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September 16, 2020

Racism in the Workplace and BLM: Our First Conversation

Jeffrey Oshinyemi

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Have you ever had a conversation about racism in the workplace? Perhaps you really want to, but you're worried about the reaction you'll get. Or maybe you're tired of explaining yourself and bored of the whole thing.

Racism in the Workplace

In this video, three of our U.K.-based colleagues – Esh Jugal, Jeffrey Oshinyemi and Sai Cook – come together to chat about racism in the workplace, the Black Lives Matter movement, and their own personal experiences of racial inequality and discrimination.

They discuss:

  • How George Floyd's death and the events that followed have affected their lives and the world around them.
  • Their own experiences of racism inside and outside the workplace.
  • How they approach conversations about racism and microaggressions.

Watch the full video here:

"I Don't Want to Ruin the Vibe"

In this transcript extract, Esh Jugal, Client Experience Partner at Emerald Works, describes one particular experience outside of work that has stayed with him:

Esh: Me and Aarti, my wife, we went to Cyprus a month after we got married. So pretty much like our honeymoon. We went for like six or seven nights. And we went on this excursion with the hotel group. There was a group of us. We spent a day with all these people.

But there was a couple there that were probably I think 50 years old or something. And I'll never forget them. Their names were Phil and Debs... Debbie. And we were talking to them throughout the day, you know, having a good time. And we had lunch with them, had some wine with them.

And as they were getting to know us, getting to know each other, they said, "Oh, you know, what are you into?" There was music playing and stuff. We went to someone's place to have lunch. Music playing. And I was like, "I can't really get myself into this in regards to, like, dancing. I don't know how to move to this." And they were like, "Oh, what are you into?"

And I was like, "I like more R&B and hip hop." And then, all of a sudden, Phil was like, "Oh really!" [Mimics dancing with hands.] All that kind of stuff. And then I was like, oh my god. And then, you know, it's just one of those stereotype things.

So every single time he spoke to me after that moment he would keep making the stereotype comments. Just because I'm into R&B and hip hop. And, as if everyone that listens to R&B and hip hop is like that. Or should be like that. And so he would start making references. Like, you know, trying to be hip and stuff like that.

And he kept making comments. And they were kind of like microaggressions. I mean the thing is, he was really funny. And I, at that point, sort of took it as light "banter." And I thought, "Oh, he's this guy, he's just one of those guys, and he's obviously not educated enough or whatever. But he's just having a laugh. It's cool."

And he kept doing it throughout the whole holiday. And then, even on the way back, on the coach. You know, we're sitting next to them. And then I said to Aarti, "I swear he's being racist." And I said it to her about five times. And she goes, "Yeah, he's a bit odd in that sense." And I was like, "He's definitely being racist, right?" Always stereotyping just because I'm into a certain type of music or because I'm Asian... a person of color. And she goes, "Yeah."

And then we spoke about it after, and we saw him round the hotel for the next two or three days after that. And he would continue to do these things.

And I, at that moment, did not know how to respond. So I kind of, you know, just... I wasn't in a position, myself, at that time, to just call him out on anything because I thought... it's a holiday. I don't really know this guy. I've just met him. We're in the same resort. I don't want to ruin the "vibe." And then make him feel awkward.

Sai: Like it's always you who have to carry this emotional burden. Because you're the only person who's thinking, "Oh, if I do this, this can happen. If I do this... ." It's all on you and they're just walking around, like it's all cool.

Next Time...

In Part Two of their discussion on racism, Sai, Esh and Jeffrey discuss:

  • Racism in the workplace and the difficulties involved in confronting it.
  • Difficult conversations with friends and family about stereotypes and unconscious biases.
  • How to tackle racism in the workplace in future, through swift action and education.

Have you had a conversation about race at work? What would you like to tell or ask your colleagues about racism and inequality? How do you think we can stamp out racism in the workplace – and outside of it – for good? Join the discussion by adding your thoughts in the Comments section, below.

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4 comments on “Racism in the Workplace and BLM: Our First Conversation”

  1. I have been using Mindtools for years and am deeply disappointed that you would choose to support an organisation that is racist against European people (literally claiming that only European people can be racist), has a policy of destroying the nuclear family, is openly violent and is substantially run by Marxists who are directly opposed to democracy and capitalism. Truly disappointing and disturbing that you consider this acceptable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Keith. Mind Tools remains committed to promoting and enabling fair and respectful behavior by all, toward all, especially in the workplace. BLM has reminded us how far we have yet to go to achieve this, and our colleague's conversation reflects thoughtfully on that. We hope you keep reading, listening and watching.

  2. It is very interesting that racism is only perceived as being with regard to skin colour. I am Scottish and will always be asked - where do you come from? Does everyone have red hair and freckles? Are you a big whisky drinker? I may get called a wee haggis.
    I believe it is more a lack of knowledge or perceived information regarding culture.
    I have a white colleague who is Romanian and one of the questions I asked her when we began to work together was "where are you from?" The only reason being she had an accent and I was interested to learn about her culture. We often talk and compare cultures - this is not racism, it is genuine interest in learning more holistically about the each other and our reasons for certain likes, dislikes, what we deem as rude or friendly, acceptable or unacceptable. This is not racism when people do this, it is a learning process and we need to do that in order to truly value each other as individuals.

    1. Thanks for sharing Margaret. I do believe there is indeed a difference between a genuine interest and curiosity to find out more versus simply wanting to put someone in a box because of where they come from and make broad generalizations. It's about being open and have a conversation!

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