When I embarked on the Bristol2Beijing expedition, I had a head full of ideas. I hoped to change the world, even if in a tiny way. I wanted to help people see life the way I see it — as precious and worth living to the full, even when (especially when) a devastating diagnosis dramatically shifts your horizons. I dreamt of telling everyone who would listen, of inviting the world to follow me on an epic journey, and I even built a bicycle that would allow people of any age or ability to participate.
I’m proud of and amazed by all that we’ve accomplished in a little over a year since the first Bristol2Beijing preparation meeting. We’ve built a multinational following and a message that has been shared around the world and in many languages. We’ve had joiners on the tandem from ages 15 to 85. We’ve reached many thousands of people in the UK alone during the 1,900 kilometre circuit around Great Britain and still many others in the next seven countries of the journey before our pause in March. And, importantly, a number of CanLivers have joined and contributed to the expedition, while also raising more than £38,000 from more than 800 generous donors for our amazing charities.
In a very short time, we have achieved more than I imagined possible. A cycle ride became a tandem expedition which has now become a movement. That movement could have halted when we paused the expedition due to the pandemic, but it didn’t. We pivoted towards Bristol2Beijing at Home, building a supportive, enriching community online during the last several months of lockdown.
None of this would have been possible without the incredible, dedicated Bristol2Beijing team. Our collaboration serves as a powerful reminder of the potential of a cohesive and committed team to make a real, tangible, positive difference. The overwhelming support from both the team and our community for Bristol2Beijing and the CanLive message is incredibly affirming and inspiring to me. Thank you so much!
What matters most is how we move forward. With the imminent restart of the ride, this is more pressing than ever. How can we build on what we’ve achieved so far, to reach a wider audience with more impact, and for those who need it most? How can we keep pushing the boundaries, improving Bristol2Beijing, and ourselves?
A personal reflection on privilege
In recent months, global events, including the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and further protests around the world, have brought into sharp focus a particular strand of inequality and injustice that is especially prevalent in many Western countries. And it is not just black lives – many minorities suffer from discrimination and marginalisation. These injustices have been evident in the UK as well as in the US.
I had thought that the primary problem of racism that still plagues our world is explicit and direct, such as racial slurs or inappropriate jokes about minorities. Yet much happens beneath the surface – it is systemic. As a member of the white majority, I have found it more difficult to see many of the prejudices because, for me, they are not obstacles. So, to burst my bubble of blissful ignorance, I have been reading. White applicants are 74% more likely to get a job interview, compared with those with an ethnic minority-sounding name. The adjusted pay gap for male graduates is 17% less for black men, and 12% less for Pakistani/Bangladeshi men. Between April 2018 and March 2019 there were almost ten times more stop-and-searches for black people in the UK than for white people (38 per 1,000 vs 4 per 1,000). Black, African and minority ethnic people (or BAME people) are also around one and a half times more likely to receive an immediate custodial sentence for drug offences than white people.
What I find particularly vexing is that, as a white man, my lived experience informs me on almost none of this. Sure, I was vaguely aware there were disparities, but I was barely cognisant of their extent. And this is despite being, as I naturally considered myself, a “nice guy” who has tried his best to treat everyone with kindness and respect (no doubt not always with success).
I am aware of my good fortune growing up in a stable family without financial worries, going to a great school, and having myriad opportunities open to me. I was raised in a family and community where I was always encouraged to make the most of the opportunities life presented and rewarded, not attacked, for speaking my mind and challenging those around me.
I know, albeit not well enough, that this is not everyone’s experience.
It is important to also acknowledge that the Bristol2Beijing expedition has been facilitated by the environment in which I was raised. I was brought up to believe I could do what I wanted and thrive – my parents, teachers, and society taught me this. I have a network of contacts with the time and skillset to make Bristol2Beijing a reality. How much harder would this have been had I grown up in different circumstances?
The way I think of what’s possible is shaped by my upbringing – advantages I have carried forward in life.
I have come to realise that we either accept the status quo – all too easy and understandable when our lives are already complex, pressured, and busy – or we make a conscious effort to carve out time and energy to make a stand by by pushing in the other direction, towards equity and justice. This isn’t easy. There are, and will always be, a hundred reasons not to. Without a countervailing force, systemic injustices are all but certain to continue.
My growing awareness of the imbalance in our world doesn’t change my pride for what we’ve done. It has opened my eyes to how much more we could accomplish if we were aware of some of the inequities right in front of us — in the UK and across the globe.
This does not mean that the CanLive message changes. I still believe, passionately, that the philosophy of doing whatever you can to create and take opportunities in whatever situation you are in will leave each individual happier and more fulfilled. What this looks like for each person depends to an extent on the circumstances they are in.
With the expedition, however, I am sure there is more we can do. We are now thinking about how to make diversity, equity, and inclusion more center-stage in our thinking and our actions.
A personal reflection on Bristol2Beijing — diversity, equity, and inclusion
Diversity, equity, and inclusivity resonate throughout what Bristol2Beijing has always intended. But we are aware, now more than ever, of some key gaps in our strategy, capabilities, and perspective.
The expedition was conceived and planned from the perspective of an individual who can take certain things for granted. Thinking about it now, I imagine that my skin colour will not be counted against me when cycling through nearly every country – this will not be true for everyone who might wish to join the ride. The open invitation to join in the expedition also presupposes that an individual has sufficient financial security and the ability to take time off work. It is certainly possible that financial barriers to participating in the expedition disproportionately exclude non-white joiners from the UK since the average assets of a white household in the UK are £282,000, compared to £127,000 and £89,000 for Pakistani and black Caribbean households, respectively.
We are also an all-white team, so we almost certainly have blindspots in our perspective. We don’t have first-hand experience of many of the challenges faced by different ethnicities (or BAME people) in the UK or elsewhere along our cycle route. Harvard Business Review reminds me that diverse teams tend to generate new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities… as well as just being generally smarter!
The next step in a long journey: listen and learn
I am aware that simply restarting the ride and getting to Beijing will be a huge achievement. We remain committed to setting a remarkable new example of what is possible with a cancer diagnosis. Anyone, from any background, is warmly invited to join me on the ride and we will do our best to overcome any challenges that may be present.
And we really do want to be a force for good for diversity, equity, and inclusion… but how? We now also aim to listen and learn.
We have started a dialogue with our charity and sponsor partners about their work in this important area and hope to learn from them and share with you as we do. We have also begun reading and learning about how cancer impacts communities differently, and the disparities in access to treatment and support.
We also would love to open a conversation with you. What can we do to make the expedition, our social media pages, and our core messages feel more inclusive?
I will be sharing some of my own listening and learning through Facing Up, the podcast I launched during lockdown.
In Series 2, which will begin upon the restart of the ride, I plan to further explore these topics with my guests. One of my hopes for this podcast is that it will candidly share the stories of people with different experiences, from different parts of the world, who are facing difficult challenges. I truly hope that it will help to increase our understanding of others. I aim to make it a platform where people can freely speak about the challenges they have faced, including racism and being marginalised, so I, and each listener, can understand a little better the lives and experiences of others.
If you have a story you would like to share on Facing Up, please get in touch at email@example.com.
When it comes to challenging the status quo, there are no clear guidelines, but I believe the worst thing we can do is to do nothing at all. Thus the genesis of this article. My collection of thoughts may not be much but it is hopefully a start to a longer and more meaningful process of learning and change.
I’m pretty far from knowing any of the answers, but I felt it was important to start asking these kinds of questions. We would like to invite you to be part of a cohesive and committed team to make a real, tangible, positive difference. I hope you’ll engage with us to help steer us towards an even higher level of positive impact as we continue to build our community and spread our message in the weeks, months, and – I hope – years ahead.