International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (IDERD) 2022 is observed on Monday, 21 March.
The Theme for 2022: Voices for Actions Against Racism
Disclaimer. My views are my own and do not represent the views of my humanitarian employers past, present, or future. I value neutrality in a humanitarian setting. I also cherish the freedom of thoughts and speech of all citizens.
On 21 March 1960, South African police opened fire at a non-violent march by the Blacks in Sharpeville. About 69 people were killed in the atrocity that is called the Sharpeville Massacre. Those people had mobilised to march against the “Pass Law” that the Whites enforced on the Blacks. The massacre that was carried out by the police agitated the whole world, and all were afraid of where those racial struggles would lead the world as a whole. Virtually all populations of all communities were tired of the atrocities of racism; however, they did not know how to eradicate this plague.
Remembering the massacre of 1960, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 March as an International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in 1966 and insisted upon the global community to intensify its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination wherever and in whatever form it exists. The UN resolution (A/RES/2142 (XXI)), adopted on 26 October 1966, declares that any kind of racial discrimination is condemnable; and the global community is determined to eliminate racial discrimination from its roots wherever it exists in the world.
Thus, 21 March is an acknowledged International Day to eliminate racial discrimination. On 21 March 2022, the IDER Day, the theme of International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is: “Voice for action against racism.” This theme elaborates that the time had gone when people were judged by their complexion and financial status. All the members of humankind are equal and respectable. Don’t let anyone disrespect anyone else. The current theme of Anti Racism Day guides us to come together, encourage and strengthen people for raising their voices against racism. We should collectively work to raise awareness against discrimination of anyone due to his race or ethnicity.
Racism is a very personal issue and something many people of colour have experienced. On an international Day against racism, I wanted to use my voice to discuss racial discrimination and focus on how we could work together to eliminate racism in the workplace. Again, I am speaking about all workplaces and not focusing on my work area. I believe racism concerns each of us, whether we are racist or anti-racist. If people are anti-racist but do nothing to eliminate racism in their workplace, they perpetuate the status quo, not improving the situation. It is not just about promoting a few people of colour in senior leadership or hiring a person of colour as a diversity director; it could all only be window dressing. We need to work actively to eliminate and eradicate racism. It is not only about putting out strategies, actions plans or commitments in the public sphere but also walking the talk and working actively every day to eliminate racism. It requires work. We need to go beyond window dressing to please customers or donors to change the system, practices, policies, and processes within an organisation.
What is Racial Discrimination?
According to the UN, “the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” In a short manner, David Wellman (1977) succinctly summarises racism as a system of advantage based on race. It is in a society where a race is dominant over others.
Racism in the workplace.
Racism in the workplace can manifest in any way, and it can be systemic, individualised or internalised.
Systemic racial discrimination.
Also known as institutionalised racial discrimination is a culture of discrimination that permeates the workplace. Discrimination is a regular feature of interactions and processes or happens over a long period. For example, it could be when a group of people are less paid than others. Systemic racism indicates practices, processes, policies, systems and cultural customs that benefit a racial group to the detriment of others. It affects several aspects of life for many persons of colour. In my last article, I explained the small number of black people who were part of the fortune 500 CEOs. There are only four Black Fortune 500 CEOs. The selection criteria are created to work only in favour a particular group. It has been going on for centuries and needs to be dismantled to make a sustainable change and impact these organisations. Systemic racism sets a system that gives a group of people an unfair hierarchical system, lesser pay or unequal reward. Menial jobs, lower grades, and unequal hiring processes disqualify access to leadership roles.
Individual racism is “an individual’s racist assumptions, beliefs, or behaviours and is a form of racial discrimination that stems from conscious and unconscious, personal prejudice’ (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 329). Most per
Individual racism is what people often refer to as racism because it is individuals who make racist comments, discriminate on race or make decisions based on racially biased views. They are responsible for micro-aggressions petty, apparently inoffensive statements which hurt or humiliate a person of colour, emphasising difference or reinforcing a racial prejudice. Both individual and systemic racism have a significant impact. While systemic racism has a much larger, more meaningful impact, let us not forget that individuals create the practices, policies, cultures, systems, and processes, so confronting individual racism is also crucial.
In her study The Psychology of Racism, Robin Nicole Johnson emphasises that internalised racism involves “conscious and unconscious acceptance of a racial hierarchy in which whites are consistently ranked above people of colour.” These definitions encompass a wide range of instances, including, but not limited to, belief in negative stereotypes, adaptations to white cultural standards, and thinking that supports the status quo (i.e. denying that racism exists).
Sociologists Karen D. Pyke and Tran Dang wrote: “Due to the discomfort, confusion, and embarrassment the subject raises, an intellectual taboo surrounds the study of internalised racism. A major concern is that because internalised racism reveals dynamics by which oppression is reproduced, it will lead to blaming the victims and move attention away from the racist institutions and practices that privilege whites at the expense of people of colour. Internalised racism also causes discomfort because it suggests that the effects of racism are deeper and broader than many would like to admit. As a result, it remains one of the least explained features of racism.
Ultimately, People of colour who have internalised racism have reduced expectations or confidence because they are in settings that perpetuate racial prejudice. They may believe what the dominant group says about them and their racial group.
Have data – It is crucial to study the organisation you work in and see where you stand. Suppose your workforce comprises 90% of people of colour and 10% of white people. But you only have 1% of people of colour in your senior management team and a small percentage in your middle management; you may want to examine if you are not leading an organisation that favour one group over the other. You may wish to review your recruitment processes and policies.
Analyse the data and see how you can put remedial actions in place to have a fair representation of all groups rather than underrepresentation of one or several groups of people in middle and senior management. If you recruit or promote persons of colour to mid or senior management roles, offer them the support required to succeed. Promoting an ethnic minority director and leaving him unsupported amid hostile teams or senior management colleagues is more than inconsiderate; it creates an unsafe work environment for these staff. Organisations have a duty of care to their staff and carefully monitor situations like these and offer unconditional support to the BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic – used to refer to members of non-white communities.) staff. If the purpose of an organisation is to succeed, they must provide support, coaching, training, mentorship, and development programs that will enhance the work of the new employees. Sustainable changes can only be achieved by not only a commitment put on the internet and signed by the Executive team but by a real commitment to supporting those hired for the job by providing them with real support in terms of staffing, resources and development opportunities. It is how sustainable changes are made. It is essential not to leave the ethnic minorities staff alone to be attacked by a group of hostile staff who want to perpetuate the status quo. Organisations’ leadership must do the hard work to obtain sustainable changes in team diversity and have more equality.
Create anti-racist objectives – These objectives must be SMART.
Specific could be advertising in places where people of colour read: advertisement in Jeune Afrique, Indian Times, historically black colleges, etc.
Measurable could be increasing colour recruitment agencies from Zero to one in our database and working with BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic agencies to find coloured staff)
Achievable: By the end of the year, we could have increased the number of BAME staff in leadership by 10%, 20% or 30%.
Realistic could be staying focused on getting things done fairly and equitably and working on diversity, inclusion, and equity. Set up systems that support the recruitment of people of colour to prevent your organisation from failing to make meaningful and sustainable changes.
Time-bound: Set a timeframe that is worked into the organisation’s fabric, the five-year strategy timeframe, the priorities targets, etc.
Make People accountable for tackling racial discrimination. DEI team has to lead on changes and develop meaningful activities proactively. There is no point coming back with twenty questions when presented with a new leadership program instead of coming up with answers and solutions to improve the programs. Effectiveness and Efficiency are essential to operational excellence. Organisations need people who come up with the correct answers, not more problems or questions when they are wrangling with this profound question: How to eliminate racial discrimination? They want answers, no easy answers, but deep, profound answers which will bring sustainable impacts and benefits to the organisation.
Similarly, HR has a significant role in leading changes and employee engagement. If you look at many board members of fortune 500 in the corporate world, they must have been CEOs previously to be chairman or board members. The set of skills is so narrow that many people of colour can’t have those skills. They are therefore barred from accessing these roles. It will also be better to include transferable skills gained in other work areas. For example, suppose co-optation is the way board members are hired. People will often bring in people who look like them. So, organisation may carry perpetuating the same systemic racism as a member will be co-opted from a narrow set of people, coming from the same limited background with the same set of skills, closing the door to diversity and inclusion. HR must therefore come up with solutions that have a long-lasting impact and bring in people from diverse backgrounds, including people of colour.
HR must make available training, coaching and an excellent network of mentors and buddies to help staff succeed and create an effective, supportive environment for BAME with a sensitive and qualified mentor.
Further, it is everyone’s responsibility to tackle racial discrimination. It is not the sole responsibility of the DEI team or HR. Still, each of us must be held accountable for how we tackle racial discrimination, behave, and prevent any racist behaviour within the organisation by reporting and thus protecting our coloured colleagues from racial discrimination and acting as anti-racists and becoming befriended. Promote cross-cultural connection and relationships within different members of the organisation.
Finally, accountability may mean removing people who discriminate from the organisation to send a strong message that the organisation will not tolerate such behaviour.
Create a protection unit that will provide BAME staff when they face discrimination. People qualified to deal with discrimination. They are not part of the DEI or the investigation team handling discrimination cases, but they are available to protect and safeguard the staff’s wellbeing. They must advise the employer manager and be watchful and protect staff in case of retaliation, reprisal and keep a watchful eye beyond the episode to make sure that staff returns to a healthy and safe work environment.
Create an investigative team of experts solely handling racial discrimination, bias, and various forms of discrimination. They will know what they are talking about, as it is their area of expertise. They will also understand and be sensitive enough to realise that no one can tell a person of a minority that they are not being discriminated against. But they will handle these cases with the expertise and tact they require. They will know that not everyone needs to have the same views.
Help staff by creating occasions and events to build cross-cultural relationships where they can learn from each other’s culture, background, family, etc. People need to know people from different cultures, members of staff that they would not normally socialise with, actively. Social events training opportunities offers opportunities for people to mingle and get to know each other better.
Create a group of support from staff from the same background as well as they can meet and discuss and exchange best practices to help them navigate the water or troubled water of an organisation. I remember being the first leader of the Black Member Forum in my first managerial roles. It allowed me to meet like-minded people with whom I could discuss the under-representation of ethnic minorities staff in senior leadership roles and all the barriers we faced. In the nineties, this support group was instrumental for me in learning about leadership for two years, engaging senior directors, and leading the group with the support of leaders of our organisation’s public service and commercial union.
Speak out publicly and call out when there are micro-aggression or racism, do not remain silent. It is essential to call out micro-aggressions and racial discrimination publicly. One of the reasons that racism perdures is that many look the other way rather than addressing micro-aggression or racism when they witness it. If you must discuss racism, bias, micro-aggression, ponder how to engage your stakeholders appropriately. Is it better done immediately in public or in private at a later stage, when things have cooled down? If at a later stage, be prepared with examples and data to evidence your case. Do not look the other way or remain silent. We all adjust and adapt to the environment we work in. If we work in an environment where it is clearly stated that micro-aggression, other forms of belittling, racially offensive remarks and behaviours become socially unacceptable, they end. People adapt their behaviour to their environment.
Further, organisations must check that there is no “omerta”. They do not silence, frighten, retaliate against, discredit, smear, push out, fire or attempt to fire those who speak out against racial discrimination.
Everyone must be part of the solution.
Create, manage, and organise affinity and support groups to create synergies within the organisation and keep changing, improving and refusing to perpetuate the status quo. There are many more ideas that I could share, and I would need more time. Whether it is allyship, coalitions, or solidarity groups, they are required. Allyship” describes efforts by members of a privileged in-group to advance the interests of marginalise groups, both in society and within particular social contexts, such as universities or workplaces. An ally supports and advocates for minority groups. “Those who practice allyship reject discrimination and take action to eliminate the marginalisation of others. Often, allies come from dominant or majority groups, but that isn’t always the case. Many allies come from other oppressed groups and still use their sphere of influence to effect positive change for others. Regardless of background or motivation, all allies are united by the common belief that everyone deserves equal treatment.”
In conclusion, it is everyone’s responsibility to tackle racism and discrimination. We cannot say it is not our core programs or work. It is equally vital to eliminate racial discrimination as to do our work. Suppose an organisation is filled with racial prejudice. In that case, it is like a poison rotting at its core, and as we all know, people can die from poisoning, so removing the poison will set us on the path of healing and overcoming. I want to say that I strongly believe in building allyship, solidarity, etc., within organisations. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “No one is free until we are all free.” So, we must all work together to build a strong coalition and solidarity to eliminate racism and discrimination.
Robin Nicole Johnson the Psychology of Racism: How Internalized Racism, Academic Self-concept, and Campus Racial Climate Impact the Academic Experiences and Achievement of African American Undergraduates
Robin Nicole Johnson The Psychology of Racism: How Internalized Racism, Academic Self-concept, and Campus Racial Climate Impact the Academic Experiences and Achievement of African American Undergraduates.
“Allyship: What It Means to Be an Ally”. socialwork.tulane.edu. Retrieved 2020-06-09.