I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Engagement recently, thinking it’s time to challenge a few of our ‘accepted’ D&I principles. I’ve slowly been coming to the conclusion that in this PC world of ours not enough challenging is going on about the essence of people, the essence of who we are, and how we deal with that when leading diversity initiatives.
Whilst joking over a friendly dinner recently, the topic at the time being the French, a friend turned to another at the table and said, ‘you’re a racist’.
He mentioned the comment a few weeks later. It had clearly been a punch that landed, and he didn’t like it and didn’t feel comfortable.
In fact, being called a racist in this day and age is probably, for most, a significant sleight on their integrity, professionalism, fair mindedness, their character. If someone asked you today if you are a racist what would you reply? I’m guessing 99.9% of the population would give a big fat “No”.
Of course, you’d say no because if you say yes, you’re a horrible, uneducated, unprofessional, nasty, dinosaur-like person who deserves to be hounded out of your job. Persona non grata in this modern diverse world.
But what if I tell you that we’re all racist? Like it or not, 99.99% of us, at least from my observations across 5 decades, are racist.
A definition of racism
Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.
A big question of course is whether racism is about actual prejudice/discrimination or perceived prejudice/discrimination. Is it how you act and what you say or is it about how others see your behaviour and interpret your words? As many of you will know, most grievances and employment tribunal claims are raised as a result of perceptions, rather reality.
In terms of actual prejudice, take me to any country in the world and there I can guarantee you the population will have some races that they admire/respect and other races that they sneer at or otherwise consider lesser than their own.
From Japan, to South Africa, Malaysia, Australia, Saudi, Canada, Argentina, Germany, France and Iceland, and from colour of skin differences, ethnicity, nationality, language spoken etc. there is racism … prejudice, discrimination or antagonism based on the belief that we/I are superior to you.
Interestingly of course the more we are educated/indoctrinated to be proud of who we are, our own country etc. there will inevitably be a sense created that we, as a result, are superior and others as a consequence are lesser. And that in turn renders it highly likely that we will either consciously or unconsciously have a degree of prejudice or antagonism towards those who we view as ‘lesser’.
When chasing the non-payment of an invoice several years ago, the CEO eventually contacted me to apologise for the non-payment saying that her US finance team had unilaterally decided that a UK company simply didn’t need to be paid, we were irrelevant!
And it is this learned superiority (wherever you are based in the world) that then so often evokes a response in others that is discriminatory or antagonistic. The greater the sense of superiority we have or are perceived to have, the more others will be inclined to dislike, or even say they hate us. Ever wondered what the rest of the world feels when we say we are from GREAT Britain? If we all ourselves GREAT, what does that say about how we probably perceive others not from this territory?
America is the greatest
Whilst walking out of a music festival recently in the US the crowd spontaneously burst into song, the US national anthem being their song of choice. The noisy crowd roared the words out, some with hand or hat clasped to their chest, America is the greatest was the theme. In fact, one of the music artists has just been telling the 50,000 attendees that America is the greatest.
So how did that feel as an English person? Pretty intimidating if I’m honest! Their sense of superiority (which I grant every national anthem is designed to portray) bringing out a bizarre negative reaction in me. Presumably my defensive mechanism roaring into action to refute the fact that what they were in fact saying is that I, as someone from the UK, is lesser. If you say you are greater or the greatest then, by default, you must view me as ‘lesser’ or inconsequential.
In the same way every time the SNP in Scotland announces it wants another vote to disengage itself from England, again what I hear as an English person is that the SNP Scots feel superior and as a result they view me as ‘lesser’ or not wanted in their world. It doesn’t matter if that’s not what they intend, but it’s how I feel, however much I try to rationalise it away.
And staying on the theme of what can suggest to us that another person feels superior, even our clothing can alienate. “I wear this (e.g. a religious garment of some sort) which makes me feel morally superior to you” or “my identify is reflected through my clothing and in so doing I choose to set myself apart from you”. Reflecting on this I think that what goes on in our brains is that the greater their sense of identity as expressed through their clothing, the greater my perception might be that they think their way is best, and in consequence, superior to my way. Not always the case of course as clothing, if looked at from the other side of the coin, can be perceived as identifying someone as inferior to us too.
And faced with others who we might think are making moral and other judgements about us, you’ve got to have a pretty strong constitution not to feel rebuffed or treated as lesser. In fact, many nationalities and religions overtly tell their citizens/followers that all other people are ‘lesser’. Just last week at a dinner a Catholic told a self-declared atheist that they would ‘burn in hell’ for their lack of religious belief. Pretty strong sense of religious superiority she showed!
But none of my reactions when I’m confronted with patriotic boasting or exclusionary activities when I’m at home or travelling means that I am less or more racist than anyone else. I believe we are all racist, with just a very few exceptions and those are people who in my experience, are very well travelled (and who actually take the time to really see the world around them), humble in outlook and totally comfortable in their own skin.
Are Brexiteers all racist?
The brow beaters who claim Brexiteers are all racist have singularly failed to establish which races Brexiteers dislike or are antagonistic towards. Last time I checked there are 27 countries within the EU (50 in Europe as a whole) and that’s a lot of different races, especially as nationality discrimination is included within the definition of race. It also fails to address the fact that many Remainers are just as racist both in respect of those within the EU and those living further afield such as in Saudi, Russia, China, or South Africa.
So, my view is that we are all racist. Like it or not, pretty much, all of us are racist. If so, it’s time to stop hurling the Racist allegation around. Time instead to start educating ourselves and our employees and through improved knowledge and understanding of others, slowly begin to create a workplace environment that is less judgemental and far more tolerant.
Any thoughts? Ideas? Please share in the box below …
This is a personal blog written by Helen Jamieson. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Jaluch Ltd. The views and opinions posted in response to this blog are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily represent those of Helen Jamieson or Jaluch Ltd. Jaluch Ltd is not responsible for the accuracy of the information within this blog.