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Is racism real? Yes, it's in your face

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Many people believe that “in your face” racism is a thing of the past. That racism is not a big problem. While it’s acknowledged that racism does exist, the popular belief is that it’s harder to deal with because it’s more subtle.
Image: Gary John Norman/Getty Images

Nothing could be further from the truth. Today, the TUC has published its ‘Is Racism Real?’ report, based on recent polling and a survey. The findings reveal the reality of racism that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people face when they go to work and the effect that it has on their lives.

My boss has shouted at me and sworn at me in front of other colleagues, something that he has never done to any other colleague. My boss set the tone so other staff also started acting disrespectfully toward me.


This kind of experience is not a one-off.  Over 37% of BME workers polled said that they have been bullied, abused or experienced racial discrimination by their employer.

Suffering in Silence

The problem however is not just that racism is occurring in workplaces, but that BME workers don’t believe that their employers will deal with it. 43% per cent of BME workers say that they didn’t feel able to report their experience of racial discrimination to their employers and 38% didn’t report incidents of individual bullying and harassment.

Alarmingly, most people who had made complaints felt that their experience had not been taken seriously or dealt with satisfactorily.

I have been bullied and subjected to my professional working space being defiled with food, and objects being smashed and left on my desk. Someone deliberately cut a picture that was on my desk and propped it up against my keyboard.


When Samantha reported these incidents her head of department was very dismissive and said “why would that be happening to you?”

Even after reporting, the bullying continued. It’s not surprising that BME workers feel that it’s not worth complaining about racism when experience tells them that they won’t be believed.

They also fear that they’ll be seen as not being able to take a joke, making a mountain of a molehill, or having a chip on their shoulder.

Toxic Environment

Not surprisingly, being subjected to racism and having no way of dealing with it takes its toll. 44% of BME people who experienced racial discrimination stated the experience had had a negative impact on their performance at work.

The racism that Samantha had experienced had made her feel nervous and anxious. Her mental health deteriorated to the extent that she was signed off work.

I felt awful and embarrassed. I felt as if I was under the spotlight. I became very tearful and physically sick. This had an impact on my work. I saw no way out. This damaged my should have been handled differently but the company’s number one goal was to protect themselves and this wasn’t by accident but intentionally.


Samantha is not alone. Over half (53%) of BME workers who had experienced bullying or harassment said the experience had affected their mental health  and 28% felt that they had had no option but to leave.

Racism is talked about in terms of individual incidents that take place.  But what this report shows is that there’s a problem with workplace culture, and that many BME people are unable to challenge bullying, harassment and discrimination because they lack confidence that their complaints will be listened to.

This creates a toxic environment, which affects not only BME workers, but their families as well. A study by the University of Manchester and UCL analysed the mechanisms linking experiences of discrimination to family members and found that as well as the health impact on the individual it extended to others, including their children’s health and development.

Change of Approach?

We believe that the physical and psychological impacts for BME workers experiencing any form of racism or discrimination or working in a hostile environment are far reaching. It can undermine worker’s careers, leave them feeling isolated from colleagues at work and have an effect on relationships with families and friends.

Is Racism Real? exposes the everyday reality of racism faced by many BME workers.  Only through the recognition and acknowledgement of such experiences will people understand that this is still a widespread problem that needs to be dealt with collectively rather than through individual complaints.

Over the years we have consistently stressed the need for a separate, clear race equality strategy and action plan that tackles bullying, the lack of access to training and promotion and unfair performance assessments. 

A strategy that is not based on the assumption that individual black workers need to do more to jump over the barriers of discrimination that are erected against them in the workplace.

This report makes recommendations to government and employers that we believe will improve the situation for BME workers.

Underpinning these recommendation is the belief that employers and government need to be much more proactive in tackling racism in institutions and structures, and must aim to create working environments that are free from racism.

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