We have all heard the phrase “playing the race card”. It implies that someone is playing a game and that they are throwing down their trump card – the winning card.
But consider what really happens when a non-white worker accuses their employer and/or colleagues of race discrimination.
First, they will need to go through an internal employment grievance process during which there is little or no chance that a finding of race discrimination will be made. Regardless of the evidence, no employer wants to be labelled as “racist”.
Second, some may be doubted and seen to be willing to resort to an improbable fantasy – they have stooped to an all time low and the burden is on them to show that society still views them as their colour/origin first.
Third, if the worker is left with no choice but to go to an Employment Tribunal, litigation always being the last resort, they are more likely than not going to lose their case.
Only 1 in 7 race discrimination cases succeed at Tribunal in comparison to sex discrimination claims where it is close to 50/50 chances of showing discrimination. I do not accept that this is because claimants are playing a non-existent race card, but rather that the law and society are unable (or unwilling) to see race discrimination in the way that it is experienced.
Race discrimination continues to be a serious problem in Britain’s workplace. Society occasionally gets a sneak peak of this underlying ugliness, but it only ever gets highlighted when we see media reports of overt racism and bigotry (cue latest immigration debates sparked by right-wing success in the EU elections). But where it is most terrifying is where it remains unsaid.
In recent research conducted by Business in the Community, it was confirmed that the glass ceiling is still something that non-white workers can only squint up at. The research found that one in 16 top management and one in 13 management positions are held by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, who make up a tenth of the total workforce.
The research also found that the number of BAME people in top management positions has fallen from 95,023 to 73,378 in recent years. I suspect the numbers drop even further in specific sectors such as the legal profession and media, save for the odd example of tokenism. The feminist movement has remained a constant and loud lobby in voicing gender inequality; this has made it acceptable for women to be heard on the key issues. Yet we have been unable to sustain the same in the fight against race discrimination at work.
Race discrimination remains taboo, and despite 15 years in the passing since the Macpherson report, institutional racism is real and surviving. Until we start to recognise where there are systemic failures in addressing equality, anyone who has the courage to speak up and name that which continues to be unnamed will be accused of playing the race card.
We need senior figureheads in business, media and politics speaking out about our failings in addressing racial equality so we can make headway in tackling these issues.
Kiran Daurka is an Employment Solicitor specialising in race discrimination law at Slater and Gordon in London.
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