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About time we talk about race(ism)

About time we talk about race(ism)

Given the vast experience of integration and assimilation, plus a focus on knowledge and enterprise, Indians generally are very reluctant to discuss racism openly, or even complain when they experience it.

The truth is that often it is their very success which leads to barriers and blockages from the bosses. There are many who actually think that racism in Britain is more an excuse – true Indians should focus on working hard and give their best, and this will be recognised and supported. My experience of academic life, where higher education is supposed to be open-minded and inclusive, has been extremely stressful, and there is plenty of evidence from academia as to how common this is for ethnic minorities.

The Jains are one of the world’s best business diasporas, so how come I am the only Jain who is a business professor in the whole country? However, as customers of private schools or students at public universities, we are a significant majority, so we ought to raise our voices through our wallets. Are we still desperately trying to fit in and be accepted, when so much of research evidence shows how white privilege is embedded in Britain? It is time we woke up to the reality of racism in Britain, especially in public bodies and institutions.

A recent investigative report on Britain’s fire service showed endemic institutional racism, with some staff members even committing suicide as a result. Given our culture of sewa, public service is often a preferred option, including teaching, healthcare (were our nurses, doctors and surgeons have legendary reputations) and professions like accountancy and law. It is because of our caring, community and sharing principles that we are attracted to these professions in the first place. Sadly, all these institutions have appalling records of discrimination and exploitation – we are to be used, but not to share power with. This is true even when we have a record of using power responsibly and with a strong sense of public interest.

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When people come to you complaining about bullying or racism, please do not dismiss it as a sign of weakness and moaning. Take it seriously. These issues become bigger when one rises up the career ladder, so drive, talent and ambition often leads to more racism not less. For public bodies and professions, there are people who have occupied higher positions for a long time, so they can be very influential and controlling at the same time.

There was a report about the NHS called ‘Snowy Peaks’ which showed that even in a service where we have a large number of top professionals, the power and control is with Snow White. In fact, our very flexibility and work ethic can lead such pressures to increase with time, and the more we deny it, the more it affects our mental health and wellbeing. I am sure even in our communities, there have been suicides as a result of workplace discrimination. Denial should never be an option.

There are sources which can help like counselling services within professional bodies and even your GP can point you to mental health support. House Insurance policies often contain legal cover and employee helplines which provide free legal advice. Use these for legal support in the first instance, and sometimes a strongly worded letter can help resolve the matter.

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When employers are proven to be discriminatory, their liability can be unlimited, so they are very careful about being exposed or sued. When you raise the flag, the first thing they will do is to go into denial and turn you into a problem – stay strong and firm, as this is another bullying tactic. For our women, the discrimination can be double – race and gender – so it can feel worse. The last thing any of us should ever do is to dismiss it when someone comes to us for help. In our families and communities, we should be more open to talking about it.

Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.

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