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Standing up to racism
  1. Suzanne Jarvis

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This week in Vet Record we are publishing a feature article on the racism suffered by those in the profession who are black, Asian or from a minority ethnic group (BAME).

The three case studies featured show that, not only are there some shocking incidents that have been experienced, but also that the problem appears to be far from a rare occurrence.

And that they have experienced racism not only from clients but from fellow vet students and colleagues, especially those in more senior roles, is depressing and shameful to read.

Actual data on racism incidents experienced by vets, vet nurses and vet students is lacking, so it is to be welcomed that the RCVS plans to gather data to ascertain the extent of the problem.

It is an issue on which there should be zero tolerance and racism should be called out on every occasion

But as RCVS president Amanda Boag says ‘whatever the extent it’s too much’. It is an issue on which there should be zero tolerance and racism should be called out on every occasion.

So what can be done now before any data are generated? As Navaratnam Partheeban, one of those featured in our case studies, makes clear, if you see it, don’t ignore it, call it out.

This approach certainly makes sense. For a start, it shows the person experiencing the racism that you support them, but it can also be the beginning of changing the expectations and culture of a workplace, be it practice, university or industry, so that everyone is clear that racism will not be tolerated.

With only 3 per cent of the veterinary profession identifying themselves as from a BAME background, for the moment it is likely that the majority of people being called on to address the issue will be white.

This can make people feel uncomfortable, and worried that they will do or say the wrong thing and cause more offence.

I have been reading articles by black women in the national press as to why they don’t like the term ‘people of colour’, they understand it is often coming from a well-intentioned place, but for them they would prefer to be referred to as what they are – black women.

So perhaps the solution is to ask those from ethnic minorities that you work with what they think and what language they do and don’t find acceptable.

As Marissa Robson, another vet featured in our case studies, says ‘no-one has ever tried to gather opinion from people who are subjected to this treatment as to how we would like to be treated and situations to be dealt with’.

Acknowledgement of the problem and providing support is key, and it must also be made clear to clients that racism will not be tolerated. If they refuse to see the ‘foreign’ vet, perhaps it is time to refuse their custom.

The UK population has 13 per cent of people who identify as BAME, so the 3 per cent in the vet profession is unrepresentative of society at large.

Increasing the diversity of the profession may go some way to addressing this problem, so that people like our third case study, Fabian Rivers, won’t be told they don’t look like a ‘typical’ vet in the future.

But it is easy to get diverted by the issue of diversity. The lack of ethnic minorities in the vet profession is no excuse for racism – everyone should be treated equally and with respect.

What also comes out from the case studies is how often incidents are referred to as ‘just joking’, but that isn’t good enough.

If a joke is at someone’s discomfort or expense – it’s not so funny.

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