The Workplace: Banter to Offence – A Short Journey

The Workplace: Banter to Offence – A Short Journey
September 18, 2016 Project Equall

Whenever the reactive cry from an employer to an allegation of prejudice is ‘We have a policy’, there is an instinctive mental alarm that commences to holler. The legal position of course is somewhat sated by the possession of regulations that are deigned to show opposition to prejudice and discrimination.

The moral stance is somewhat lacking if all any organisation can muster is the written word, handed to recruits and assumed that when the employer speaks of an opposition to prejudice the respective employee knows what actually constitutes prejudice and/or discrimination.

Unfortunately large sections of the workforce will subscribe to what they hear in the pub, from family, peer pressure and other sources. This, in turn, is often sourced to how the media portray the issues of racism, sexism, disablism, religious prejudice and other forms of discrimination. The implications of this are that there is almost a futility when two parties are disagreeing over some form of allegation. Why? Because both parties have very different perceptions of what can be justifiably deemed as a word or act that is discriminatory or is aggravated by prejudice towards a certain group.

The perpetual argument that comes from so many who are confronted with an accusation of verbal prejudice is that ‘There was no malice’ or that ‘It was meant as a joke’. At this stage the word ‘banter’ is prone to surfacing. I sometimes think this word was invented as a riposte to such allegations, it is used in very few other contexts in here and now. Whilst there may be merits in the perpetrator’s argument, it may be the case that there was no genuine hostility and that the person now in the disciplinary firing line holds no intolerant attitudes to the group of the aggrieved party, it is worth pointing out that this is often irrelevant.

The distinction between intent of perpetrator and feelings of victim is perhaps best illustrated by how many times the offender has made the remark and, crucially, how many times the victim has heard it, or remarks similar in sentiment and not just from the most recent source.

In short – ‘I appreciate you may mean no malice when you refer to me as a faggot but what you have to understand is that I have heard this language and terminology relentlessly for over a decade, ever since my sexuality was more commonly known’.

In making statements like the above the victim is not asserting they are more susceptible to taking offence than anyone else, they are not a fragile shell with a lower threshold for insensitivity. In the period before the scenario above we also have to factor in that in other environments where such phrases have been commonplace the intent of any abuser was not borne of joviality, more a subscription that the person, Gay, Disabled or other is, in belonging to certain minority groups undeserving of full rights. In other words, not entitled to what so many assume as human beings. When we entertain such notions we should never forget that what this amounts to is a perception that if a person has less rights than other human beings they are seen as nearly human. Or, sub-human.

The journey almost always starts in verbal mode, repeated often enough it develops different interpretations. History dictates that it rarely ever stops with words.

The modern workplace needs levity, the ‘stresses of the job’ almost demand light-hearted relief across the office or factory floor. The output is contignent upon it. It is best however when all are laughing. And sincerely so.

Kieron Brady

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