‘Offended and ignored’: Black charity staff detail racism they encounter from beneficiaries

A charity is taking a “zero tolerance” stance on racism against staff from beneficiaries.

The move has been taken after consulting with staff about the prejudice they and colleagues have encountered from the people they are supporting.

This includes charity workers being ignored at meetings and asked to be removed from cases by beneficiaries because of their ethnicity.

In one case a client subjected a charity worker to an “offensive” impression of an Asian doctor.

The details have emerged in a statement from the charity POhWER, on work being carried out by the organisation to ensure it is effectively tackling racism and adopting a zero-tolerance approach to prejudice.

This includes the option of refusing to work for beneficiaries who are racist. In announcing its stance the advocacy charity has also publicly revealed the views of black and ethnic minority staff and their colleagues on their experiences of encountering racism among beneficiaries.

“I did have a client who was imitating an Indian doctor in order to ridicule them as they thought I would find it entertaining,” said POhWER community manager Selina Edwards, who is chair of the charity’s anti racism staff network group.

“I told them politely, but firmly I did not find them funny, they were offensive and if the client was to continue to be disrespectful, I would not be able to support them.”

She said that after an “educating conversation the client agreed it was wrong” and “seemed genuine”.

“I asked them how they thought the doctor would feel and in fact humiliating people is unkind,” added Edwards.

Meanwhile, the charity’s independent health complaints advocate Jenny Dowell has revealed how she attended a meeting with a client who “was surprised I was Black” and then “never engaged with me throughout the whole meeting. That was such a demoralising experience for me”.

POhWER community advocate Maria Soccari said that a beneficiary had “asked for a Jamaican advocate to be removed from her case due to her not being able to understand the advocate’s accent”. This request was refused by the charity’s team manager.

The charity’s head of safeguarding, quality and risk Sandra Black welcomed action taken by POhWER to ensure racism to its staff is confronted rather than ignored.

“I am keen to acknowledge the change that has been made in adopting a zero-tolerance stance on racism against our staff,” she said.

“For too long we have been a charity which has essentially let any beneficiary ‘get away’ with being racist or abusive to our staff.”

She added: “Now we have said ‘no more’ to this, and I am proud to support my colleagues in laying down that marker and following it up with withdrawal of service if necessary.”

Advice to charity leaders

Helen Moulinos, the chief executive of POhWER, said that for charity leaders to be anti-racist they “need to first understand what systems of inequality, oppression, disadvantage exist” within their own organisation.

“If I were to say to you that inequalities exist in our society, you very likely would agree,” she added.

“Therefore, your starting point as a charity leader must be to assume those same inequalities persist in the charity you work in. To put your head in the sand and deny that racism exists is to further marginalise your own workforce and beneficiaries. “

Moulinous said that “too often, charities are lazy and believe writing policies is enough to eliminate inequality, discrimination, or abuse”.

Instead, she urges to design action to tackle racism based on feedback from charity workers and said “expectations, behaviours and tone start” with charity leaders.

“Make it clear that EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion) is not something that sits solely with the CEO, people director or EDI Manager. In my own charity I make it clear that treating people with dignity and respect is everyone’s responsibility - no matter what the job title,” she said.

“Remove disparities, cronyism, special favours, detractors, barriers by design. That exception to policy you thought was being kind to an upset colleague? That action was you treating people differently.

“Make it easy for people to whistle blow, raise a grievance,” she added.

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