Home' HR Monthly : May 2015 Contents 22
FEATURE: CASUAL RACISM
the rising number of reported incidents may be that people are
becoming more comfortable about speaking up. But Markus
doesn’t support the notion that the situation has substantially
improved over the years.
“It’s difficult because you can’t ask when are we going to solve
this problem,” says Markus. “The answer is you’re not going to
solve it. A certain proportion of every population will be intolerant
towards people they perceive as different to themseves. It’s always
a work in progress.”
By the time someone approaches HR with a complaint, the event
has progressed past the informal stage where two employees can
deal with it on their own. The main thing is to validate concerns,
says Malcolm Fialho, senior diversity officer at the University of
Western Australia (UWA).
“A n HR professional can fall into the common ‘racial detour’
trap which avoids an honest, authentic conversation about race,”
“We tend to minimise it. ‘Oh, it’s not happening. [The offender]
is nasty to everyone in the workplace. It has nothing to do with
you personally.’ Or, ‘You’ve just got to toughen up and get rid of
the chip on your shoulder. Come on, it was only a joke.’”
It’s important that HR professionals listen, validate and be
comfortable with the grey space, says Fialho.
“I’m not saying race is always 100 per cent a factor when
someone is maltreated, but it’s simplistic to assume it has nothing
to do with it. Casual racism can exist somewhere in the middle.”
Even in those exchanges between peers where casual racism
occurs, most people have a hard time saying something in the
moment, says Winnifred Louis, associate professor of psychology
at the University of Queensland.
“It’s often those [missed] windows of opportunity where people
are frozen in shock and don’t know what to say,” she says. “People
are looking around at others to see if they are the one who is
supposed to react.
“For example, if a casually racist comment is made in a meeting
and an individual contests the racism, the whole room is paralysed
by an xiety at that moment. There’s a feeling of ‘Should I say
something in support, because it clearly was racist? But at the same
time, we need to fi nish this meeting because time is ticking away.’”
The AHRC and the University of Western Sydney’s Challenging
Racism Project strongly encourage a recipient of casual racism or a
bystander speaking out and taking a stand.
But Louis says it’s not always the easiest option, particularly in
an office situation. If a group member does speak out, there are
tensions and anxieties that can prevent a good resolution, such as
leaving the whistleblower open to retaliation.
Evidence suggests the best person to address the racist remark
is the senior ranking person in the room, she says. In terms of
respect, they are best placed to make an intervention, shape the
behaviour and uphold the company’s diversity culture.
“Often silence gives consent,” says Louis. “If the leader allows
casual racism to pass, it’s a signal that it may be acceptable.”
But when a manager or executive is responsible for the
comments, it can be doubly difficult to stand up to casual racism.
“That would be quite brave in a meeting because it would
“OFTEN SILENCE GIVES CONSENT. IF THE
LEADER ALLOWS CASUAL RACISM TO PASS, IT’S A
SIGNAL THAT IT MAY BE ACCEPTABLE.”
WINNIFRED LOUIS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR PSYCHOLOGY,
UNIVERSITY OF QUEENSLAND
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21/04/15 3:41 PM
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