Formal Complaint of Racism- Help!

(646 Posts)
OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:14:48

I've NC as this is quite outing.

I work in the back office (10 people, all women, desk work) doing logistics for delivery drivers (27 people, mostly men, out and about all day).

We've had a bloke called Steve (not his real name) working as a delivery driver for years. Steve is black. Then another Steve came. So the original Steve became known as 'black Steve', which he's completely fine with, and new Steve became 'white Steve' which he's also fine with. We also have 'Short Trev' and 'Tall Trev' for two blokes called Trev. They're descriptions just to differentiate.

A new woman has started in the back office with us and asked me the other day what to do with an order which needed express sending. I told her to give it to 'black Steve' for various reasons. She's seemed quite nice, a little bit up-tight perhaps but that's usual when starting a new place.

Fast-forward to today and my manager has called me in the office to let me know that this new woman has put in a complaint about me using racist language. He's arranged a formal meeting with me and her for next Friday to talk through the complaint and see 'where we go' (his words). I'm in a union so I've got a union representative coming with me but I'm completely flawed by it.

I don't know what to do. I'm trying to remain calm and professional with this woman but I'm angry and upset. I don't want to mention anything to black Steve but, at the same time, it feels odd that there's all this going on with him being at the centre but him not really knowing. I also know that if I did mention it some of the drivers would take issue with her and I don't want them to get themselves into any trouble either.

I don't know what I'm asking really TBH. just some words of wisdom and advice from MNers would be breat!

lougle Wed 26-Oct-16 11:24:33

Well she's right, isn't she? You've differentiated on the grounds of race. That 'black Steve' doesn't mind (was this his idea or did people start calling him 'black Steve' and he just didn't object?) isn't really the point.

You could have used 'old Steve' and 'new Steve' or even used 'Steve Surname', which you would have done if one of them didn't conveniently didn't have a different colour skin.

WaxingNinja Wed 26-Oct-16 11:27:57

I'd have thought their surname would have been a better way to differentiate.

OlennasWimple Wed 26-Oct-16 11:28:13

Um, I would be upset if I started at an office where people where described by reference to their physical characteristics. What's wrong with Steve M and Steve L, or similar? Even their full names? You shouldn't be angry and upset at her for pointing out that the convention in your office is wrong.

lougle Wed 26-Oct-16 11:28:33

I didn't really answer your OP, sorry.

I think all you can do is accept that whilst it had become common practice to refer to the longstanding employee Steve as 'black Steve' and you had no racist intent, it really isn't appropriate. Thank the staff member for raising it and say that on reflection you've realised it would be more appropriate to refer to him as 'Steve Surname', and will do so in future.

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:28:39

These are labels used by everyone, the Steve's and Trev's included.

Black Steve was the one who 'suggested' it. He was introduced to white Steve like 'Steve this is Steve' and black Steve put his hand out to shake and said 'black Steve, nice to meet you'. This was about six years ago.

DiscoMike Wed 26-Oct-16 11:31:20

Why didn't you call them Big Steve and Little Steve? You were being racist and your colleague hasn't been "a little bit uptight" in pointing out that she didn't want any part of that.

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:31:43

Olennas I'm not upset that she's pointed out that the convention isn't suitable. I'm upset that she's filed a formal complaint about me specifically rather than raising the issue in a team meeting. Everyone uses these terms, not just me.

ThatsWotSheSaid Wed 26-Oct-16 11:32:06

I'd be offended too even if 'Steve' wasn't. I'd be offended by being called short or white as well.

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:32:56

DiscoMike I didn't mean she was uptight because she's made the complaint. I meant her general attitude has been a bit uptight but I did say I completely understand that at a new workplace.

MidnightVelvetthe7th Wed 26-Oct-16 11:34:00

My DP works in the same environment & they have a Big John, a Little John, a Fat John & a Driver John.

I do feel uncomfortable that your workplace uses skin colour to differentiate between colleagues, however not so far back we had White Dee all over the TV & that seemed to be OK... I would also wonder if black Steve is as OK as you suggest with his nickname, it could be he's not but due to the company culture & the time he's been there, feels unable to say anything.

I would say to your manager that it was so entrenched it wasn't questioned, but from now on you will start to refer to them as Steve P & Steve F or any way to differentiate between them that isn't race. I agree with your colleague but from experience at DP's workplace I can see how it has happened & that people would scoff at the complaint & be all PC gorn mad, then black Steve will have to defend his racist nickname to keep being one of the lads.

MidnightVelvetthe7th Wed 26-Oct-16 11:34:56

x posted with the whole of mumsnet! smile

Mozfan1 Wed 26-Oct-16 11:36:03

Well if everyone uses it you're not the only person who should be talked to then. There should be a conversation with everybody in the office and the drivers that it isn't appropriate. Are you the only person she's heard using the 'black Steve/ tall trev' thing?

CrazyDuchess Wed 26-Oct-16 11:38:40

If I'd just joined your office I would have complained too.

And please op stop referring of him as black steve.

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:38:52

Mozfan1 I think I'm the only person who's referred to him in that way to her, like in a conversation with her. But 'black Steve' and 'Tall Trev' are banded about the offices all day so it's not the first or only time she's heard the reference. If that makes any sense at all!

Mozfan1 Wed 26-Oct-16 11:40:19

Op I'm going to pm you smile

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:40:49

and other driver nicknames are said in the office all day, not just those two!!

OhBollocksFuck Wed 26-Oct-16 11:41:28

Okay, thank you Mozfan1 smile

CrazyDuchess Wed 26-Oct-16 11:41:38

Well I guess you go in to your meeting next apologise profusely, explain the context and how it's come about and would like the opportunity to demonstrate you have understood why it's offensive.

Ask that a wider message be circulated.

Just because everyone does it dosent make it right.

IrenetheQuaint Wed 26-Oct-16 11:44:10

Calling him Black Steve isn't racist as it's not derogatory in any way. Make this point and explain that the nickname comes from Black Steve himself, but that you can see maybe it isn't the best and that it would be worth speaking to Black Steve privately and then maybe raising this with the whole team.

DixieWishbone Wed 26-Oct-16 11:44:10

As Mozfan1 posted, if everyone in the office is doing this, then the manager should be talking to everyone in the office, and you need to point that out during the hearing.

As the new employee has demonstrated, even if you don't think it is racist, other people do. I would have felt extremely uncomfortable to hear employees being differentiated by their physical characteristics (and someone somewhere is being referred to as 'Fat John'? What?) The manager has to deal with this because they are leaving the company liable to a complaint of racism further on down the line. If Steve is made redundant or sacked he can very easily turn around and sue for racial discrimination and use this as an example of how he was treated. This should never have been allowed in the first place.

Bestthingever Wed 26-Oct-16 11:44:30

Good for your colleague for bringing it up. You should all be spoken to about it. It's not okay to do that.

noeuf Wed 26-Oct-16 11:46:24

I think it's actually tricky because black as a word doesn't have any negative connotations. So Tall Steve is no worse or better than Black Steve. There's no pretence given to White Steve - he doesn't get better jobs etc.

However, differentiating on physical differences is a dumb idea in any case. Although the general visible office culture may be to do this and it's an it 'lad culture' there is no room then for people not to be referred to like this if they don't like it. Plus references to skin colour are always loaded given the long history of poor treatment and discrimination to black people in this and other countries.

Best to go to the meeting, say you'd not thought about it as the whole office uses it, and you'd have preferred to have it raised via an alternative means .

CrazyDuchess Wed 26-Oct-16 11:46:26

Racisism doesn't necessarily have to be derogatory

CrazyDuchess Wed 26-Oct-16 11:47:15

Agree the whole office needs to have a conversation!

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