From the CMP Resolution Blog of John Crawley, Lesley Allport and Katherine Graham.
Business in the Community’s challenging and inspiring report ‘Aspiration and Frustration’ opens with a reminder how resistant racism is to change, and how it reduces engagement and fragments identity and commitment at work.
Outwardly the world of work has changed enormously since the 70’s but it is in the internal life of every one of us that racism persists, and it is a difficult habit to lose. In my early years (the 50’s and 60’s) savagely routine jokes about black people, images of colonial life in comics and text books were commonplace. Black people were not. There was no opportunity to experience black people for real, even in North London, so my stereotypes and the messages that go with them were grounded in ignorance and assumptions that had become part of the ‘we’re Great Britain’ way of life. ‘I’m white so I’m right’ was the norm in my normal working class family.
It is almost impossible to shake off completely the inner reflex responses that accompany such routine ignorance – I still get a strong impulse to cross the road if I see a group of young black males on the street, inwardly flinch at the street language I don’t get, or massive overcompensate and get a strong urge to befriend any black person I see who appears to be new in town, or on their own. I’ve deconstructed my white guilt, my responses are becoming more measured and more congruent. How are you around racism at work?
My life and work has given me the opportunity to build my knowledge and understanding of people different to me. My ignorance is reducing, and as it does reflex responses have moderated to enable me to see the person not the race. As a mediator I encourage people to talk about racism, what it means to experience it, what’s it’s like to be accused of it. We’ve got a lot of work to do to build non-racist workplaces. It’s in this dialogue that our hopes at work lie. Too often we are fearful of exchanging perspectives on racism. I am racist, but I’m working on it. Let me know what you think?
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