I still remember what it felt like watching the video of George Floyd being murdered. I didn’t watch it right to the end but I recall the blinding anger I felt.
I needed to do something about it. Something tangible and impactful. For my wife and business partner, Rania, launching Create Not Hate felt like a positive thing for us to do for the creative industry. We wanted to address the lack of diversity in advertising. I went on marches and I felt the collective anger and pain of the thousands of peaceful protesters. But I wanted to do more in terms of having a long-term impact.
It was incredible how emotionally invested everyone became in the cause last summer. I enjoyed lots of positive and honest conversations with friends, many of whom were asking what they could do to support the movement: how can I effect real change? It was like the penny had finally dropped for lots of people.
I had been hiding from these conversations for a long time; avoiding being the angry black man with a chip on his shoulder. I had observed subtle racism and microaggressions and let them go for the sake of an easier, less confrontational life. But 2020 felt like the year we were outed. And for me this was very cathartic. It felt like a big weight had been taken off my shoulders.
As the year progressed, I’m sad to say a lot of things went back to how they were. With lockdown restrictions easing, people are wanting to get on with “normal life” – a life that doesn’t involve having to have difficult conversations about systemic racism, inequality and prejudice. I appreciate that people are exhausted. But racism has not just gone away.
Create Not Hate was approached by lots of brands and individuals with goodwill in their hearts, but many of them have now gone silent. That’s a gauge to what I think it’s like out there. The momentum risks fading away.
We’ve just started working on a new project for a text support service for anyone in the UK who is struggling to cope, called Shout 85258. Our aim is to reach young black boys and men who are struggling with mental health challenges. This is one of the groups most affected by mental ill health, but who seek and receive the least amount of support. We’re hoping to drum up mentors and to try to get many others involved again.
Our work with Create Not Hate was a perfect example of the talent that’s out there that’s not being utilised. That remains our aim: to get marginalised and underrepresented young people into the industry and shake the industry into realising the brilliance and fresh thinking of more diverse workforces.
I think for a long time, white people thought they didn’t have a right to say things. But the past year has also seen a lot of people do brave things. Take Jessica Gregson who founded Open to Everyone, Closed to Racism in a small rural seaside village. Others, who live on my road, put up signs saying “Racists aren’t welcome in this house”. These seemingly small things people were doing, they all add up. Nobody wants to look back and think they did nothing.
I would like to believe that we’re all more enlightened. But there remains a complacency in this society that has not been addressed for a long time. And so we need to keep pushing. It’s hard when it feels like you’re pushing against the people in power. The government report that concluded there wasn’t systemic racism in the UK has certainly set us back. It’s given society a sense of validation that there isn’t, in fact, this uncomfortable truth. Sadly, it has taken away the pressing urgency in people’s minds to address inequalities.
But, looking forward to the year ahead, I – and Create Not Hate – will not be backing down. We’re going to keep the dialogue going. Hopefully, I won’t come across as that boring, chippy black guy. There are lots of people for whom discrimination is an everyday reality. I’m still black; that ain’t changing. So we need to keep having these conversations. I’m hoping we’ll look back at this time and marvel at the fact that this was our reality.
Trevor Robinson is the founder and executive creative director of Quiet Storm