“Racism is just a part of life.”

This is what my cousin’s friend told a colleague who asked him to participate in a race awareness event.

My cousin’s friend (let’s call him Jay) works at a large international consultancy, and he was asked to give a talk about his experience as a Sikh man living in the UK.

This is how it went:

Jay: What do you mean, what experiences do you want me to talk about?

Colleague: Can you talk about how hard it’s been for you as a Sikh person living in the UK and also can you talk about the farmer protests that happened in India?

Jay: Well, no. Firstly the farmer protests are a political issue and have nothing to do with my life over here, so that is totally irrelevant to your talk. And also, my parents came over here decades ago. Yes, we’ve experienced some racism over the years. But racism is just a part of life, it’s to be expected. There are going to be some people who aren’t happy with us being here. It’s just life and I’m not bothered by it.

The colleague didn’t like this response and didn’t understand it either.

Jay wasn’t talking about systemic issues, laws or politics.

He was talking about his interactions with people and their interactions with him.

Here’s what I think HR and EDI professionals should take from this interaction

1. Not everyone wants to talk about their life experiences at work, they just want to do their job.

2. Not everyone sees their experiences as disempowering

3. Too much EDI work assumes that all people from minority groups see themselves as disempowered and oppressed. Many don’t.

I think Jay has a found an empowered way of navigating the world and some of its harsher realities in a way that works for him. You might agree or disagree.

But one thing we would all benefit from doing is to be much more aware of what we are assuming about people.

Jay has lost respect for his company’s EDI work because their starting position assumed he’s a disempowered person because of his race.

Don’t make that same mistake at your organisation.

Have a read of Africa Brooke’s open letter to get a more rounded understanding of how people should have the latitude to be themselves and not have our assumptions layered onto them.

And contact us directly if you want to understand this better.