I have been so inspired by the work I have done in the last year in Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. As scary as it was to find out how little I knew about so many things, it was also exciting, because I love learning. Working with expert professionals and groups of passionate people with a range of lived experience has taught me so much.
One thing in particular really sticks with me.
It’s not enough to just not be a racist, or not be a misogynist, or not be homophobic. We must also be ANTI all prejudice. And that means speaking up.
And, as someone who was brought up not to rock the boat and to maintain dignified silences, that’s where I know my biggest learning has been.
Coming face-to-face with prejudice
Some years ago, I was on my way to the station in a cab having just finished a training job. The account manager of the training company who had employed me was in the back with the actual client. I was in the front with the driver. As always, I struck up a conversation with the driver – I love talking to people.
Well, we were chatting away about football and vegetarian food when I saw in the distance ahead of me a beautiful dome towering above the houses below.
“What’s that?” I asked the driver.
“Wog temple,” he replied, with some disdain.
I am an Indian Jew. I came to England in 1972 when that derogatory, demeaning word was used by anyone at the schools I went to who wanted to insult me. My new friend didn’t know this of course because most people don’t realise I’m Indian, so he presumably felt he was in the presence of a like-minded white racist.
I could feel my hackles rising. I was furious, but also keenly aware of my two employers in the back seat behind me. My politeness and bizarrely more British stiff upper lip kicked in.
“Actually, I think its rather beautiful,” I said, with as much ill-disguised contempt for him that I could muster.
He realised what he’d said and tried to talk his way out of it and I stayed silent for the rest of the journey.
When we got to the station he ran round to my side of the car – “I’m not a racist,” he said.
“Ok, sure,” I replied tersely.
But that was it.
Learning lessons to help stamp out injustice
I always look back on that incident and regret not saying more. Speaking out. It made me realise how attitudes that we need to get out of society persist. Because people like me don’t speak up and say that it’s not OK.
I’ve learnt that lesson now and am particularly thrilled that my kids seem to have no problem calling anyone (especially me) out if they say anything inappropriate.
So speak up. Even if it makes you unpopular. Even if it feels uncomfortable. And even if there is no-one else there. We’ll all be better off.
Managing Director, Sun and Moon Training