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Inequalities are more than skin deep

As part of Black History Month, our own head of equality blogs on why intersectionality is a focus in our work to tackle inequalities.

14th October 2022

by Garnet Mackinder
Head of equality, Sport England

The issue of race and racial inequality in sport, and society as a whole, is not as simple as saying “you’re black, you must have experienced racism or discrimination and not had the same opportunities to be active as others”.

Statistically, sadly, the chances are that black people have experienced discrimination and have had fewer opportunities to be active.

But I’m a case in point as to why this attitude is slightly simplistic and why we at Sport England are working hard to integrate equality, diversity and inclusion into everything the sport and physical activity sector does.

More on that later, but first, a bit more about me.

Intersectionality is key

Currently I work for Sport England as head of equality and have played rugby for various Premiership teams and have been capped by England 7s. 

I grew up in Devon – which is becoming more diverse but is still a predominantly white area.

My black heritage is from my dad’s side – an African American who lived out in the USA so I never saw much of him when I was younger and I was raised by my mum, who is white.

It wasn’t until later in primary school and secondary school that I realised I wasn’t like the rest of the kids and looked a little different.

Growing up in a white family, I never knew what to do with my hair (still don’t!) and occasionally the other children at school made unkind remarks.

I never let this phase me, and I don’t feel like it held me back in any way getting into sport. But I was one of the lucky ones as I had a supportive PE teacher, family and network around me.

It wasn’t until later in primary school and secondary school that I realised I wasn’t like the rest of the kids and looked a little different.

I also grew up in a white neighbourhood where there was lots of green space, so being active was a part of my lifestyle from a young age.

I compare myself to other people that look like me and I am so much more privileged due to, among other factors, the area I grew up in.

This is why intersectionality is so important; two people may look the same, but another part of their life is so different and gives a very different opportunity to being active.

Being female has actually been the toughest barrier for me within sport, but I do often wonder if my race has played a part in which sports I chose/was pushed towards, or if it was just by chance?

I was pushed towards athletics – a sport with a lot of black role models, both male and female.

Lots of assumptions are made about black athletes, for example that we must be quick – but it’s very rare to see a black athlete in a decision-making role.

For example, when was the last time you saw a black fly-half in either the men’s or women’s game of rugby?

Finding my people

It was by chance that I fell into rugby when a coach ran a taster session for the girls at school. I loved it and went from there.

But it wasn’t until I moved to London after university that I discovered a lot more of my culture and finally saw people that looked like me.

However, working in the sports sector, I was still always a minority and it wasn’t until I arrived at Sport England and joined the Culture Crew (our internal staff network) that I felt like I finally found my people!

Exeter Chiefs' Garnet Mackinder evades a tackle to score a try against Darlington Morden Park Sharks

Away from work I found it challenging to make black friends because I wasn’t in the circles to meet those people.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I joined the Panthers; a representative tag rugby team in London for players of African and Caribbean descent.

This helped me to expand my friendship group and also give me some fresh perspectives on life.

Panthers started as just a small group and now there are a many more culturally diverse tag rugby players due to this network encouraging and taking new black players under their wing and welcoming them into the family.

Pause for thought

The murder of George Floyd in 2020, plus our own Tackling Racism and Racial Inequality in Sport (TRARIIS) report certainly made me think a lot more about race in sport, and equality is something I am even more passionate and aware about now.

So I’ve done lots of thinking, and learning.

People are often fearful or not interested in equality, diversity and inclusion, but I haven’t come across any colleague that works in the sector that wouldn’t want to open opportunities to as many people as possible within their sport.

Yes it takes work, and it takes outreach but there are black communities out there that would jump at the chance to be active if they knew where to go, where they’d feel safe and could experience all the amazing benefits of sport.

I will continue to be a role model to others, being a black woman in my role within sport is uncommon and I want to show others it is possible.

And Black History Month is great for raising awareness, but our work does not stop and will continue all year round until the gap is closed and there is equality, equity and parity for everyone.

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