Global, Identity

UK Workplace Racism: Equal Opportunity Offense

The British printed a story which I think could prove groundbreaking in the area of labor law and race relations. A white, British native-born worker has been given the go-ahead to make her case in an Employment Tribunal on claims she was racially harassed by “jokes” insulting black people:

A white woman who claims she was racially harassed by “jokes” insulting black people has won the right to take her case to an Employment Tribunal.
Pat Gravell claims that, despite being white and British, she was harassed by jokes and comments made by colleagues because she found them distressing and offensive.
She says that colleagues sent her texts referring to black people as monkeys, and made offensive references to the mixed-race marriage of comedians Dawn French and Lenny Henry.
According to Gravell, her former employer Bexley Council actively did nothing to stamp out this type of racism; she hopes her claim will force employers to tackle casual racism in their workplace.
A tribunal had originally struck out her claim last September, because it believed that her claim had no reasonable prospect of success.

“Casual racism”. Not to be distinguished from formal, black tie racism, “casual racism” is often sorely overlooked in American society, often referred to as “understandable”, “unavoidable”, or even “natural.” One can also find it defended, with attempts to stamp out usage of racial slurs rendering one branded as a member of the “grammar police” or vigilance against it being deterred in favor of “just letting people be.”
Ms. Gravell was having none of this.

During [her] original claim, Gravell alleged the Council discouraged staff from challenging racist remarks made by their clients, and that a manager told her that the cost of tackling racist behaviour by staff, by sending them on a course, would be “prohibitive”.
An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has now ruled that her case does have merit and that Gravell can proceed with her claim. The EAT said the fact that Gravell is white is not a “killer blow”, and her claim should be judged on its merits.
Bexley Council denies creating an environment in which racism could flourish, and intends to launch a Court of Appeal challenge to the EAT’s ruling.

An environment in which racism could flourish no doubt creates the “uncomfortable” work environment proscribed by EEOC regulations in America — when racism is allowed to flourish, the workplace becomes unfit for all workers. That being said, it is not surprising, in fact it is almost logical, that a white person would be affected. The dearth of claims like this leads me to one of two conclusions — either that one’s privileged status renders the “boat” too comfortable to be “rocked” by a discrimination claim from which one would not benefit, or that people are, en masse desensitized to our fellow humans’ suffering.
Wanting to judge humanity favorably, I’m more inclined to say the former. It is my most sincere hope that claims like Ms. Gravell’s, ken yirbu, are voiced in more and more venues, in the widest, whitest and wiliest of arenas. It is only then that “casual racism” will begin to be taken as seriously as its uglier, more “formal” counterpart.

4 thoughts on “UK Workplace Racism: Equal Opportunity Offense

  1. That’s nice, but you know what would even be nicer? Having THE SAME standard for whites and blacks and all others including racism standards, and say, Hate Crimes.
    Y-Love, why not go the distance and demand that? And remember – in the U.S., we have never tried that. Maybe we should.

  2. I’m really happy to read this – I’ve had a similar experience in my office in which one person keeps making comments about Asians that are just awful – I’ve made it absolutely clear to her that I don’t want to hear her saying this crap, but I’m sure she’s still spewing it elsewhere, and I’ve wished there was more I could do, because it does create a hostile environment for everyone. Good for Ms. Gravell, and I hope her litigation succeeds and sets an important precedent.

  3. I guess I’m confused by DK’s comment insofar as I never realized that “whites” were discriminated against on such a substantial level by non-whites that it needed to be addressed in city/state/federal legislation. Gimme a friggin break!!

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