Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Say No More

A fitting title for what has been a lousy week for at least one person close to me while my own week has been up there as one of the happiest I've had in ages. Mostly this has been due to the positive experience of a UNISON Tackling Racism course, which has made me think a whole lot more on the subject.

The single biggest thing I took from the course is how much of the insitutional racism in today's educated world tends to be an unwitting and unintended side-effect of not thinking through policies and comments, rather than being due to direct prejudice. Of course, it would be foolish to think that such prejudices no longer existed and either way, the divisive outcome still needs to be tackled. However, I am hopeful that this is symptomatic of a cultural shift whereby the racism we do see is a product of thoughtlessness rather than malicious forethought. It is not yet the sea change that black and minority ethnic people deserve, but at least we can hope that things may be moving in the right direction.

The real topic of this entry is about talking. It might have been good to talk in BT adverts a few years ago, but recent experience teaches us that it might be even better to shut up. In the last ten days, we have seen Lord Triesman, head of the English Football Association and chair of the England 2018 World Cup bid stung by the Daily Mail into making unwise comments to Melissa Jacobs, a lady he considered to be a personal friend but who was actually armed with a tape recorder and a requisite amount of silver.

Triesman suggested the possibility that Russian referees at the forthcoming world cup in South Africa might make preferential decisions towards Spain in return for Latin American support in deciding the outcome of who would host the event in 2018. So far, so ill-advised - but Triesman was clear that this was a private opinion only, and that he had no evidence that supported the possibility. Regardless, the sting became front page news and Triesman duly resigned, sagely noting that he was foolish to entrust his opinions to a former colleague. The England bid team have worked hard to minimise the damage, while much of the fallout has been attached to the odious Daily Mail, who have already blotted their copybook by supporting the Nazis in the run-up to World War II. In fact, I love to tell that story so much, I've decided here and now that that will be the topic of a future entry. Watch this space.

In the same week, US waitress Ashley Johnson became briefly famous for being sacked by pizza chain Brixx. Her crime - posting a Facebook entry criticising customers for being lousy at tipping. She has joined the less-than-illustrious ranks of those to put jobs at jeopardy by not thinking through the consequences of their actions.

And as for me? Kettle, this is're black. One of the hardest lessons my career has taught me is that there is a time and a place for being honest and critical with opinions. It frustrates me sometimes when things are not done well and I know that they could be done much better. However, there is also a way to make this point and much to be said for leading by example, rather than being cynical or using that horrible phrase, 'I told you so.'

Would I criticise my employer in this blog if I felt that the criticism was justified? Yes, I have always struggled to lie and I suspect that my principles would win out in the end. However, I feel it is also important to acknowledge that I and my colleagues work very hard and are often underappreciated by the general public for the things that we do well. More than ever, it is something well worth remembering.

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