown.
Umar Kankiya is a father of two, a daughter aged five and a son aged two. He is part of the leadership team at Dope Black Dads.
He told us how black dads’ experience of lockdown was impacted by Black Lives Matter and how his hopes for the future will benefit all working dads.
I learned more about what it means to be a dad during lockdown.
Before March, like lots of families, life was consumed with dashing about from nursery to school, managing the household, getting the kids to bed. The weekends were our family time. But when everything stopped I found myself managing my daughter’s homeschooling and balancing that with my son’s needs. But I was also able to appreciate being dad, think about what fatherhood means. That’s what I wanted when I became a father.
And thanks to Dope Black Dads I got a real sense that there is a brotherhood out there, rooting for each other, supporting each other.
Early in lockdown we organised a weekly Zoom check in for our Dope Black Dads community and a weekly quiz night. We were already having a monthly meet up and we wanted to maintain that contact. But it became clear that it needed to be more frequent in lockdown. We were all spending all day every day with the same people, it was important just to see some other faces but also to give dads an opportunity to talk about how they were feeling, share their experiences and vent!
At the beginning those discussions were dominated by Covid and our concerns about it. But after the killing of George Floyd the focus shifted to Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter has been an issue for us at Dope Black Dads for some time, it didn’t start with the killing of George Floyd. But witnessing the death of a man on video in that way, at the hands of police brutality gave the incident more prominence. And because it was so graphic it resonated with other communities.
The pandemic was an element in Black Lives Matter becoming such a big issue. People had more time on their hands to think about things, more space to understand the systemic barriers black people face.
Within the Dope Black Dads community there was a feeling that this is happening yet again, so many black men have died at the hands of police brutality. It’s tiring to have to discuss this over and over again, to explain that just because police, or people more generally, aren’t necessarily going around displaying overt racist behaviours doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist.
Some people missed the nuance, claimed it’s not an issue in the UK and that’s indicative of how far we still have to go. But many people had the time to engage with the issue seriously. For example I’m a solicitor by trade and I was asked by the Law Society to write about Black Lives Matter and my experiences.
I hope lockdown and the experience of Black Lives Matter within it can be a turning point for the lives of dope black dads and for society more widely.
First, in order for there to be change we need allies. There is white privilege, it does exist and black people remain a small part of the population. We noticed a shift around Black Lives Matter, companies paid attention. There was the black out day when many big corporations posted only a black screen on their social media. That’s well and good, now we need to see what those firms are doing to address those issues. I’d suggest looking at the pool of talent they already have within their organisation; those people already part of the company understand the culture and know what needs to change.
Secondly, the thing that would make a big difference is representation. In order for there to be change there has to be representation across the board, from the Cabinet table down.
Currently the government points to BAME representation in the Cabinet. But we need to stop lumping ethnic minorities together. A person of south Asian or Chinese background can’t speak for black people. I’d like to see us move away from the BAME label in future.
We’re not looking for affirmative action per se, I don’t want to see a black father round the Cabinet table for the sake of it. But there are skilled black people for all positions, for one reason or another they are being overlooked. They don’t look the right way, have the right connections, know the right people or belong to the right golf club. That has to change.
Third, I think there’s potential for the way we work to drive huge change for dads. If we are going to be working from home more I think dads in particular can dial down the stereotype of only providing for the family, only putting dinner on the table, and there can be a real shift in how responsibility is shared within the home. Men who no longer have to travel to their work will have more time and less stress. Crucially they can be more present – physically and emotionally – than ever before.
I take pride in taking my kids to and from school and nursery. That’s a requirement of any job I do now. Before I take on a job I need to know it won’t interfere with my ability to be there for my children. If I’m doing a court hearing by video link and my two kids appear in the background, that shouldn’t be unusual or frowned upon, it should just be everyday experience.. I hope we’re entering an age where as parents we can expect more of our employers – more understanding, more forgiveness.
For Father’s Day Dope Black Dads produced a pledge; men were encouraged to sign up to do an hour more work around the house each day. That extra hour can have a huge impact on their partner’s life and potential. And she’ll appreciate it more than any piece of jewellery!
I hope that going forward, through and after the coronavirus crisis, we can make measures like that stick.
I look at the world returning to normal, traffic returning to the roads, people going to the shops – albeit wearing masks – and I don’t see much fundamental change.
But most of the measures I’ve mentioned are within our power and our control as fathers. There is a lot we can do. We can campaign for better black representation and be good allies. We can be more present and do more around the home.
I hope this will be a hinge moment; that things will be better in the future because of the experiences of the last four months. But I don’t simply expect it.
Have you a particular experience of lockdown? Thoughts on how it will impact working dads? Or hopes for the future? Get in touch via the comments form below or on social media!