‘What do you stand for?’

In the latest episode of his podcast ‘Eighty Percent Mental’, Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Psychology Dr Pete Olusoga is joined by organisational psychologist and best-selling New York Times author, John Amaechi OBE, for an honest and inspiring conversation about racism, anti-racism, and what we all could or should be doing to make our communities fairer for everybody.

We strongly recommend listening to the entire episode via https://eightypercentmental.com – but for those who prefer to read, Dr Olusoga has kindly given us permission to host this edited transcript.

My name is Dr Pete Olusoga, and I want to welcome you to a very special episode of Eighty Percent Mental

If you've listened before, you'll know that we talk about anything and everything to do with the psychology of sport and performance. But when we first started this, we always wanted the conversation to be about more than just sport. Conversation should always be about more than just sport. The idea for this episode started to take shape back in the summer of 2020, when a lot of people began to have conversations about race and racism, conversations that they perhaps hadn't had before. 

On 25 May of that year, a Minneapolis Police Officer knelt on the neck of a black man named George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, killing him in what I have no qualms whatsoever in calling a modern day lynching. The intense and deeply disturbing juxtaposition of the brutality of this murder and the nonchalance with which it was carried out by an officer of the law was caught on camera. Because we live in the age of Facebook, it was seen by millions almost instantly. Everything changed. 

Well, maybe it didn't… We've seen police violence against people of colour too many times before. But in that summer of 2020, with George Floyd, it really did feel different this time. Perhaps our lives temporarily being placed on pause by the pandemic meant that we were forced to pay more attention this time, forced to notice the exact way in which a white police officer decided that George Floyd's life as a black man in America did not matter. 

So the summer of 2020 became the summer of Black Lives Matter. Worldwide protests, statues toppled, streets renamed, and a light shone bright on racism not only in America, but in the UK and all around the world. People were suddenly eager to read about racism and about white privilege, eager to understand racism, current and historical, and to declare loudly, ‘I'm not racist’, and to put black squares on their Instagram feeds for a day. Everything changed and yet nothing changed. People started to return to what could be mistaken for normal, and so the great racism book club of 2020 kind of lost its momentum.

When sport did finally start to return, it was a little different: face masks, social distancing virtual audiences and fake crowd noise. Sport had found itself at the bottom of its own uncanny valley. But while it seemed like the world had already moved on from the events of the summer, athletes were using their stage and their platform to keep conversations about race and racism at the forefront of our minds. Black Lives Matter protests in the Premier League. The NBA players taking the court with Black Lives Matter and other social justice messages on their jerseys in place of their own names. It was sport that was keeping the conversation going. 

Now, given the history of black protest in sport, this is hardly surprising. Lewis Hamilton and Naomi Osaka stand on the shoulders of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Maya Moore, Colin Kaepernick, Craig Hodges, to name a few. There are many, many, many more. Racism in sport have a long history together. When we think about racism in sport, we think about bananas being thrown at Black footballers in the 70s and the 80s. We think of the monkey chants. And we tend to think of those things as relics. And we say things like, “well, that doesn't happen anymore.” It kind of does. We say “that's a thing of the past, isn't it?” Well, not really. And we say, “well, that was just an isolated incident.” It kind of wasn't. Racism is alive and well. And while we might want to think that sport is somehow exempt from it, that sport is the last true meritocracy, where only talent and hard work matter and colour is irrelevant… while we might want to believe that, I'm here to tell you that none of that is true. And in this special episode of Eighty Percent Mental, we're going to explore why. 

It's with great pleasure that I introduce the one and only John Amaechi – respected Organisational Psychologist, best-selling New York Times author, sought after public speaker, executive coach and founder of APS Intelligence, and has been endorsed as a Jedi by Mark Hamill. John, thank you very much for joining us.

It's a pleasure. Thank you.

Because this is an episode on racism in sport, our listeners might well think that we're going to ask what we should do about racism in sport, because that would make perfect sense. But I think before we can do that, before we can really do anything about racism in sport, I personally think the question needs to be how do we talk about racism and sport? How can we go beyond those empty slogans, the ‘kick it out’, the ‘zero tolerance’, and actually have meaningful conversations about racism? What stops us from having those conversations?

Human beings have a need to feel innocent and fair. Anything that compromises a sense of innocence and fairness will be pushed to the margins. It's why we avert our eyes when we see rough sleepers. It's why we don't look at them. Because looking at them, and the sheer numbers of them, tells you instantly that you are part of the system that allows that to be possible… that it cannot be that each of these individual people is so inherently flawed that they've deserved this fate. People need to feel innocent and fair. They need to feel as they cheer for their badge, their team, their player, that they are faultless and blameless. And they've earned their own way here and, and nothing they do harms anyone else. And that is why many people can't have a legitimate conversation around race and racism because it implicates us all, either through our actions or avoidance of action. 

Then there is another part of the sports world, the sports business world, that has been run like a 21st century plantation for a long, long time, and they quite like that. And they think that black people should be grateful that we let a 0.00 something fraction of them earn a lot of money. I’m a cynic, just in case that's not coming through…

Loud and clear. In sport in particular, we have this real need to see it as a meritocracy. ‘On the pitch, it's different. There's no advantage. Colour doesn't mean anything.’ We have a need to see it that way, and it's not the case, is it? 

No, it's absolutely not the case. If people understood where the phrase ‘meritocracy’ came from, how it was a satirical use, referring to the era of the aristocracy and royalty. We've never quite understood that the whole thing was tongue in cheek, and that meritocracy is not real. Even in the places where we think it's real, like eight second races or whatever else… it's just not and never has been.

You mentioned this denial of racism… that if we admit that racism does exist, we also have to admit that we are complicit in it, and that we have to do something about it. We both talked about the Sewell report that came out a few weeks ago, and the mental gymnastics people were doing to deny that institutional racism existed, were actually quite impressive! We're quite happy to admit racism when it's somebody doing a monkey chant in the stands, or somebody who is screaming racist abuse in someone's face, we're quite happy to admit, yes, that's a problem with racism. Why is there such a hesitation to admit that deep structural racism might be a factor in some of the inequality that we see?

Because if it's a factor in the inequality, it's a factor in those people who rise and thrive and succeed in the system. But also because the acknowledgement of the egregious racist is actually very convenient. The moron who throws banana, or does a monkey chant or yells the N-word. This complete ignoramus is actually a tool for the oppressor, he's really useful. The ejection of that person can be used as evidence of equality. It isn't. When you throw a murderer into prison, this does not suggest that the world is free of people who would murder. It doesn't suggest a world where women can stop using their keys as a weapon as they walk. No, nothing's changed. We live in this weird compliance culture where we think the removal of the egregious and as long as the average situation is no one's doing anything illegal, even if it's unethical, that’s where we live, and sports lives in that place. 

Sports is a compliance culture. It's about rules. It's not about ethics. I don't dabble in sports for a reason. It infuriates me. Because you look at their bloody principles. You look at the IOC charter, you look at the FIFA and FIBA charters. If they followed what they say are their core principles, we would never have this conversation. And yet, here we are, again. This is why we can't talk about racism, because if we did, we'd have to juxtapose it against a set of principles that could never allow racism, not on an institutional, systemic, or individual basis. Yet, here we are.

We're constantly shocked and surprised. Well, I'm not, and I'm sure you're not. But ‘we’ are constantly shocked and surprised every time there's an incident of racism, people come on to Twitter and Facebook and express their disgust and surprise… ‘how can this still be happening, in 2021?’ If I slap you in the face every day, and you're shocked and surprised by it, at some point you have to realise that there's a recurring issue here. And we need to address it. So the shock and the surprise is part of this whole denial that it exists on a broader level, as far as I'm concerned. The charters and the schemes and the campaigns to end racism and sport, they've been around forever. Why is it that they don't work, or can't work? 

Because they're never given enough power or influence to do anything. These organisations are adjuncts, they exist. They're forced to suck off the teat of the FA or the Premier League or somebody else. If someone gives you something, and these organisations are funded, and then have no statutory teeth to do anything about it. 

Part of the reason people are surprised is because black people are strangers, to people who aren't black. We're strangers, people don't know us. That's why they're surprised. When I tell people I get stopped and searched, they say ‘No!’, because I'm the right kind of Negro, you see… I speak well, I have an education and qualifications and so I don't fit. They think of that apocryphal kid from Tottenham – still don't know who that is – who is the one who should get stopped, with all the knives. And so we're strangers. 

It's outrageous that people don't know that this is the status quo. And if you don't know at this stage, it's your fault. I want to be very clear here – there is an implication, a moral and ethical implication for the things that clever people choose not to know. Now, I'm not a sports psychologist. So I'm not suggesting that every subject matter expert should have every expertise. But when it comes to some things, the idea that you can exist in this world in 2021, without realising what's happening to people who are different than you is a choice that you've made, because it's 0.00038 second Google search away. 

In the reverse, it doesn't happen. Women know men, black people know white, we know the other when you're the minority because you have to survive. I have to know how white people will respond when I get in close proximity in a business environment. I have to know how white people respond when I walk behind them on the street. It's what keeps me safe. So part of the reason we have this discussion about racism is because the people who are the targets of racism, as opposed to the perpetrators, are strangers and therefore not important.

I think there's a lack of motivation as well…  the people at the top are not motivated to have these discussions and to make these changes. You look at people like Greg Clarke, is that the former chairman of the FA, who described institutional racism as fluff, and was quite happy to refer to black footballers as ‘coloured’. You look at the Rooney rule in the NFL, you know, designed as a hiring policy for coaches of colour many years ago, but now we have the same number of coaches of colour in the NFL in a league that is 70% Black, because the league is run by old white men. 

To be fair, it's not because they're old white men that we don't have any black coaches. Because let's think about the implication of this: you actually don't want to pick from the largest possible talent pool, you are actively choosing to have limited talent supply, in an environment of extreme money. And so it's actually old white racists… because otherwise, old white men wouldn't necessarily choose familiarity over cash.

It's almost like we're looking in the wrong place for racism. You know, we're focusing on the banana throwing and the name calling, but actually, the very language of sport itself is steeped in racism.

Whiteness is clever. Whiteness is strategic. Blackness is powerful. Blackness is impulsive. These tropes haunt us. They haunt us and nobody seems to want to do anything about that. We see successful black coaches as outliers, not consistency. White coaches who fail time and time again at numerous different organisations keep getting rehired, whereas a black coach who fails once ‘There you go, I told you’. It's absolutely exhausting. 

It's ridiculous too, because I don't want to create this kind of Benetton ad in sport, I'm not interested in that. I just don't understand why, if you are nominally interested in the concept of meritocracy, why you wouldn't be interested in the best possible talent, even if it didn't look the way you expect. I don't get that. I actively have hired people who I knew I wouldn't like. When they arrived, the way they thought, the way they operated was so radically different from me, that I find it irritating. Then you get to know the person and you realise that there's lots going on there and they bring perspectives that I would not bring, and you just see this huge advantage. And then you get to connect with them as a human being you realise that your irritation was with their cognitive style, personality, but not necessarily with anything that would intrinsically get in the way of a real and authentic and valuable friendship as well as being brilliant colleagues, as well as providing strategic and operational value. That is what I'm interested in, I want to win. Where is that? When it comes to kicking the ball or throwing the ball or putting it in a hoop or whatever, people are very interested in the kind of cutthroat ‘Yeah, rip them in half’ kind of winning, where the loser limps away and never wants to face you again. Yet when it comes to decisions that will impact, about ownership or about leadership… then it's equivocation.

It's like you said earlier, it's an active choice to be racist, to believe in those racist tropes. In fairness, if people are continually exposed to this… there's a study carried out by some guys at University of Massachusetts, they looked at 40 years’ worth of data. And it was exactly what you said, non-white players are praised for physical abilities – so ‘gifted’, ‘natural athlete’, ‘beast’, those types of words. White players were praised more for their intelligence, ‘calm’, ‘cool’, ‘smart’. If anybody thinks that that's just an American thing, there was a company, a Dutch company called Run Repeat, who did the same thing on all of the European soccer leagues and found exactly the same thing. If you're exposed to that language, as a player, a coach, a fan, an owner – a constant drip, drip, drip of racism – is it any wonder that you view black players in one way and white players in another, and then you make judgments about their ability to coach and progress from the playing field? But once we know that's the case, surely, then we can make a choice to override what we are being constantly fed.

Yeah, but that takes effort, and people do appear to be intrinsically lazy. The impulse that's been with us since prehistoric times to conserve energy is still there. And so when faced with a barrage of thoughts, and then people tell you lazy stuff, like the wisdom of crowds, which helps you to think that random people telling you stuff about different people is probably real if enough people say it… it's not surprising people acquiesce. But it is a choice to acquiesce. You've decided if you think that ‘all black people are’, ‘all women are’… I was looking at some data the other day, the norm graphs of men's and women's heights. The difference between them, the effect size, was pretty radical, as you’d expect. But people think that that height difference is actually the same as the difference in confidence, the difference in ability to do negotiations, ability to take risks… they think that the difference between men and women are an effect size that big, and it's not. It's statistically trivial for most of this stuff. And it's a choice now for us… that information is available. The same thing for blackness and whiteness. Bill Nye is on TikTok helping people to realise that if you overlay a map of UV penetration on the earth with skin colour, that's it. That's the difference, not intelligence, or professionalism or criminality. This is available information. And if people are buying into the opposite kind of tropes and stereotypes, that laziness is killing us.

45 seconds on an internet connection, all we need to find out most things. 

And why wouldn't you want a life that has a richness to it? The idea that I am somehow intrinsically the same as you because our skin colours vaguely match is ridiculous. Why wouldn't you want the richness of other people's experiences, instead of what's happening now, which is it appears the bit of blackness that people want access to in order to learn is our tears? If one could learn by sucking down on people's tears… 

It comes back to what you said right at the start – if you if you accept that there is an issue, then you have to accept that things aren't fair, you're complicit in it. You have to do something about it. People don't want to do that.

Again, we're saying people, I'm not suggesting that every fan or every player doesn't want to do anything about it. But there isn't enough of a movement. When six Premier League clubs decide to go and form their own league, the world stops, Boris Johnson stops, fans protest and threaten to withdraw their season tickets. But when somebody on their team was racist in front of television cameras and the world, they came back the next day. So there is a matter of principle here. 

So I know I said that, I wasn't going to ask how we solve the problem, but I am. When those racist ideas about athletes, their capabilities, are so deeply ingrained, and when it has the effect that we've talked about, where people of colour are overrepresented on the pitch, but then vastly underrepresented at the level of coach, owner and in the boardroom… where do we even start? 

Targets. I hate targets. They have unintended consequences. The recipients or targets, whether they be women or black people, end up feeling as if their achievement is attenuated, maligned, marred by the target. Other people, who would be competing for the same jobs, feel like unqualified people are being proposed ahead of them. And everybody, it seems, thinks that they're wildly unfair. And yet, when you look at boardrooms, it's just really clear, the only thing that works is targets. When you tell people this is the number that you have to have, and there'll be a sanction of some description. People like Goldman Sachs, hardly the bastion of diversity necessarily themselves, will say, ‘we won't govern your IPO if you don't have a certain amount of diversity’. All of a sudden, then there's consequences. It has to be targets. They are a blunt instrument, unintended consequences, hate them, and they're the only thing that's been shown to work.

So what would you say to those people who would argue against it and say, ‘well, that's not fair’?

The status quo is not fair. The current status quo is not a meritocracy. It's an absurd notion to suggest it is. I am a deeply, deeply privileged man. I'm talking to you from penthouse in Covent Garden, overlooking a courtyard where I've got an Italian restaurant. Everybody knows my name, and it's great. I have a collared shirt and a pair of jeans that I have by my front door that I have to put on before I go to Pret, because I know that reduces the chances of me having an interaction with the police. So don't talk to me about meritocracy. Because I am deeply, deeply privileged. 

Also, notice what happens when you when you describe yourself as deeply privileged. Nothing. I didn't light on fire, I didn't explode. It simply helps me to understand when I look at other people, how privileged I am and that my experience is not like this. Or how might that make me ask that question? How might your experience not be like mine? When somebody doesn't understand a concept that I think is really easy? Maybe I think back to the privilege I had because my mum read to me every damn night. Maybe I think back to the excitement my mum had when I cracked open a book on biology or psychology or something else. Maybe they didn't have that. Maybe they don't like to read boring research things in the middle of the night like I do. There's lots of things. If you don't like targets, do you like inequality? Because right now, you may think that women are everywhere and black people are everywhere. But let's give some context here. You're thinking that because you're looking in the context of the last three or five years, and you're suddenly saying, ‘Oh, my God, now there's two of those Olusogas everywhere!’. Oh, my God, look at this bloke and that bloke, and there's a guy with a Mancunian accent who's also a scientist. There's all kinds of difference. And you're looking here, instead of remembering that it's 107 years since Emily Davison was killed by King George V’s fifth horse to get voter rights. 107 years progress doesn't look so great in that context. 1800 years since black people have been in this country. The progress made doesn't look so great in the context of that x axis, does it? So don't talk to me about targets. Unless you have another proposed solution that isn't going to take until I die. 

You mentioned privilege. You rather famously made a video last year about white privilege, which I think is fair to say, had a reaction. A good deal of praise in fairness, but also a bit of a backlash to some of the ideas that you expressed in that video. I know for a fact that there are people who will be listening to this, my colleagues in sport colleagues in psychology, coaches, athletes, who will still baulk at the idea of white privilege. Have you got any examples? You illustrated it so clearly in that video, and I struggle to see why people don't still get this, but have you got anything that might help here?

Let's start with why people can't get it. They can't get it because people need to feel innocent, and they need to feel fair. They need to feel like they are blameless for the way the world is differentially for other people. And they need to feel as if their success is based on a meritocratic environment where anybody could have done the same thing with what they've got. The moment you introduce privilege, you realise that's not the case. 

So for most of us, stairs just aren't much of an impediment. They weren't for me. Now, I'm 50, and having played sport, I do feel differently about stairs, but not to the point of a disability. But I have friends who are wheelchair users, and until I became their friend – not when I knew them, and had them as colleagues and enjoyed them – until they became my friend, I didn't realise the indignities that they face. I had never considered the idea that when they want to go to the loo, they have to go through this weird charade to get a special kind of key from somebody who may or may not give a damn and then they go to a closet that's usually got tables all around it, and then they open the door and they have to run the gauntlet of every piece of cleaning supplies that's been thrown in there in the way. And I know that's a small thing, but we don't know about it. The thing that Danielle Muscato did, put a message on Twitter which said, ‘Women, what would you do if there's a curfew for all men after 9pm ?’… suddenly you realise the sheer banality of the everyday impediments. One woman who said I wouldn't take a second set of clothes, baggy jeans and a sweatshirt so that I look like a man when I walk home. The woman who ran in Manchester and said I'd run with both my earbuds in. And as a man who thinks he's woke, I had no idea about this. I always thought but my mum carried this big set of keys because she was important and she had access to lots of doors. I didn't realise that she carried a set of keys because she was a GP and a woman who went on home visits, often late at night ,and had to protect herself. 

Everybody who's listening to this who doesn't believe in white privilege believes in some other form of privilege, and I'm done with that. It doesn't end at male and white privilege. It doesn't end there. Everybody knows there's an innate an advantage being born into a family with means, with money, versus not. Everybody knows there's an advantage to going to a school with eight people in the class versus 40. And yet, when it comes to this one thing, all of a sudden, we pretend that there's no difference between being black and white. And yet, how many of the people who deny white privilege here, who are white, how many of you worry, every time you leave your house, that the person who taps you on your shoulder will be grabbing you by the arm and saying, ‘Sir, I'm sorry, you resemble the description’? It is impossible for learned people to be that dense.

Yeah, I find it wilful, it's a conscious choice to not get it, I think.

Absolutely, it is. And I understand it impinges a sense of fairness in the world. But what I don't understand is this: I gain no pain, from recognising the sequence of advantages that put me where I am. If I couldn't use words, the way I use words, I wouldn't be this kind of weird black representative out there in the UK. But that is a function of the grammar school that my mother made me sit the entrance for and then worked so hard, extra hours as a junior doctor, to make sure that I could go to that fee paying school. That's an advantage. If my mum hadn't threatened me with the sweeper flex, every time I sounded like I was from Stockport… there's a privilege for accents too, you can't pretend any more. And people in positions of power, psychologists… if you deny the privilege of whiteness in the presence of a black person, you do them harm. 

It's also a case of also people not wanting to think they haven't earned what they've got. I worked really hard to get where I am. But I put minimal, almost no effort into being born in a country that wasn't at war. I put very little effort into being born to a mother who made sure that I could read by the time I was three. I didn't play a huge part in that. But I'm aware of the advantages that's given me. 

I think one of one obvious examples of privileges is not having to scroll through your social media every day, and see people being killed, brutalised, harassed, just for looking the same as you, having the same skin colour as you. That takes an emotional toll on me, it would be remiss of us to think that didn't also take an emotional toll on our athletes and coaches and psychologists and my colleagues of colour as well. 

Yeah, it is exhausting to see people murdered for looking like you. It's exhausting to hear the debates around how much your life matters. It exhausting to hear the equivocation of supposedly good people around issues of conscience. It's exhausting to see one of your own pretend that institutionalised racism doesn't exist. The emotional toll is actually quite acute. That's why I have a countdown on my computer, 112 days until I go on holiday. There's a scene from The Matrix where Morpheus has been captured and the agent takes the thing out of his ears and he says ‘I must escape. I must get out of here. It's the smell, for want of a better term. It saturates me.’ And that is where I am. I am a squeezed orange. It's amazing to wake up every morning enraged. And yet I can't shout, I have to add more syllables to the words I use to manage the rage that I feel. Because people don't want to feel bad. Children go hungry in the summertime because people don't want to feel bad. Boys, especially in parts of town that are working class get stopped and searched disproportionately because people don't want to feel bad. Police can kill people in custody, because people don't want to feel bad. And I don't understand how the balance of the scales of justice in the minds of people listening to this could tolerate the sacrifice on one side. Like we’re Aztec, or Mayans or something, and if we sacrifice enough black people, something magical will happen. If enough black blood is spilled equality will dawn like a solstice. It won't. The ground will just become bloodied and muddy.

***

Sport has been really important in the last few years in keeping conversations about social justice going. There's been a fairly predictable backlash to that – booing of players taking the knee for example. The reaction that we see to white athletes discussing issues out of their sport is very different to the reaction that black athletes get – Drew Brees, for example, the white American football quarterback, has the right to an opinion, whereas LeBron James should just ‘shut up and dribble’. But what can we do, as people who work in sports, psychologists, coaches and so on, to really support athletes who want to use their voices to talk about social issues?

I think it's part of our job. I'm not a sports psychologist, but I think is part of the job of sports psychologists and other psychologists to facilitate performance. We can't stop where the court stops, where the field stops, it's a huge mistake. What we could be doing is helping people to understand how they can best use their voice, helping them roleplay with you, ‘this is how I feel. I don't have all the information about this circumstance, this situation, here's some resources where you can educate yourself, here's a way that you can have this conversation doing the minimal damage you can to your career and life, helping you understand the context of the backlash that you might receive, and how to handle that.’ To me, that's the mature and indeed ethical way that support staff of all types should be having the conversation.

You're not going to stop athletes from speaking out at this point. That ship has sailed. But what we can do is ‘here's how we can be congruent. Here's how you can do it in a way that, regardless of whether it receives backlash, will be so dignified and ethical that the backlash will seem unreasonable at some point.’

One of the issues that I find with that is that a lot of people in my field in particular, and psychologists in general, feel a need to be almost ‘politically neutral’. They feel the need to not take sides. I suspect it's because people don't want to alienate a potential client base. I don't know, I'm guessing at this point. But what would you say? 

It is self-serving, indiscriminately, stupid bollocks. Sport has been political since the first naked man ran to Marathon to inform their political leaders of a victory, and then dropped dead. Sport has always been political. It's a political performance, most major events. 

Psychologists want to stay out of the mire. For exactly the reason you've talked, about people fear making themselves toxic. They fear making themselves controversial. So maybe the football team that they'd really like to work with will want to work with them in the future. But we have an ethical responsibility. We are scientists with an ethical responsibility, a duty of candour and the duty of care that extends well beyond the court. I tell all the people that we work with, as a business psychologist, ‘your company may be paying me. But when you are sat in the room with me, you are my client’. And when sports psychologists work with athletes, yes, you're being paid by Manchester United, or wherever else, but the individual in front of you – that green kid from the lower ranks of a team – that's your client in this moment. Their best interest, not pushing them to go through the pain of their hamstring industry, they’re your client. It’s not politically neutral. In a world where some of these athletes can leave in their nice cars and immediately be stopped and searched. There's no politically neutral. I think it's an abdication of our responsibility, as learned ethical scientists, to suggest that the world is not inherently political and sport with it. 

I know that that's hard. Even as I say this, I'm aware that it's hard. There are tons of people who will never work with me, organisations where my name is Kryptonite. And many of these organisations, my team and I could help. I have made it so that that bolt is shot. But whenever I meet a new client, what I can say to them is that my principles are intact. And I will do what's best. Fundamentally, doing what's best for the individual athletes will be in the long run what's best for the team.

It's a difficult step to take, for a lot of people, to speak out on some of these issues. I see a lot of colleagues who will flirt with the idea – like a tweet, or maybe even go so far as to retweet something that's vaguely political. But that's about it. That's about the extent of them venturing into this world of what's actually happening around us. What's the first step that they can take to open up and acknowledge that the world is inherently political, and it does exist around us and that has an impact on the systems that they're working in?

The thing I would start with is not action, not doing anything. First, introspection. Part of the reason psychologists struggle around this is because they don't know what they stand for. They have no idea. It's not remotely controversial to stand for things ethically. So I'm against racism. I'm not kind of ambivalent about it. The sexism and misogyny. Yes, I want to destroy that. I'm not ambivalent. I'm not on the fence. Anti-semitism, Islamophobia. You name the incivility, I want to kill it with fire. That's who I am. Test me. That's what I tell everybody. I'm the one. I'm the fun sponge. I'm the politically correct one. I'm the one who will say something. You end up in my physical space, and if it's your house, I won't care. I'm the one who will call you on it. Because my declaration of principle is meaningless, if you can behave to the opposite of those principles around me. Psychologists, we have duty of care. We have a duty of candour, a duty of principle. And that means conflict. If you're up for that, we can make a difference. 

So every single person listening to this – white, black or otherwise – needs to tell people what they stand for. Because people don't know. They don't know. And they need to know. I can't have an authentic relationship with a client, if they don't understand that. Even a racist client, for example – and I have had clients who are racist, and anti-semitic – they need to know where I stand, because that's the only authentic way to have relationship with them. And in this psychology lark, we sometimes like to believe we're a lot more effective than we actually are. But we are definitely not effective, at all, if we don't build that a relationship built on something that is honest and transparent. 

So for the psychologists who are worrying how to do this, don't start with liking the occasional tweet from left wing or right wing politician to declare your thing. Sit down and actually consider what do you stand for? In the context of this complex, convoluted disrupted world that we live in? What do you stand for? Maybe when you figure that out, the idea of retweeting or liking or siding with arguments that are congruent with your principles won't feel so difficult.

The second thing you can do is demand that the organisations that you're a part of live up to their stated values. We don't need to do anything else. You don't need to introduce new stuff: most of the organisation's governing bodies, most of the rigid regulatory bodies, they already have the provisions in place. Hold them to account for that, and when they don't, say something.

I'd like to end on something positive… Why should we be optimistic?

Because for every disappointment, on an almost daily basis, I get just a glimpse of the profound or wonderful, therapeutic and warm ways human beings can heal each other. We should be optimistic because when I look at psychology, at its core – although we struggle with this thing of not being real scientists and trying to prove ourselves constantly – we are people trained to, with our very presence alone, our force of will and attention, to bolster, heal and enhance… not just the performance, but the thriving of individuals in the most difficult circumstances. That is what psychologists want to do. When they experience that, it will help them redouble their efforts to do some of this introspection that we need. It's not that psychologists are being bad right now. It's just that we could be better. So much better. And I am optimistic that we will be.

- Read more on the podcast, and revisit our 2015 interview with John Amaechi OBE.

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