Thompson law NEWS & ARTICLES

Older people may not be intentionally racist

A judge has ruled that older white people who use the term “coloured” are not necessarily racist, because they have not had “multicultural acquaintances”.

While adjudicating on a workplace harassment claim, Judge Robert Clark said they may employ the term in the belief they are being polite when referring to an individual belonging to an ethnic minority. He further commented that they may think the word is acceptable owing to “less polite alternatives” used in the past. He suggested they may not have benefited from having “multicultural acquaintances”.

The comments were made by the judge after a black cleaner launched a harassment claim against his employer, Atlas Facilities Management, because one of his white colleagues used the term.

Ryan Justin was angry that another cleaner made a note in the comments book used by employees as they changed shift at the Pure Gym in Derby. 49-year-old Markham Pell wrote that “three coloured guys were messing around”. The tribunal heard that Mr Justin confronted Mr Pell, who immediately apologised and said he had not intended to be racist, and thought the word “coloured” was less offensive than “black”. However, Mr Justin pursued a harassment claim, declared in his witness statement, “Black people have had to put up with offensive name tags or described with offensive racist slurs for many years, however times have changed.” The tribunal ruled that Mr Justin’s approach to Mr Pell was “confrontational” and that Mr Pell had genuinely tried to do the right thing.

Judge Clark dismissed the claim, saying: “The fact that this outdated language was once used descriptively by people who genuinely felt it to be a polite term, is only so because of the less polite alternatives that existed in that past era. We accept white people of a certain age who perhaps have not had much opportunity to benefit from multicultural acquaintances may draw on this outdated language in the mistaken belief it is polite and descriptive.”