Saturday, November 20, 2010

Racism in the Workplace

I often struggle to understand the institutional disinclination to take action when needed. I often wonder how the management and decision-making come to be held hostage by peers who would protect one-another in the politics of racism, regionalism, and nepotism and so on. Why institutions cannot recognize the fundamental follies of the human nature and put in place effective approaches/working tools to challenge regionalism, racism and nepotism that tend to get ingrained in the institutional fabric?

And over the years, racism has diversified its character too. It is no longer only about Whites against Blacks, Whites against Browns and so on. We need an updated assessment of where and what element of racism has changed its character and acquired new dimensions. We also need to assess the specific interplays of regionalism, gender, class, ethnicity and racism, and its impact on the institutional character. Experiential accounts of employees in international organizations – multilateral or civil society – will reveal many new developments, the significance of which has not been either heard or understood. A discursive exploration or investigation will reveal how institutional conduct and employee consciousness are being affected by different forms of racism.

I haven’t come across any instance when a race-based employment-related issue has been even remotely acknowledged, nor I have come across any mechanism that would identify systemic discrimination or practiced discrimination and provide systemic remedies. Experiences of racism are termed as a matter of perception and arising from defensive nature of the employee. Indeed, the word racism can be abused to cover up non-performance and many other misdeeds because managers/peers are afraid of being branded as racist by the others, especially if there is a politics of majoritarianism at play in the workplace. In the game of majoritarianism, it becomes nearly impossible for a manager or a peer to take up issues of corruption, nepotism and inappropriate conduct because of the fear of whimsical/majoritarian allegations of racism. Accusations of racism against those who critique or can expose the wrong-doings in an institution that lacks courage to employ the principles of institutional integrity and work ethics is a reality. Equally true is that fact that the workplace complexities arising from racism or ethnic biases are difficult to prove because those who indulge in it have developed smartness not to leave any evidence of direct discrimination or biased behaviour.

Most experiences of exclusion or discrimination remain wrapped up also because the institutions have no mechanisms to protect those who bring them out. Denial of racism and a fear that bringing out any such issue will not just be a wasted effort; it will also result in unmanageable stress and reprisal leading to a damaged career, keeps the matter under wraps for good. Access to justice, in practice, is a principle preached outside, not inside the organization.

Since individual experiences take place in an organizational context, remedy requires behavioural and systemic analysis of the workplace – immediate and broader workflow linked layers leading to the decision-makers/senior managers – and the external socio-cultural environment in which ethnic bias or racism is experienced. I cannot say how widespread these experiences are or in which other forms they take place because this is not a talked-about issue. What I can say with conviction is that as long as these experiences will continue to be treated as individual perceptions, de facto, the workplace culture will continue to condone the undercover expression of racist biases, attitudes and practices.

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