How would your workplace deal with the behaviour recently witnessed on Celebrity Big Brother? Would the organisation recognise this as racist behaviour or would the response be “it’s not racist to be rude about someone, to call someone names, make it clear you dislike them, or be openly critical of them. It’s not pleasant, it’s immature, and it’s not acceptable but it’s not racist”.
Anyone who is singled out or picked on in this way by an individual or group is likely to wonder why – “is it because I’m black?” If it is because they are black, then it is racist.
How do you prove you are being picked on because of your skin colour or race if the insults don’t make specific reference to this. Former manager Ron Atkinson accused a footballer of being lazy and doubted his parentage but it was the reference to the player’s colour that resulted in him being sacked as a football pundit.
In a workplace, a manager would view this behaviour as bullying or as a personality clash best dealt with by bringing the parties together to get to the bottom of it or by using the next team meeting to give a stern talk about acceptable behaviour at work.
From this, black staff might conclude that the organisation doesn’t recognise racism, some white staff would be confirmed in their view that black staff are too quick to shout racism, managers might feel vulnerable and senior management would wonder why despite their strong personal commitment to equality these things happen.
To change the organisation’s culture or people’s behaviour requires everyone to recognise they have a responsibility for equality and diversity. Front-line staff need to challenge racial stereotypes in their every day dealings with colleagues.
This will require leadership from the top, a safe environment where people feel able to challenge, champions to keep equality and diversity high on the organisation’s agenda and awareness training so that people are sensitive to the issues.
Blair McPherson is director of community services at Lancashire Council