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Kayleigh Graham

'Not being racist' is not enough

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In recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement and celebration of Black History Month, Kayleigh Graham explores the need for diversity within the accounting industry and how you can start to champion anti-racism.

19th Oct 2020
Partnerships manager Capitalise.com
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The accounting industry is renowned for being dominated by white males and has been notoriously slow to embrace change, so it’s exciting to see diversity become more of a mainstream topic. 

Whilst conversations are beginning to take place, change is slow across the industry and I believe that this is down to the ‘work focused’ culture of accountancy.

We have seen a huge shift in the work accountants are undertaking, with Xero’s 2020 report stating that 76% of firms expect most of their revenue to come from consultancy/advisory work in five years time. This provides an exciting opportunity for accountants to work closer than ever with their clients.

Diversity in thought, opinions and experiences is key to ensuring that businesses/individuals get access to the tools and support they need to succeed. Your value as a resource to your clients grows as you add new perspectives and ideas. 

My Story

During my childhood, I was bullied due to the colour of my skin. When I started my career in banking, I was the only woman and the only person of colour in my office. Five years on, I am now working in the fintech/accounting space and I am proud to say that I have found my voice. I'm an advocate for the change I hope to see, and I hope to help others find their voices, too.

A few years ago, the night before an interview for my role in Corporate Banking, I asked my mum to straighten my afro hair. "Why?" She asked. "Because it looks more professional," I said. My mum just stared at me.

That was a pivotal moment for me. Why was I trying to change myself to fit other people's standards of what a ‘finance professional’ is? And, more importantly, how long had I been doing that? From that moment I have made every effort to be loud and proud about my heritage, the colour of my skin, my big curly hair and the value that I bring to this world.

Most people are good people. Fundamentally, people are not racist – most would be offended if you were to suggest otherwise. However, everyone has unconscious biases (myself included). And this can mean people make decisions and behave in ways that negatively impact people of colour (POC) or indeed any minority, whether gender, creed, sexuality, fertility or other.

Why now?

In the wake of the horrific murders of 2020, in which too many black men and women have lost their lives, the huge media presence of the Black Lives Matter movement has challenged people to make changes now. People have been forced to look at themselves, to educate themselves and to reflect upon their own unconscious biases towards POC.

The BAME 2020 survey highlighted that only 1 in 250 partners across the top eight accountancy firms is black. After the survey results were published, EY diversity and inclusion sponsor partner Sayeh Ghanbari said: “We know that progress on racial equality hasn’t been fast enough and that there is more we must do.” 

We need to start seeing active change.

"Not being racist" is not enough.

Passive racism in the form of making excuses for racist comments/behaviour, dismissing them by saying things such as "they're only kids they don't understand," "that's just how things were when they were growing up," and "they didn't mean it like that" is unacceptable. 

The black community needs people to stand up beside us and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Ask the difficult questions, challenge behaviours and educate yourself about the history of police brutality, slavery, workplace discrimination and your own unconscious biases.

It's ok to say that you don't know enough, if you're going to start seeking that knowledge.

It's ok to say that you hold unconscious biases against POC, if you're going to start challenging your own thinking.

It's ok to say that you have been ignorant of racist remarks/behaviour in the past, if you ensure that doesn't happen again moving forward.

Let's be uncomfortable. And then start implementing change.

What Can You Do?

So, what can you do to start actively fighting racism in your day to day life? 

1. Be aware of your unconscious biases. Do you shy away from pronouncing difficult names? Do you think that braids, dreadlocks or afros look "less professional'? Do you change your vocabulary when around POC to fit stereotypes? If you use any graphics of people in your marketing, are they all white?

2. Stop looking at black people to instigate change. A YouGov poll conducted in 2018 showed that over half of the black UK workforce has been subject to workplace racism, and so many are afraid to speak up and don't know where to start. Take the initiative to open the conversation and then be ready to listen. You might not like what you hear, you may be uncomfortable, but listen.

3. Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to racist behaviour. Do not ignore, dismiss or downplay these things. Speak up, express your concerns and make it clear it won't be tolerated. This will feel uncomfortable at first, and that's ok. The more you do it, the easier it will become.

4. Educate yourself. Whilst accounting specific diversity/anti-racism material is limited, there are several books, films and documentaries available to help you with understanding the topic at a broader level. Here are some of my personal recommendations:

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, And A New Era In America’s Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery

‘When They See Us’ (2019) - Available on Netflix

Things aren't going to change in a day, in a week or even a month. We all need to show up and actively fight racism daily. We can’t switch off or ignore it.

Black lives matter. Now. Tomorrow. Always.

For more on diversity and why the profession needs to take it seriously, tune into People Matters with Lucy Cohen on 26 October at 9am. In celebration of Black History Month, this episode explores why firms shouldn’t be a silent bystander and explains how a diverse team can strengthen your firm and how you serve your clients.

Replies (39)

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Lone Wolf
By Lone_Wolf
19th Oct 2020 12:19

'Not being racist' is not enough.

Yes it is. I am not responsible for the behaviour of other people, in the same way that they are not responsible for mine.

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Replying to Lone_Wolf:
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By SXGuy
19th Oct 2020 13:16

I'm also fed up of referring to the recent racial murders of 2020.

Black on black crime has been a major issue for decades, yet for some reason its only an issue when it becomes white on black crime.

Its easy to point fingers elsewhere, but in any other setting the words "get your own house in order first" would probably be mentioned.

I'm happy to discuss racism, and how we combat it, I'm someone who treats everyone equal regardless of their colour. What I'm not happy with is being labeled as the problem and ignoring everything else that goes on in the black community.

And for an organisation such as blm to advocate defunding of the police force, their hardly the role model Id want my children to adopt quite frankly.

Let's have a debate on what everyone can do to combat racism, but let's also admit that there is other issues that need to be addressed as well.

What we don't need, is to be accused of having white privilege, and what we also don't need, is a quota system to make people of colour feel more included.

Mostly everything that's been done in recent years in the name of equality, ends up causing more divide.

There needs to be a fairer way, on all fronts to combat racism, without the finger pointing.

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Replying to Lone_Wolf:
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By kestrepo
19th Oct 2020 13:25

"Bad things happen when good people stand by and do nothing" - trouble is I cant remember who said it!

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Replying to Lone_Wolf:
By Duggimon
23rd Oct 2020 10:40

Lone_Wolf wrote:

'Not being racist' is not enough.

Yes it is. I am not responsible for the behaviour of other people, in the same way that they are not responsible for mine.

You're entitled to your opinion, and I'm entitled to disagree with it.

Why would you not want to help people when it costs you nothing? It's easy to disagree with and ignore racists, and to feel secure in knowing you're not like them, but not everyone ignores them which is why racism is still so pervasive.

Surely we can all agree racism itself is an entirely negative trait that's bad for society and bad for humanity, so why won't you lift a finger to help curb, reduce and remove it's impact?

"'Not being racist' is not enough." just means that once in a while, when someone else is being racist, you could ask them not to. It doesn't seem much to ask and you taking umbrage at it is a helpful contribution to the racist and extremist elements in society.

You can be racist or you can be anti-racist, taking a position in between and doing nothing only helps the racists.

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By kestrepo
19th Oct 2020 13:22

If the question is "Does more need to be done?" then I think the answer is probably yes it really does. I do however question the methodology in your blanket approach. I do think that the USA has mountains to climb and racism is institutionally entrenched and openly supported. The UK has taken a much more multicultural approach for many many years and people are more tolerant , understanding and receptive to change and ideas. While all Kings may well be white it does not not mean that all white people are Kings (or Queens!) and to target well meaning and honest folk will probably see more backs up, animosity and damage to the cause than good. I support a more targeted approach for the UK. People need to be geared to pounce when racism strikes.

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By Trethi Teg
19th Oct 2020 13:29

This is meant to be a professional website relating to matters of interest and importance to those that access it.

I have absolutely no problem with equality for all but this is not , in my opinion, a platform for this sort of article.

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Replying to Trethi Teg:
Richard Hattersley
By Richard Hattersley
19th Oct 2020 13:55

Hi Trethi Teg,

I appreciate your point, but I disagree. This is an issue that's affecting many within the profession. As Kayleigh points out, a recent survey showed that only one in 250 partners across the top eight accountancy firms is black.

Kayleigh's words also echo many conversations happening within accountancy firms, especially the mid-to -large firms.

As an accountancy website we report on everything from the latest tax news, to the latest accounting technology and the important issues happening in practice - and diversity in the workplace is one of those issues. It's become such a big talking point that firms are rolling out diversity plans internally.

Therefore, a topic like this is exactly something AccountingWEB should be reporting on.

Kind regards
Richard

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By Jdopus
19th Oct 2020 14:42

Shouldn't it be targeted at AccountingWeb's actual users then? This website is geared towards the small business market in the UK. The article above and all the extra reading recommended in it deals with topics that have little to do with the UK in general since they're US-centric movements. Ferguson/Baltimore/books entirely written from a US perspective? Are these really that applicable here?

The UK has a black population but by comparison it's much smaller than the US's as a proportion of the population and the migrant movements into the UK come a lot more from ex-commonwealth countries.

Even the idea of there actually being an identifiable "Black" community is a US-centric construction that doesn't apply in any meaningful way in the UK. We don't have "African" people, we have people from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa etc. The idea of treating peoples from half the known world as if they're a single community is nonsense as soon as you step outside the US.

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
By SteveHa
20th Oct 2020 12:35

Richard Hattersley wrote:

a recent survey showed that only one in 250 partners across the top eight accountancy firms is black.

Zero of 250 partners across the top eight accountancy firms is me. That doesn't mean that there is any prejudice against me.

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Replying to Richard Hattersley:
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By SXGuy
24th Oct 2020 08:39

Could you please give an example of how racism has affected someone to not be able to be one of the top 250 that you have refered to when talking about racism?

Pointing out that there are lower numbers of black ppl in certain areas does not prove racism, it just proves there are fewer numbers of black people.

I could quote a statistic for an area in which there may be fewer males compared to females, doesn't make it sexism.

Prove with examples and evidence, not statements to fit a narrative.

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Replying to SXGuy:
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By Paul Crowley
27th Oct 2020 15:04

I think this is about perceived anti Black racism only
The number of Asian (both UK and USA use of word) accountants does I suspect point the other way

The quote is for big firms and only one ethnicity.
My tiny little firm not considered of sufficient interest to writer

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Replying to Trethi Teg:
Oaklea
By Chris.Mann
19th Oct 2020 16:35

That's the theme of this forum, isn't it Trethi? The opportunity to say what you think/feel? Is an accountancy forum "special"?

Let's not forget, there are individuals in the financial services, who are black, white, male, female and those with a variety of disabilities. We, they, are all entitled to an opinion in the free world.

Topical issues are of importance and this article is away from the hustle and bustle of the "professional website" - any questions and that's debatable how professional that is, on some occasions.

Where I do disagree with this years movements. All lives matter, because they're all precious. We are all someone's daughter, or son and that (really) matters.

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Replying to Chris.Mann:
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By Paul Crowley
20th Oct 2020 16:14

All lives matter
If a similar comment made in USA you would now be getting death threats
Hilary Clinton made that mistake 5 years ago

Hillary Clinton's 3-Word Misstep: 'All Lives Matter'

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Kirsty image
By Kirsty McGregor
19th Oct 2020 14:24

How proud I am that Kayleigh is a colleague who has the strength of mind to speak about things important to her, in the profession & amongst the accountants she works with every day, to a community who may not have ever experienced any prejudice, racial or otherwise, in their lives.

And I’m pleased so many have taken the time to read her words. And commented. Whether in support or not, they’ve commented. Because these feelings of sometimes being excluded from the conversation is real life for many in our profession. And we need to hear about that, otherwise we can’t change it.

It’s a long-standing traditional profession & whilst I love its history, I also want it to move forward & be diverse enough to represent all the wonderful uniqueness in our country, to bring in all these experiences, all these opinions, all this history. So we can open our minds to be the best advisers we can be.

Having a profession which is fit for the future will impact on all of us.

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Replying to kirstymcgregor:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2020 12:10

As long as we get rid of sales gimmicky marketing (Bob you know who I mean) and allow the profession to promote on merit and desire instead of quota's, then it will be fit for the future.

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By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
19th Oct 2020 17:29

The profession has (mostly) dealt with sexism with more or less equal numbers in training, not so many in senior roles, but that takes a generation to build. I am sure old readers will remember when women where written off as fine in theory, but will go off and have kids so pointless to train. Ditto when being gay was career ending, as opposed to a "meh" of little interest to anyone unless you are trying to seduce them. Younger readers will be shocked how recently the above was a mainstream opinion.

But we are profession woefully underrepresented by black people. Lots of British Asians but not much Black.. I don't know why that is, probably lots of factors (lower than average educational attainment is probably a factor, as well as the opposite cultural reasons why we have lots of British Asian accountants) but I am sure some of that is a lack of role models in the profession as well as conscious and unconscious bias within the profession at a recruitment level.

What even the smallest business can do is consider unconscious bias in recruitment processes. Are you mentally grading down the candidate with the 'hard to pronounce' name? Or thinking the Asian looking candidate must be better than numbers? You might be and not be realising it. Its really easy to do, im sure i do it without meaning to.

The best thing you can do do help is to listen to the issue as perceived by the people facing them, and not dismiss this sort of thing as woke snowflake tosh.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By SXGuy
20th Oct 2020 06:42

So then let's have a discussion about why there are fewer black people in high position roles and what can be done about it, without basically saying its a racist thing that needs combating.

Sure there's probably some areas where this is true but I don't believe every reason for why a black person isn't in a. Position of authority is because of racism. Yet for some reason the two are always mentioned together like the reason for one is because of the other. Again this kind of attitude just creates more tension and divide.

Show examples of how someone with the skill, and expirence was looked over for being black, show examples of racism in the work place that meant someone could not achieve the position they aimed for, but don't just blanket accuse everyone of racism simply because the numbers aren't what people would like them to be.

There's currently fewer men in teaching than there are women, there's a reason for that, but I would not be calling sexism as my first argument.

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Replying to SXGuy:
By ireallyshouldknowthisbut
20th Oct 2020 09:53

@SXGuy, its not a case of blanket accusing everyone of overt racism. I think we are largely past that in the UK, albeit some still lingers and has certainly gotten worse since Brexit.

Its considering whether, unintentionally people are doing others down due to race, (or any other factors), and asking people to reflect and consider on their own actions.

That's not accusing people of being racist. That's asking a very deep question which quite frankly can be uncomfortable. I think its that feeling uncomfortable which gets people's backs up and its easier to be angry about the person asking the question than think about the question.

Recruiters for some time have removed names from CV's to stop unconscious bias about 'funny names', and you know what I thought it was bonkers when I first saw it, but I have changed my mind on that. I think its really helpful as you skip past any thought of 'so where are they from?' and go straight to 'what can they do?" . That's tackling unconscious bias in action - and it works. As you say as a recruiter the last thing you want to do is pick the second best candidate, and any help with getting it right and tackling my own bias (which is always going to be 'someone like me but younger', or 'like the good one who left', or 'like the other one in the office who is great').

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By SXGuy
20th Oct 2020 13:52

That's great and I agree. But after you have done these things and still the outcome remains the same, you still get some who still use the racist card as a reason for why they didn't get the job.

I've been a victim myself of being called racist simply because the person I was arguing with, didn't have a valid argument. Race never came in to it.

Unconscious racism is a term I don't feel comfortable with, it almost implies that if your not openly racist, your somehow secretly racist.

You mention removing names from cvs to combat it, that's great, I have no issues with that, I do however have issues with solutions like imposing quotas of hiring certain ethnic backgrounds. What you end up with is a group of people who meet the requirement and not always the skill needed.

I just feel that the way combating racism has been done over the years causes more divide. It doesn't tackle the real reason for racism.

Educate is the answer, quotas, finger pointing, blame and bringing up history from hundreds of years ago does nothing other than create more hatred.

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Replying to SXGuy:
Red Leader
By Red Leader
20th Oct 2020 15:09

Perhaps "unconscious prejudice" would be a better term.

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Replying to ireallyshouldknowthisbut:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2020 12:21

Do you honestly think that an employer in the Accountancy profession, when recruiting, is bothered about anything other than, "can this person earn me money".
Accountants aren't bothered about HR. In all my 55 years in Accountancy I have never yet met one who is racist.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
28th Oct 2020 00:11

Hi John

I am assuming you are a caucasian. I am not. There is racism in the Accountancy profession. I have experienced many times as an employee. It made me more determined to carry on and achieve my objectives.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2020 11:21

Are you sure that what you experienced wasn't normal Accountancy banter (which can be pretty cutting).
All I can say is that I have never encountered racism in the profession. I have experienced lots of knuckle biting remarks, especially when there are 4 or 5 juniors together. If you are directing remarks at everybody then the person cannot be racist. I believe a lot of ethnic minorities just don't understand British humour.
One of my clients recently went to Tanzania and was regularly pointed at and called Mzungu (white man). He didn't feel it was racist.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
28th Oct 2020 11:38

After being in the UK for 44 years, I have a sound understanding of British humour.

I have experienced racism disguised as humour. Thankfully, I now the confidence to point out and take matters in hand.

John, you are a white person, you just would not go through the same experience.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By AS44NG
02nd Dec 2020 20:12

FirstTab wrote:

After being in the UK for 44 years, I have a sound understanding of British humour.

I have experienced racism disguised as humour. Thankfully, I now the confidence to point out and take matters in hand.

John, you are a white person, you just would not go through the same experience.

Imagine if John had said "you are a black person you just would not go through the same experience."

I dare say he would have been asked to apologise.

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Replying to johnjenkins:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
28th Oct 2020 11:38

After being in the UK for 44 years, I have a sound understanding of British humour.

I have experienced racism disguised as humour. Thankfully, I now the confidence to point out and take matters in hand.

John, you are a white person, you just would not go through the same experience.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2020 12:02

With the greatest of respect, it maybe YOUR perception of the humour that it was racist. Perhaps the person saying it wasn't being racist. We all perceive things that perhaps aren't meant what we perceive them to be. Other seemingly innocents comments can carry a multitude of abuse. You have to know the person who is making the comment. My own thought is that humour has various guises and if it is said as humour then there are no restrictions. If humour in this country was only about ethnic minorities then there might be a point but it isn't. British humour pokes fun at every conceivable thing including itself. How many jokes are there about Covid, with all the deaths and destruction of the economy?

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Replying to johnjenkins:
FirstTab
By FirstTab
28th Oct 2020 12:17

Everything is a matter of perception including racism.

You are a white guy saying there is no racism. I will agree to disagree and move on.

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Replying to FirstTab:
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By johnjenkins
28th Oct 2020 13:17

I respect your decision but as a tangent what was the comment made to you that you thought was hidden racism?

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By AndyC555
20th Oct 2020 11:39

"In the wake of the horrific murders of 2020, in which too many black men and women have lost their lives"

If we're going to bring murder into a topic of workplace racism.

What are we talking about here? Murders in the UK? USA? The US Virgin Islands and Jamaica (which in 2018 had the second and third highest murder rates in the world with 49.3 and 43.8 per 100,000 people compared to the USA's 4.96 and UK's 1.2)?

If it's the highly publicised recent events in the US, I agree the situation there is awful. In 2019 there were 13,927 murder victims in the USA. If it's the racial element of that, it may be an uncomfortable statistical fact that young black men are disproportionately murdered and that in the vast majority of cases where the murderer is identified it's another young black man but fact it is.

Are referring to anything in particular? The death of a man handcuffed and pinned to the ground, knelt on by a policeman, a video showing him repeatedly saying "you're gonna to kill me"? That would be the 2016 death of Tony Timpa? No?

"4. Educate yourself." I quite agree.

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By Paul Crowley
20th Oct 2020 16:18

If ever you picked the wrong audience

You accuse me of racism because I am white and male

Shame on you, sort your own bias.

Do some proper research on US BLM

My employees: 2 white male, 3 not white(1 male 2 female)
lowest paids are 1 white male 1 not white female

By not white I add not born in this country and English second or third language

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Replying to Paul Crowley:
By Duggimon
23rd Oct 2020 10:43

Who called you racist?

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By john hextall
23rd Oct 2020 11:45

They are all good recommendations Kayleigh, thank you.

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By Tony1958
23rd Oct 2020 12:55

I am Welsh. I have been called Taffy many times and sometimes in a not so pleasant way.

Try this - we're all thieves https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taffy_was_a_Welshman

Why is no one rioting in the streets for me? Why is no one campaigning for my rights? Why are we not banning the T word on social media?

BTW it doesn't bother me. I'm not someone who is constantly looking for reasons why I am the victim.

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Replying to Tony1958:
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By johnjenkins
23rd Oct 2020 13:50

And Scottish people are called "Jocks" or "sweaty socks". The Irish are called Micks. The list is endless. You've got suedes, Geordies, cockneys. None of them racist. Is Yank racist? Is double Dutch racist? Al Jolson, was he racist? Men who dress as woman in panto and portray them in a less than accepted way, are they sexist? Too much rubbish has been spouted about sexism and racism. Leave people alone to deal with it and it will all be ok in a natural way.

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By Brian Ogilvie
24th Oct 2020 11:14

Manufactured outrage combined with a tendentious arguement.Pathetic really but I suppose there is a career in this stuff these days....

Interesting interview in this week's Spectator with MP Kemi Badenoch,the Equalities Minister.She has seen through these attempts to stir up division,and has 'seen within all this a pernicious ideology that portrays blackness as victimhood and whiteness as oppression' Says it all really.

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By ourpetsheadsarefallingoff
26th Oct 2020 14:20

What a shock that the ultra-conservative middle-aged white male demographic of accountingweb is furious about this...

Thank you for posting Kayleigh, we must keep trying and hopefully in a few decades the accountancy world will dip a nervous toe into the 21st century.

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Replying to ourpetsheadsarefallingoff:
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By SXGuy
26th Oct 2020 18:48

Wow. Thanks for your contribution.

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By AS44NG
02nd Dec 2020 20:25

What a ridiculous and patronising article! I'm shocked that this is allowed on this forum. And why does the tip for fighting racism include point number 2? Is all racism one-way? I'm white and have at times been treated adversely because of my skin colour, isn't that racism?

I'm with Morgan Freeman who when antagonisingly asked what should we do about racism, replied; "stop talking about it, if we do it isn't a thing".

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