I could have just as easily titled this piece, “Is it racism if nobody complains?”. Douglas Maughan, British Airways (BA) pilot claims there’s been a culture of casual racism at BA for some time now against Asians. He published his thoughts in the staff newsletter, and was later abused for making his observations on the matter known. Maughan refers to the company culture as “institutional racism“, but I personally call it the “old boys club“. And it doesn’t just affect Asians, it affects almost any race, culture, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Maughan took a stand and I applaud him for it, but not enough of us do so in our daily lives.
A former partner of mine, used to work with a very racist individual. While my partner was Caucasian, I was of course gay and Asian. His workplace was a typical one, with office politics and water cooler humor. The individual in question liked to tell jokes that were offensive to about every minority imaginable. No one else in the office dared to confront him, as he was fairly highly placed in the organization, but my other half would make up something appropriate as a response to the man’s joke. For example if the joke were about an African-American, his response would be something like, “Oh that’s a good one, I’ll have to tell it to my wife Lakeisha”. Personally, I thought his responses were almost as bad as the jokes that were being told, but at the very least, he was trying to alert every one else in the room that those types of jokes weren’t acceptable.
I realize many of us make jokes as a response to offensive comments, like my partner because we aren’t comfortable with confronting the racism directly. But I’m sure if you didn’t know my partner, you might have mistaken his response as an insulting one. And there might have been someone present who might have taken just as much offense to his response as to the joke.
Maughan took a stand, and as a result was sent anonymous condemning messages and phone calls, which made his job extremely difficult. He’s fighting back by suing for discrimination, but his ordeal probably makes many of us who would have said something just as uneasy about speaking up the next time we hear an offensive remark or joke. That’s the unfortunate part of this story, and a reminder to the rest of us to speak up the next time we hear something offensive, as there’s many more who won’t.
(Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)