BiCon Anti-Racism Review 2020 – the write-up

Note from Jennifer: Putting this together took longer than we thought! (as usual haha) So in the interest of letting people read it before the meeting, I'm publishing a draft of the MAIN BIT now. There are 3 appendix sections yet to come when I can finish them: current learning opportunities, backstory timeline, and an itemised comparison of tasks and progress. We may also slightly update this main bit in future.

On this page:

What this is / meeting info
Summary
Cycles of anti-racist initiatives
What BiCon racism looks like day to day
Cultural appropriation
Erosion of trust
Recent initiatives, BiCon 2019 to BiCon 2020 and after
Code of Conduct, and applying it
BiCon Guidelines
Recommendations for future organisers of BiCon and similar things
Other than organising a BiCon
Structural factors

What this is / meeting info

BiCon is the UK bisexuality conference/convention, a mostly-residential gathering once a year in the summer.

BiCon 2019 voted to take some actions on anti-racism, and to review after a year. This write-up is part of that review process.

We shall also have an online meeting to talk about this and what next.

  • Sunday 22 November 2020, 2.30pm

  • Open to all interested people!

  • Free tickets available via Eventbrite.

Summary

  • BiCon as an organisation is systemically racist.1 Power dynamics favour white participants, keep the system as it is, and prevent addressing harm.

  • BiCon has been going through cycles of anti-racist initiatives that aren't sustained long-term.

  • There is good stuff going on at the moment – but so far, it could be just another one of those cycles. What's going to be different this time?

  • Organising teams don't always respond adequately/consistently to problems; this also means people are less likely to report in future.

  • The lack of care, consistency and progress has eroded trust from people of colour, even while some PoC continue to get value from participating.

  • Racism can be subtle patterns, not only obviously horrible things. White people must learn to recognise and address it, not wait for people of colour to point it out.

  • Some white people around BiCon have only a beginner or nonexistent understanding of racism & anti-racism.

  • There are many practical things which can be done to make things better for bi people of colour. We list some specifics, both for people organising BiCons and for people wondering what else they can do.

  • Being able to sustain those good practices has implications for the structure of how BiCon is organised – e.g. people, teams, energy, training, prioritisation. Treating anti-racism as a wishlist or add-on won't work.

Cycles of anti-racist initiatives

Looking at the backstory timeline (see appendix), we can see several pushes to start or re-start anti-racist work, and several different things tried (such as workshops on anti-racism, discounted admission for people of colour, etc). It isn't that nothing's been done; it's more that pieces are done, while not adding up to fundamental change.

The cycle plays out over a timespan of a few years:

  1. Someone – usually a person of colour – flags up that BiCon is still racist.

  2. Organisers try to do a good thing, or ensure a bad thing doesn't happen.

  3. Progress is visible for that year.

  4. Same progress is possibly visible for another year or two.

  5. An incoming team lets the improvement lapse, perhaps because a key person moved on or the team was overloaded that year.

  6. Cycle repeats.

How do we know that this review isn't part of another of those cycles?

What will be different in future to ensure that this information is remembered and built upon?

(More on this in the section on structure.)

What BiCon racism looks like day to day

Content note / trigger warning: numerous stories of racism & excuses. White people please read this section to understand; people of colour may like to skip to next section.

Mainstream culture tends to present racism as only the most obvious examples, like someone being called an obviously racist word in a hostile tone. The kind of racism which happens at BiCon is more about subtler incidents adding up over time, plus a pattern of "explaining away", minimising or excusing.

Examples…

  1. Relating to someone as a novelty / fascination:

    (bold text in all of these is added for ease of reading)

    At Bicon in 2019 I experienced a microaggression where someone I met in a workshop later tried to practice their Chinese on me during the evening event. I didn't feel like it was worth mentioning to any organisers because I got used to brushing such things off and I guess he was well-intentioned enough. But later on it did make me think that feeling excluded from a space can be caused by subtle and seemingly well-meaning things. No one else around me at the time told him to stop it either. I guess nobody spotted it as a microaggression. I ignored him for the rest of Bicon and he got the point eventually.

    I guess I am saying this to point out that not all actions which make people feel like they don't belong are obvious or even seem that rude on the surface. I didn't even feel bad about it initially, only later on I realised that it was a moment in which I realised that I was a novelty in that space, pointed out because I didn't belong.

    … It's not always hate, sometimes it's just a bit too much fascination.

    – Review contributor of colour

  2. Treating someone as defined primarily by their race, "making a thing of" their race:

    Discussion of dressing up – someone chipping in to tell a Black person "you could come as an African Queen".

    – White review contributor

  3. Responding with ideas of why something maybe "wasn't racism", not believing people of colour:

    Example given to us of PoC being stopped by campus security several times. They weren't doing anything wrong and it was clearly based on the security people being suspicious of PoC – racial profiling. However, when they reported this to the BiCon team, the team members started looking for alternative interpretations – maybe they weren't showing their badges? maybe they were in the wrong area? neither of which was the case.

  4. Nosey questions based on people's appearance:

    Inappropriate questions about any dress that isn't perceived to be standard is very common. Some BME people may feel comfortable with explaining their outfits to curious white bisexuals, whereas others get sick of it very quickly. Honest enquiry may be fine, but the constant questions can often feel like BME people have to verify that they are in the right place, to prove they are indeed bisexuals and not interlopers. This is something rarely experienced by white bisexual people, especially as questions about clothing are usually followed up by 'Where are you from? I mean really from?'

    – Jacq Applebee, writing in Purple Prose, 2016 (about bi spaces in general)

  5. An objectifying/exoticising comment being dismissed by team members as just based on "curiosity"

  6. Excuses based on how BiCon runs:

    In my feedback on BiCon 2017, I brought up the issue of the Home Office being invited to run a stall on the same day of a session on bi+ asylum seekers. The Bis of Colour session was that day as well. Considering the Home Office's record of racism and biphobia, I felt it was deeply inappropriate to have them there and made the space unwelcoming for POC. However, the excuse made for no action being taken on feedback was that 'it's a different team of organisers every year'. This is a way of BiCon continuing to avoid accountability for mistakes made in the past, and having things continue as they are.

    – Review contributor of colour

  7. White organisers not thinking through how something could come over:

    BiCon 2010 named the rooms after countries which had passed "equal marriage" laws. But this ended up with them all named after majority-white countries.

    – White review contributor

  8. Talking as though BiCon's better than it really is:

    I think the nadir came years back when a photo of a few Bicon attendees (including a single BME person) was published with a caption championing our "racial diversity" or suchlike. It certainly did not go down well with one or two people I spoke to, and I can understand why.

    – White review contributor

  9. White participant mistakenly thinking that anti-racist initiatives are racist:

    I would like to say that I am quite reluctant to participate in the anti-racism training sessions, based on what I read about it beforehand. …

    In various places where the anti-racism training is mentioned, it is said that if you're Black (or BME, or maybe some other specific term was used), it isn't for you. Let's be captain obvious here: that is making a distinction based on skin colour, i.e. racist.

    – White review contributor

    This echoes the 2010 decision-making plenary, noted in the timeline in appendix B, where some white people questioned having "safer space" sessions at BiCon for marginalised groups. Doing something to counteract oppression isn't racist.2

    (For background, this is an over-simplification of the team's approach to promoting the training sessions. The point was that the training was going to be at a beginner level of anti-racist awareness, and PoC have "lived experience" of racism and therefore don't need that beginner level. As a point of fact, PoC are/were welcome to come to the training sessions – and some have.)

One contributor observed:

The question needs to be 'in what ways is BiCon excluding POC?' rather than 'what can BiCon do to be inclusive of POC?'.

– Review contributor of colour

Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation has been described as

when people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalized group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalized people.3

For example, it could include taking something out of its sacred or significant context, or making financial profit which primarily benefits yourself and not the original community.

That short description can't fully explain the nuances of it. Here are some resources:

From the point of view of bi people of colour, cultural appropriation has been a noticeable and painful part of BiCon's racism:

Hippy or New Age outfits that involve a white person wearing a bindi or sporting dreadlocks may also be offensive, as both of these are religious and cultural items to many BME people. Cultural appropriation is an issue that is often faced in many white-dominated alternative spaces; bisexual spaces in the UK are no exception.

– Jacq Applebee, writing in Purple Prose, 2016 (about bi spaces in general)

The theme we picked up from white people was more like wanting rules or explanations of why one thing was and another wasn't.

I have to question how [specific example] can be in any way considered cultural appropriation.

– White review contributor

We need people to develop their understanding of cultural appropriation, rather than coming from "what am I allowed to do?"

[Name] seemed to want there to be a list of what's OK, and that isn't the way it works.

– White review contributor

Erosion of trust

After years of racism, pain, excuses and dismissals, some participants of colour now have no trust in BiCon as a whole or its organisers.

We received no comments from PoC that they had a high level of trust in organisers to respond well to a report of racism; where mentioned, it was none or middling.

Some key factors we identified in destroying trust:

  1. Poor responses to specific incidents – leading to people deciding not to bother reporting at all in future.

  2. A sense of some people being more valued or believed than others:

    • cis people more than trans people

    • white people more than people of colour

    • "regulars" and organisers more than newcomers.

    People didn't trust that they'd necessarily get a fair hearing, especially if the person who'd crossed a line (or skated close to it) was a long-time contributor, or part of organiser friendship networks. Even if this were only a perception with no reflection in reality, it would still be a problem, because it's likely to deter reporting.

    Someone who's behaved badly, and complaints haven't been made because of who they are. If you're a big-name person, or hold a lot of social capital, you can get away with more than other people.

    – Review contributor of colour

  3. The repetitive cycle of "claim to be listening, try to do something about racism, nothing much changes".

    … the issues have been brought up repeatedly over the past 10+ years without any real action being taken.

    – Review contributor of colour

    We are told to appreciate that Bicon 'is run by volunteers'. We are told that it takes a lot to organise an event. We are told that organisers get burnt out. We are told that it is a structural issue. … At the end of the day, all those things we are told are white excuses for racial bias.

    – @Angreebindii, on the Bi's of Colour blog, September 2017 (and see related longer quote in the timeline appendix)

    I first went 17 years ago. Any 'progress' in that time has been forced by the blood, sweat and tears of BIPoC Bi's.

    – Nila K, on the Bi's of Colour blog, June 2020

Recent initiatives, BiCon 2019 to BiCon 2020 and after

What's been happening recently?

  • All session leaders of colour at BiCon 2020 were paid, as were two DJs contributing to the entertainments.

  • BiCon 2020 had two sessions of anti-racism training, 25 participants each. Each session was two hours including a half-time break, led by Titilayo and Navan from the Anti-Racist Educator collective.

    I really appreciate the anti racism training. The only thing is that there is never enough time to go over all the subtleties of the subject! It is so hard to make others understand our lived experiences when they don't experience it. Particularly in the subtle things that I described in what I wrote earlier.

    – Review contributor of colour

    The training has run again twice since BiCon, bringing the total participants to 92.

  • The two trainings at BiCon were initially funded by the Equality Network. Participants have been asked to contribute £10 if they can afford it, to sustain a pot of money for future similar things.

  • A video was made of one of the training sessions at BiCon. This video is now captioned, and available to people who, for access reasons, can't make it to a live-in-real-time session.

  • In the run-up to BiCon 2020, there was discussion of a possible new rule: that in future, before booking for the accommodation at BiCon, you'd have to show you'd taken part in an anti-racism training session, or equivalent. However, at present it's only a suggestion, not formally adopted by future BiCon teams. (There is a consensus that people should be asked to start educating themselves in some way before they arrive.)

  • Following the vote at BiCon 2019, an anti-racism working group was formed, linked specifically to BiCon. Its main energies went into seeking grant funding from two different places, but neither application was successful. The group gave a report to BiCon 2020, and has now wound up.

    The grant applications were about subsidising PoC participation and paying PoC advisors. Anyone who's working on similar grant applications, and would find it useful to see these ones, please contact Elizabeth via BiCon Continuity.

    Over the year, it emerged that some other people had thought of joining the working group, but had decided not to, because of disliking the politics or approach of one or more people in the original group. The group was criticised for leaving that situation unaddressed: e.g. it could have divided into subgroups to work on different tasks, so that if one person doesn't fancy working with another, they can both contribute in different ways.

  • In the summer of 2020, around the same time as the anti-racism training was being planned, Blake set up a "white affinity group", online: "a meetup for white people to grow our understanding of how white supremacy shapes our lives and work through the feelings which hold us back from being better allies." This was suggested by Yas Lime, a Brown bi person, who recommended resources to guide the group. It's met roughly fortnightly, with participant numbers varying from 2 to around 20.

  • BiCon 2020's organisers turned down an offered session which was seen as potentially cultural appropriation.

  • Some of the people who've done the anti-racism training have been inventing follow-up events of various kinds. See the appendix on current learning opportunities.

Code of Conduct, and applying it

What hasn't yet seen progress, or not much?

Among the key things named by @Angreebindii in 2017 was

a stronger decolonised code of conduct

This has not yet happened, and would be a prime candidate for paying for advice from people of colour.

@Angreebindii's next point was:

the proper enforcement of the code of conduct

As to how that stands, here's an outline and some analysis from Natalya, a many-time BiCon organiser and former Trustee of BiCon Continuity. In recent years, Natalya has been a key person for Code of Conduct stuff. (Divided into topics for ease of reference.)

  1. Long-term record-keeping:

    We do need a BiCon record of conduct issues that goes back a long time.

    Some people who are warned for misconduct will stop coming to BiCon for many years. They then return years later (sometimes using a different name – but often recognised by a few people). If they misbehave again, their history may not be known to the current conduct team. When the team has access to this information, they would often apply stronger or more clear "permanent banning" style sanctions.

    Conversely, the more people who know about something, the less likely it is to stay confidential. I know of at least one or two instances where a BiCon team member has had access to conduct information who then shared it inappropriately. When volunteer organisers are part of the same community as people whose details are recorded, it's challenging to find a balance between restriction and necessary access.

    Continuity may not be the best organisation to hold centralised information, for a range of reasons.

  2. Structures, training, and the difficulty of challenging powerful people in a small community:

    I have to be honest and say that perpetrators of misconduct have not always been challenged appropriately or quickly enough, wholly or partly because of their position of power or association with someone in power.

    There are a range of reasons for that, including:

    • denial of the problem

    • fear of the perpetrator

    • lack of clear guidance and planning in advance for how to deal with conflicts of interest ethically and appropriately.

    Conduct management at BiCons is still too ad-hoc. I have tried to do bits and pieces of formalisation as an organiser and continuity trustee, but I have failed to embed the idea of "training around conduct management" into the wider community.

    Realistically, anyone handling conduct needs training in

    • taking reports sensitively

    • making inquiries

    • how to analyse an unexpected issue

    • dealing with perpetrators, e.g. warning people, sanctioning people

    • understanding why we've not made it safe enough for people to make reports.

    We also need clear policies for when someone has to step back from involvement because they can't be impartial, or wouldn't be seen as impartial: for example, if an organising team member or conduct team member themselves is accused of misconduct.

    It is very clear more needs to be done, and I'd welcome constructive discussion on making this a lot better. I would like future conduct-management volunteers to have a less ropey introduction to it than I did.

  3. The legal side:

    There are legitimate Data Protection concerns around how we talk about people who are accused of misconduct at BiCons. Even anonymised, some people can be identifiable to others.

    This has legal implications. I know of at least two people accused of misconduct who have reacted by making quite scary written legal threats against BiCon around information sharing.

    There have been people in the past who were unhappy that details of their reported-misconduct and sanctions were passed from one BiCon team to another. In the past, this was not made clear in the Code of Conduct, and possibly some of the warnings.

    In 2018, the BiCon team and Continuity worked with a member of the community who was his work's Data Protection Officer, to draft a GDPR-compliant BiCon privacy policy. This can be found on 2018 and 2019's websites. It was carefully written to say that misconduct allegation information can be shared using the "legitimate purposes" element of Data Protection Act 2018 legislation.

    The Code of Conduct has largely been updated to reflect organisers' right to pass information on, and I have worked with teams to make sure warnings are clearer about likely information sharing, where possible.

    BiCon teams and Continuity still have to be careful about any information sharing, and make sure they document their reasoning so they can provide justification in the event of a formal or legal complaint.

    [See quote from Privacy Statement in footnote: 4]

  4. Conduct standards & processes must be "owned" by the community as a whole:

    Beyond legal data protection issues, though, I think the wider BiCon community needs to have a serious in-person discussion about Conduct. This discussion needs to include how allegations are handled and how allegation-information (about individuals) is shared, as well as how to make people feel safer to report misconduct.

    I believe the wider BiCon community needs to be "on-side", because conduct management is as much a social contract as a formal or legal one.

    In the past, BiCon organisers have received considerable flak from some parts of the community for trying to manage misconduct. There need to be conversations about what can and cannot be managed within a BiCon setting.

    Conduct teams try hard to "get to the truth" but sometimes a sanction has to be applied to someone who denies behaving badly. BiCons do not have the resources of police, courts, etc (and we know they don't work either) so have to do the best possible with limited time and resources – and an aim to keep other people safe and secure.

    A question I'd like to ask people is, "How would you feel if you were sanctioned for an allegation you felt was untrue?".

  5. What makes people feel safe enough to report?

    There is also a lot more work needed to be done to make people feel safe and able to report conduct issues in general, especially racism issues.

    There are things organisers can do.

    For example, at BiCon 2018, the team had a conduct report HOW-TO sheet at the registration desk for desk volunteers to follow. This sheet explicitly acknowledged BiCon's historic failings around racism and told desk volunteers some ways to ensure they took reports of racism carefully and sensitively.

    A few People of Colour noticed this, and told the team that they found this helpful and reassuring.

    I am sure there are other things simple and less-simple that teams could do on this matter. Again, worth discussing with the wider community to make it a community problem to be solved together.

    See also the point on paying PoC to be on listening teams, in the section with recommendations for BiCon organisers.

  6. The flow of information:

    Sometimes there can be an assumption that if something has been raised somewhere (on social media for example) that the team know about the issue and are choosing to ignore it.

    The most helpful thing anyone can do is to alert the organising team to any issues that come up, so they can respond appropriately.

    At BiCon 2017, I was told about some reports online about racism, that the team did not know until someone told them (I can't remember if it was me who told them or not).

    Once the team knew, they quickly posted to BiCon's social media channels with a strongly worded message, naming the racist behaviour and telling people to stop doing it. They also invited anyone who did not understand the issue, to talk to team who would take the time to explain it (I doubt anyone took this up).

    To the best of mine and 2017's knowledge, that specific behaviour stopped. But it might not have done! We may just not know.

    Also, the wider issue that led to the racist behaviour happening is still prevalent in the community – which is one reason this anti-racist work is so important to engage with.


BiCon Guidelines

The BiCon Guidelines form a framework for setting expectations between BiCon teams and the wider community.

The idea is that if you offer to run a BiCon, either you do what they describe, or you say up-front that you're not going to do that bit.

That way, organisers can't unilaterally decide to ditch important bits (such as having cheaper tickets for people with less money). If new teams want to do something differently, and that area was perceived as important enough to be in the Guidelines, then the team has to ask the community up-front first. This optional stage would happen before that team is "officially" approved to run that BiCon.

This means that the BiCon Guidelines are (in theory at least) a key structure for ensuring that important things don't get forgotten.

It's not yet clear to us exactly what needs to be added to the Guidelines, or changed in the Guidelines, to lock in the commitments on anti-racism.

We think that a possible good next step after the meeting is for some people to start talking about this.

Meanwhile, we have gathered a lot of practical recommendations for BiCon organisers (and there could be more!)…

Recommendations for future organisers of BiCon and similar things

(Not in order of importance, just numbered for ease of talking about)

  1. Always have at least one session for people of colour only.

    I always look forward to the Bis of Colour space each year where we can talk amongst ourselves about how life and Bicon is going that year 🙂

  2. Think about schedule clash implications:

    Don't schedule two "safe space" sessions at the same time. For example, don't schedule the Bi's of Colour session at the same time as the trans people's session.

  3. Invite PoC as contributors in a variety of programming that isn't specifically about race.

    It's important that there is a Bis of Colour space every year. However, there needs to be space for POC to run sessions where race/racism isn't the subject and they're not expected to talk about race. It's tiring for POC to talk about and think about race all the time, and we do want to discuss other things too.

    An example of a conference that got this right was the UK Asexuality Conference I went to in September. There was a POC panel as well as POC speaking on other panels (aces in fiction, research, aces and mental health). The participants were able to talk about other subjects related to the asexual spectrum without being expected to primarily talk about race. I feel the reason the conference got the balance right was because of the involvement of Yasmin Benoit (a Black asexual activist).

    POC want to have a good time at BiCon too!

  4. Put BiCon in a geographical area where a lot of people of colour live:

    One thing that could be considered is the location of BiCon – I've noticed that there are more attendees of colour when BiCon is in or near a major city. A town or city that's seen to have fewer communities of colour may give the impression to attendees that a BiCon hosted there will be a predominantly white one.

  5. Make it easy for new bi PoC to dip in, low stakes:

    Day tickets for local first timers free or cheap on the day the Bi's of Colour session is happening. And advertise which day that session will be. It means people can try it out without spending much money, and they know they will definitely meet other bi people of colour.

    (Note that London BiFest has been free admission for PoC since 2018.)

  6. Run some BiFests for PoC:

    Hold all-POC events – mini/regional bicons … There absolutely can and should be BiCon resources put into closed POC spaces.

  7. Financial access is key for many PoC. More publicity for the access fund…

    Flag up financial help.

    … and more consistency with it:

    There needs to be more consistency with the access fund – this needs to be available every year.

    One PoC contributor commented:

    Also, it needs to be optional for POC to apply to [the access fund] – there are some POC who can afford to pay the full ticket price.

    Another suggested proactively offering financial help to PoC at the time of registration:

    Supposing they've self-declared band C, proactively offer band B – ask "would this help?"

  8. If someone is racially harassed at BiCon:

    (a) offer to refund their ticket.

    (b) make known publicly that there's been an incident, even if the person doesn't want any details shared:

    this must also be advertised, or put somewhere for people to see – it could help for people to come forward.

  9. Outreach to local groups & communities:

    Go into local bi/queer BPoc communities a year in advance / as soon as location is decided, to build local connections and ensure that local communities know what's coming up and how to get involved.

  10. Outreach to national groups, such as Black Pride and LGBTQ faith groups:

    For example Imaan, Sarbat and Keshet

  11. Outreach and publicity in adjacent cities:

    If you can't afford to be out where you live, sometimes it's less scary to travel to the next city and go to something there.

  12. Listening team at BiCon:

    I was thinking with the listeners team each year that it could be good to have someone specifically there to speak to about racism issues.

    Our recommendation is that two people of colour be paid to be part of the listening team at each BiCon, so that (as with this review), if a PoC requests listening – especially if they need to flag up something racist – they can choose to talk with a fellow PoC. Further consultation would be needed about what exactly the role would be of those two people, what support they might offer to someone who'd been harassed, what support or training would be provided for them in turn, etc.

Other than organising a BiCon

What can you do that isn't organising a BiCon?

  1. Take responsibility for your own learning about anti-racism, and encourage others to do the same.

    It's important for white people to educate themselves (even by googling) rather than expecting PoC to do it.

    – Review contributor of colour

    Racism isn't something that people of colour need to take a shovel and dig themselves out of, by themselves.

    – Review contributor of colour

    For people wanting more than articles, books and videos, some BiCon-community learning meetups already exist. Or you could suggest a meetup of a different kind and see if anyone else wants to join in.

  2. Think ahead to how you'd handle it if someone picks up on something racist you did or said. Would you feel you knew how to respond? Would you be so knocked off balance that it becomes "all about you"? Who's in your life that you could talk it through with?

    It's normal to feel uneasy or vulnerable in conversations about potential racism you've committed – but it's worth developing your ability to receive & respond to that kind of criticism. Remember that in that moment, the harm you may have done to someone else is more important than how you're feeling. (You can have all the feelings later, of course!)

    When you know you can cope with making mistakes, it can give you more confidence to speak up when someone needs to speak up.

  3. Might you have access to resources that could be useful to the group Bi's of Colour?

    Wishlist at the moment:

    • Accessible meeting rooms around the country, at a good price (for when there isn't an epidemic).

    • Free or discounted printing, e.g. for leaflets.

    • Money is always useful.

  4. If you don't want to organise a BiCon or be officially on a team, but you do want BiCon to continue existing, could you take on a small task? (This is of course dependent on teams making tasks known.)

  5. You could follow the social media of PoC-led groups local to you (LGBT-specific or not – bi people of colour are everywhere). You could amplify what they're doing & what they need, and see if there's anything practical which you might be able to offer. You could make sure your local networks know about the existence of the group Bi's of Colour.

Structural factors

It's not acceptable to use BiCon's limitations as an excuse for racism to continue. Yet the way BiCon runs does have implications for volunteer energy, and for the ability to learn year-on-year.

Instead of using that fact to excuse problems continuing, we need to identify what structural changes would be needed to put BiCon in a position to improve.

As we (Titi, Asha and Jennifer) discussed the input to the review, it seemed clear to us that progress on anti-racism is interlinked with the health of BiCon organisation overall. A wishlist of anti-racist moves "only goes so far"; then people have to make it happen.

Volunteer energy: BiCon 2020 got to BiCon weekend on its third group of organisers (two sets having dropped out mid-year for different reasons). The current 2021 team stepped up at short notice to replace a team which dropped out, and itself could currently do with more people. This contrasts with a more thriving BiCon of 10 to 15 years ago, when it wouldn't have been unusual to have team leaders and most of a team in place two years ahead, with bookings for the next BiCon opening at the current one or soon after.5

A lot on a few people's shoulders: Looking back over the last 10 years of anti-racism efforts, the same few names recur as having run workshops or pushed things forward. When this happens, it's a kind of weakness, in that one person stepping back can leave a big gap.

Pre-Internet traditions: Some of how BiCon runs is inherited from a long time ago – before we had the internet, when teams were much more likely to all live in the same town.

Kate, one of the organisers of BiCon 2020, had made some structure-related suggestions in an explanation brought to the BiCon 2020 Decision-Making Plenary:

When I realised this year that Bicon keeps making racist errors (from Bi's of colour statement/published on website June 2020), I reflected a lot about why this might be. I could find 2 main areas. Firstly, attendee mistakes, and secondly larger organiser mistakes.

The structure of bicon teams is in and of itself enabling racist mistakes by having yearly teams, (who are often new to organising Bicons or new to the roles), take sole responsibility and 'carry the can' for everything. At the end of the year they are usually burnt out and run away, often without doing the accounts or a handover to the next year or similar things. It's a hard gig! …

  1. An end to yearly teams, people staying around for longer periods of time and tasks broken up smaller and more visibly to encourage people to participate for longer periods of time. Listing several years tasks on the board with names and accountability to encourage learning across the years.

  2. More transparency to be enforced in the 'guidelines' for organisers – (who is doing what, when, why etc?) including set up of a public task board where people can see these things progress (or not) and offer to pick up the baton where needed.

  3. A conduct team set up who span lots of different years and whom the organisers yearly teams are also accountable to

  4. Better restorative justice/community culture of learning system in place – including exploring accountability for things which could happen outside bicon time

  5. Mandatory anti racism training for all attendees we know of in advance (taking into account previous experiences or access issues etc).

  6. Transparency of structure of Bi Continuity, how it relates to Bicon and where/when it influences. Who has the money/why/how does the community access it etc.

While these might not be the exact points taken forward, we agree that these are the kinds of questions the BiCon community needs to be thinking about. It's hard to keep up momentum on the work of anti-racism when the whole organisation is tending to "burn out" its volunteers.


A few footnotes…

1.
"Systemically racist". Here's a brief explanation from Wikipedia:

Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, is a form of racism that is embedded as normal practice within society or an organization. …

The term institutional racism was first coined in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Carmichael and Hamilton wrote that while individual racism is often identifiable because of its overt nature, institutional racism is less perceptible because of its "less overt, far more subtle" nature. Institutional racism "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism]".

2.
"Isn't racist": It's common for white people to be operating from a wayyy oversimplified, unhelpful, basically wrong definition of "racism", which is something like "any acknowledgement of racialised categories" or "any action which takes into account racialised categories". However, if you're trying to be anti-racist, your understanding of racism needs to take into account power, not only categories and labels.

3.
Description of cultural appropriation: From 5 Things You Don't Realize When You Defend Cultural Appropriation, by Maisha Z Johnson (also linked to as a resource from the main text).

4.
Quote from BiCon Privacy Statement 2019:

To attend BiCon, you have to agree to abide by the Code of Conduct. If you breach the Code of Conduct, you may be given a warning, or you may be asked to leave the event.

If this happens, we may pass on details about you and your breach of the Code of Conduct to the organising teams for future BiCon events, and to BiCon Continuity Ltd (the organisation that protects BiCon's money and reputation). They may use this information to decide whether you should be asked to leave future BiCon events, or be refused entry to them. If we are doing this, we will tell you in writing, and will tell you how you may object to and/or appeal against this.

5.
"Two years ahead": The 2007 DMP minutes even name team leaders for three years ahead, 2010 being the international BiCon which had more of a run-up.