I quit the last job I had before going full time as a travel blogger because of racism. I think younger me would probably have just carried on and attempted to ignore the problems but the older I get the less I chose to accept or normalise any of this.
Being accosted and told off by someone I’d never met at the company I worked for before because they had mistaken me for the other black guy on our office floor that they were looking to tell off. Being ignored in team meetings and, without hesitation, being told point-blank that the reason I was being ignored was because I ‘sounded different’, despite being the only person in that team that spoke English as their first language. Being persistently limited from contact with senior members of our clients, contact that I needed to actually deliver on my job. A rule I later found out was only ever applied to me – the one black guy in the team. Even junior member of this team – right down to entry-level (I was at manager level) were allowed unpoliced access. And so on and so on. That last one was the reason I quit.
On some level, I’d kinda hoped someday to become a full-time travel blogger and be my own boss but I had no plans to do that anytime soon. It was scary and it wasn’t like travel blogging back then was a career that anybody knew could be what it is now. I also actually loved the project I was working on at the company and I was objectively really good at it too. Most people who’ve met me know the story of me quitting my job earlier than hoped to go full time on the blog. What they don’t know is the reason why or indeed what happened after.
When I quit, I just couldn’t bring myself to not mention why I was quitting. I had nothing to lose and so, I decided at the last minute to put in the reason why I wanted to quit into the resignation letter.
And that was me done. “Farewell to that toxic environment” I thought. But then someone from HR reached out to me and said I couldn’t just quit like that and that what I said in my resignation was so serious that they had to investigate. Gotta admit, my initial instinct was to say no. I’d just resigned after all and for me, that was the end of that chapter. A chapter I just wanted to step away from and focus on the next one.
But they insisted and so I said yes. Investigate if you like. And so off they went allegedly investigating what happened. I was then sent the result of their investigation which said “Well, what you said happened actually happened but we don’t believe it was wrong nor racist”. Outraged, I appealed that result. I didn’t want to be part of this investigation, I never requested it nor did I believe the right thing would be done because realistically I couldn’t see the company officially holding their hands up and accepting guilt. That would open them up to so many ramifications. But they chose to start this conversation and to just dismiss it flippantly like that was just something I couldn’t accept. I couldn’t let it go. It was like putting salt in a wound that I felt I had found a way to close. No, actually, it was like they had opened the wound I had tried very hard to close and then decided to add salt to it because apparently opening it just wasn’t enough.
And so I appealed that decision (this was still with the company reviewing themselves) and they came back with a different version of that response. And back and forth it went. Before I knew it, instead of spending my newfound free time working on the blog I am so passionate about, I found myself being drawn into this conversation I’d chosen to side-step for my own sanity. I knew I couldn’t just leave it alone back then because I know some other young black professional would find themselves in probably a similar situation at this company somewhere in the future and by me speaking up, it would hopefully change the experiences that they would have in the future. Perhaps even help them avoid it altogether.
After going back and forth and realising there was no way a company would ever openly admit to any wrongdoing on its part, I figured it was time to take it to an external adjudicator. Despite the fact that I should have seen this happening a mile off, I was just so infuriated by their response. I know it’s unrealistic to expect a company to find themselves ‘guilty’ but this was just ridiculous and quite frankly, insulting.
I was however also starting to get weary because while it was someone’s full-time job at the company to deal with stuff like this, it wasn’t mine. I had a business that I was trying to build and 101 other things to focus on that had nothing to do with this. I had to do or focus on in my life. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t even a conversation I wanted to be part of and that I never asked for this investigation or review. I just wanted to remove myself from that toxic work environment.
A friend who I’d been speaking to about all of this urged me to see this through and so I started off the process with the external independent adjudicators. Upon realising I was going to make a formal complaint outside of the company, the tone of the response from the company went dark and fairly sinister. I received a not-so-thinly veiled threat saying the company would come after me with their lawyers and try to ruin me financially by coming after me for money. I was shocked. I was horrified and I think I was in large part scared.
I’m not proud of this but for my sanity, I just gave up. What chance did I have defending my case and telling my story against a multi-billion pound company? They had lawyers and I had just me. I couldn’t see any way any sort of justice would be served so I gave up. And again, that reminder “I never started this conversation. I never wanted an investigation. I didn’t ask for any of this to even begin with” And that’s how I justified giving up to myself. I was never looking for a fight to begin with and I couldn’t see clearly at the time if the system would actually protect or defend me.
Funny thing is, at the time, I remember thinking to myself that at least I was lucky when it came to being treated differently or being victimised, at least it wasn’t physical. Like in some ways, that I was lucky that in this context with work at least my ill-treatment was something as ‘trivial’ as this. I thought “People are being attacked elsewhere, this stuff is stuff I can forget, step past and ignore”. “I’m lucky” I told myself. And that’s what I told myself to allow myself to push this whole episode aside. Except I don’t believe that lie anymore. I don’t think I ever really believed that to begin with.
These last few days have made me hopeful though. It’s also made me wonder what would have happened if I had followed things through. Seeing people speak up and stand up for what’s right and the outpouring of support has given me a bit of hope. What I will say though is that the real change needs to happen outside of social media. All the support, pastime sentiments and vows to help and change has to be taken into real-life situations. We all know social media is not real-life. It’s a glimpse into it. A hashtag won’t change black lives if all it ever does is remain a hashtag. It can only ever become truly powerful and a real force for change if people actually take the message and apply it to everyday life. This is what will make the difference.