Prejudice in the Work Place

Warning for more swearing than I try normally to include.

It’s so insidious that it creeps through you until you don’t even notice the way their thoughts and comments are creeping into your mind, pretending to be yours. I wouldn’t have even noticed the prejudice in the Boss’s daughter’s comment if she hadn’t thrown in “not being racist”. I’m glad she did, because it shook it back into me, the hideous prejudice that pervades this and the previous office I have worked in.

It is predominantly nationalistic racism – that is, some of the racism is based on skin colour but more is based in country of birth. Or probably mother tongue – Americans and Australians don’t suffer as much as, say, the French or Germans. I would say that people with Indian accents working in call centres are probably the most abused, maybe followed by South Africans (and this is where I can see the ways it is infecting me – I was going to add “but this is probably because white South Africans think that it’s ok to treat other people as servants” and then I was going to justify myself by saying that “they” do treat us as servants. It’s ridiculous: yes, some people with South African accents treat us like dog dirt, but then so do some people with pretty much any accent and especially British – probably because the bulk of the people we deal with are British).

The call centre thing is a problem – it’s always followed with “I’m not being racist, I just can’t understand a word they say because they don’t know English”. English is one of the official languages of India. The people on the other end of the phone are, to my ear, no harder to understand than someone with a thick Irish accent (which seems to be the other call centre accent of choice), but my colleagues never accept that. I try to make the point that I have (second-)cousins who are half-Indian to try to encourage my colleagues to tone down their language, but it doesn’t work. They say that they know not all of “them” (it’s always a dehumanising “them”) are “like that”. My colleagues’ behaviour/attitude/comments don’t change. Another thing that rankles is that my colleagues accused me of being racist when I smiled at a lady’s name – she is Chinese by birth and her name is “Ping”. It’s not that her name made me laugh – it was the beautiful way her name sounds in her native accent. It made me smile with joy, not malice. Does that make it better? I don’t know, but I think so.

It frustrates me that the colleague who is the worst for speaking shit about Indian call centre workers also claims to be “pretty liberal” in her outlook because her son is gay. Which transitions me nicely to the next area of prejudice. The office is painfully homophobic and the Boss even seems to take a pride in this behaviour. There’s an undercurrent of misogyny in the homophobia: the language is very gay male based and when I have queried whether gay women were as “disgusting”, I have been informed by female colleagues that it’s a bit weird and by male colleagues that it’s hot or there’s an implication that the women are so ugly no man would want them. Although, one male colleague does pull a face whenever he has to see one client who is a lesbian. The Boss’s son was telling me how homophobic his grandad his and I misheard, thinking he was talking about his Dad and I commented that I’d noticed and got a weird look. When it was clarified, he laughed and said his dad was not homophobic, not really. I hate to think what someone who’s “really” homophobic is like, then.

MtF cross-dressing is seen as creepy and wrong. Women, also, should prefer to wear skirts (this from my female colleagues). I wear trousers to work because I cycle. I sometimes wear a skirt in the summer but really, I prefer trousers unless I’m dressing up or slumming ’round the house. The skirt comment is made pointedly at me from time to time.

Generic Christianity, Catholocism or lack of caring are the only acceptable religious positions. Jehovah’s Witnesses are particularly despised. There’s a degreee of anti-semitism, too, although that’s a racism thing rather than religious prejudice. Apparently, Jews* are all aloof and up themselves and – like white South Africans – treat us like servants. Oh, and the reason white South Africans hate black South Africans is because they aren’t civilised like black people in this country – they’re barbaric, savages – the colleague who claims to be liberal actually described native South Africans as “sub-human”. I had no response. (My boss at the last place I worked confided in me that he’d wanted to move to South Africa as he really approved of their polotics, but then they got rid of apartheid, so there went that plan.)

Nearly all the people I work with are well over the age of 40 – most pushing or over 60. There are a lot of comments about the flaws of young people and the lack of discipline in young people of today that wasn’t the case when they were young. I bite my tongue to refrain from mentioning that I studied similar comments written by the Romans when I was studying Latin as an extra-curricular activity at my school.

This is the first place I have worked where the misogyny is epidemic amongst the women as amongst the men. Women should generally be subservient – this immediately becomes overturned in more or less any individual circumstance where it looks like abuse is occurring, fortunately. But then, those women in the office who answer back to the Boss are criticised by the other women who then sit around moaning that he doesn’t listen to them. I find it easier to take criticism from him than from the woman who is probably the next most senior member of the company and I justify this by saying he’s a bit gentler than she is but is that true or is it the gender stereotypes that pervade society have shaped my expectations of the interactions? I think she is harder, because she is of the generation where women who want to succeed in business have to out-macho the men. Relationships are very much about men taking or possessing women. Men are good at technology and maths (although, all the senior non-accounts and the junior accounts people come to me for help with maths because that’s my degree). Everyone was shocked when one man brought in some yummy, yummy cakes he’d baked without his girlfriend’s help – so surprised that he hasn’t made them again which is such a shame because they were such good cakes.

It’s been eye-opening but not nice.

The thing is, I like where I work – despite their prejduices, I like the people and I really like the job. I find the prejudice difficult. Challenging it is a thin wire – if I don’t, then it begins to creep into me but if I do then things can be difficult for me personally and I like my job. I try to challenge as much as I can without making too many waves, but that does rely on my self-esteem being sufficiently strong.

Sorry this is a little disjointed, there’s been a lot of racism today.



*I am aware that in the US, ‘Jew’ is a perjorative term. However, I am British and in Britain this is not the case (to the best of my knowledge; please correct me if I’m wrong). It’s also the word my step-mother uses to describe her ancestors and my uncle uses to describe his ex-wife and their children, so it’s the term I’m used to using.


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