Thursday, 19 March 2015

How I found my racist again after 25 years

It's always nice to catch up with an old friend after a long time. This week, after 25 years, I have been reacquainted with an old racist of mine.

Well, I say he's my racist but I think that's a bit greedy of me. He probably shares his racism around generously. In fact that's a bit unfair. I don't know that for sure. I only know that I was on the receiving end of it in 1988. It all played out quite predictably I suppose and he won in the end.

So, imagine my delight when, thanks to the power of social media, he was suggested as a possible contact for me! The ability to reconnect with him and chat about old times is almost irresistible. Oh, what fun we shall  have.

It's 1988. I am half way through my MBA and it's time to start job hunting. Off I got to chat to executive search folk and start the process of getting a much needed job to pay of my MBA loan.

I had a very promising chat with one firm. The lady seemed quite impressed and promised to put me forward for a few roles. Imagine my surprise when I got this letter a few days later

Gosh! What do I do now? The organisation is one of the most powerful firms in the City at the time. Do I let this pass or do I take on the fight? I've taken out a big loan to do my MBA and several people advise me that if I get in a public fight it's going to be really hard to get a job whether I win or lose. But given the recruitment consultants strength of feeling and commitment, how can I let it pass? Who is going to be the next victim of this sort of blatant racism? Someone has to act.

After much agonising, I conclude that I have to take the fight to them. I mentally kiss goodbye to my career in the City and contact the (then) Commission for Racial Equality.

It was really interested to find that I had to convince the CRE that this was a genuine case, that I was a credible person and that the organisation was worth taking on. Clearly they had limited resources so they had to pick their fights. Maximum, public impact. This organisation was a global player and dominated finance at the time. They decided it was worth tackling and took on the case.

The next step is that I am assigned a lawyer to review and prepare the case. He did a great job. We had this racist guy bang to rights and we were going to force some changes. No one, individual or organisation, is above the law. This is 1980s Britain for goodness sake not 1940s Deep South. Company policy not to hire black people? Come on, Get real! 

At least, that's what I thought.

Then, things took a slightly odd turn. My lawyer sent me the following letter after a chat with the recruitment lady...

Finally, the recruitment executive called me up. She was in tears.

Her Director at the agency had called her in. The message was delivered straight. If the recruitment firm ever wanted to do any work for this company in the City again it would withdraw the case. If her firm did not withdraw the case, then they would send the word around the City and recruitment work would dry up overnight.

My recruitment executive was told that if she wanted to work in recruitment now or ever she had to withdraw her allegation. Her Director would ring around all the other recruitment firms and make sure she never worked in that industry again. She was ordered to withdraw.

In fact they went further. She was told to call the executive and apologise in person for her outrageous allegation and appeal for forgiveness. This she did. And I don't blame her. Was I going to pay her wages for the next 30 years? Was she supposed to go into shops and say "I'd like to buy that dress please. I have no money but I have principles"?

So, she did what she had to do and then wrote me the following letter.

And so it came to an end. My lawyer formally withdrew the case. My racist carried on with his work. The organisation carried on doing whatever the organisation does, and I put the whole episode in the file marked "It's only a bit of racist banter, what's the big deal, Don't be so sensitive Tom" and got on with the task of building a career.

Until the social media site Linkedin decided that I and my racist ought to get back together and catch up on old times. Perhaps share recommendations. I don't really do recommendations on linkedin but I'm considering making an exception. My racist is now a very senior technology guy at the same bank in the City. I wonder if he uses the same recruitment policy or if he's grown out of it. I'm surprised that I haven't bumped into him before now as most of my career has been in financial services technology. 

Fortunately Nigel Farage assures us that workplace racism is done and dusted and we don't need these silly anti-discrimination laws that people like me use to waste companies time. There are no more racists in the workplace. The young racists haven't grown up into old racists in senior positions. No, I am sure my racist has grown out of his young racist phase. It's a phase we all go through isn't it? I should give him a call. We'd have a giggle about it and may be enjoy a pint together.

Anyway, that's real life folks. We used to have proper racists in the good old days. None of this weak "I'm not sure his face fits" nonsense. A direct "He's black. We don't employ blacks. If you don't like it, go to hell."

(Shall I send him a link to my blog? Stop it, Tom. Don't be naughty :)