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Friday, 18 December 2009

Black Minority Ethnic Groups or Minority Ethnic Groups?

This is one of those issues that's been sitting in my 'soul' for a while now and I'd like to get it out there and air it and let it go.

Before being retired on ill health, I worked as an IT engineer for the NHS in Cornwall.  I became one of their union reps.  I attended the trust's induction course for all staff.  When it came to the trust's stance on equal opportunities, the audience were told, 'Treat others the way that you want to be treated yourself'.  Nothing was mentioned about the trust's policies or procedures or any support being made available should a member of staff experience any form of discrimination be it on grounds of race, sex, disability or sexual preference etc.

I was walking around doing my job at various locations and I heard grumblings from people of different ethnic minorities (which includes black people) of instances of racism either from work colleagues, managers and/or patients.  I was also subjected to 3 incidents of racism which prompted me to contact HR and request the Trust's policies on racism and bullying and harrassment in the workplace.  This was around 2001/ 2002.  I discreetly canvassed colleagues from all levels of the work force and got a feel of the situation.

I had done quite a bit of anti-discrimination work in my last job so I aired the idea of a support group to deal with issues connected with racism.  The HR director at the time seemed enthused as I had arranged a meeting with her to discuss my experiences of racism at the hospital and wanted to know what the trust were doing about it.  At that time the trust had no clear policy for dealing with racism or bullying and harrassment.   The Trust had continually under-scored (badly) on the issue of Equal Opportunities on their inspections that were carried out by senior NHS proffessionals from London.

I had to challenge a colleague strongly about her racist attitude towards me and take her through a complaints procedure, the upshot of which was a manager saying to me, after the colleague had apologised some 3 months later, 'Are you satisfied with the way this has been dealt with?'  I replied, 'It should be you asking that of yourself as her manager.  You should also be considering what action is appropriate, eg race awareness training etc.  The ownership of the incident rests with you, not me.  Have you done everything that you can to address the situation?'  The view of the manager was that the incident had been dealt with.

I ended up being tasked to setup a group to support NHS professionals in the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust that were from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups.  I managed to secure some key funding money and recruited colleagues and arranged the groups first meeting.  I was elected to chair the group and the first order of business was the name of the group and it's task.

I put forward the name, Minority Ethnic Group (MEG).  I purposely left out the word 'Black' and gave the following reasons:  Racism isn't just aimed at black people but also Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, Japanese, Arabian, Bengali etc,  to name a few.  We had people from other races that were regarded as foreigners in the county who were white but subjected to the same sort of dsicrimination once they were heard to have different accents or names from other countries and cultures; white Europeans, white Africans etc.  I felt that having the word 'Black' in the title of the group made it appear exclusive rather than inclusive.  That is to say that the title would seem to suggest that to experience racism, you have to have dark skin or that to access support from the group, you had to have dark skin.  There were also instances where a white 'English' person could be the person being discriminated against by a person from a different ethnic background.  

The name and reason was accepted unanimously by the group.

The following year, the HR director decided that the MEG would be tasked to cover all NHS professionals in Cornwall.  I attended a meeting with a prominent figure in the NHS heirarchy that was chair of North East Cornwall PCT at the time.  She informed me that her trust would not join the MEG and when asked for her reasons she simply said, 'The word 'Black' is missing from the title.  I'm not comfortable with abandoning my roots.'   I explained the reasoning behind the naming of the group and that racism wasn't just a matter of the colour of a person's skin.  I also said that the word 'Asian' wasn't there in the title and asked her if that meant that I was abandoning my asian roots.  She was adamant that she and her colleagues wouldn't join the MEG and set up a splinter group. I wonder to this day if she realised that she'd given a victory to those people in the board of directors that wanted the MEG to fail.

When I look at what's happening in the streets today, I see the same jobs that we did as Asians and Blacks being done by Armenians, Serbians and many other nationalities.  They don't look black to me but they're the current races being exploited in the same ways that we were in the 1950s and 60s onwards.  I'll put money down that some of the business owners somewhere are Asian and Black people and that some of those staff will be subjected to unfair treatment, racism and other forms of mistreatment.  A lot of them will be working for less than the minimum wage too.

Humans seem to like to pass the shite down onto others though don't they, rather than closing the circle on a bad practise and ensuring that it doesn't happen again to someone else?

The big question is this:  If lighter skinned foreign nationals (or white English people)  feel that they are being discriminated against because of their race, will they feel that they can access a service that still has the word 'black' in the title?  Even if the boss happens to be black or asian as well?  Why did the Commission for Racial Equality not have the word 'Black' in the title?  By the way,  It's the Equality and Human Rights Commission now.

I feel it's about time we put some equality into the act of dealing with racism and removed the word 'Black' from those generic group names.  Racism's been around forever and practised on every land by every ethnic group to some degree.  It's a part of human nature that goes back to the times when men grunted a lot and hit eachother with clubs... some still do! I'd like to see more Minority Ethnic Groups or some other phrasing that's more open and less exclusive.

I've had my say.

Wolf

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