Having been asked to write this piece, I had to look back over my working life and do some evaluating. Not only of the profession but of myself.
I come from a typical Jamaican household, with old fashioned Jamaican values, hard work, being kind to others and plenty of home cooked food. As an adult I realised that all cultures shared these same core values. The food is different, but everything else seems to follow. That is how societies are made and sustained; we understand that by working together, we get the most done.
I also learnt there are many intangibles; the unwritten codes, those non-verbal, non-manual features that help you fit into societies’ norms, or can make you stand out like a sore thumb (pun intended). The question for us as interpreters is who writes the codes? Who decides if your face does or doesn’t quite fit the profession?
If you are hoping to find out what racism is and how to combat it, these words will leave you disappointed. There are many books, articles, TV programmes and social media content that detail at great length all the information you could possibly need.
This profession is a profession dominated by white British women. This is not an indictment or an attack, it’s a fact. It isn’t just a look, it’s a blueprint, it’s the structure that has to be fitted into. All the rules are set based on this view point, with all the biases that come with it. This is the standard that everyone entering this profession is expected to emulate.
British racism can be covert and surreptitious. Nothing blatant that you can film on your iPhone and if you are not paying attention you could miss it. It could be as simple as a condescending remark, or as blatant as a racist assumption.
If you are reading this thinking ‘I’m not racist’ or ‘I don’t see colour’ or ‘I treat everyone the same’ then you are part the problem. You are not being liberal, you are hiding and deflecting.
Ignoring race is not a way to combat racism, especially when society has been constructed along colour and ethnicity lines. You are ignoring the essence of every Black person. That doesn’t mean we need ‘white guilt’, no one wants to see you flagellating yourself trying to ‘atone’ for past injustices.
Racism is intricately linked to culture, it’s how we think, what we say and what do. Interpreters alone cannot change the fabric of society, but we can change how we interact with each other. We can look at our cliques and why we choose to be in them. Black interpreters are your colleagues and co-workers.
Nine times out of ten Racism will not be the biggest issue we have to deal with as we go about our working lives but we are still Black people in a world that doesn’t always value or appreciate us. We need allies and supporters and that’s where you come in. We need those who will speak up when it matters, use your white privilege that society has bestowed upon you to help redress the inequalities that still prevail.
Only in that way can each of you make one of the millions of small steps it will take towards eventually eradicating racism.
What can you do if you experience or witness racism or other discriminatory behaviour
If you experience racism, or any other form of discrimination, at work you can contact your union for support.
If you witness a colleague engaging in behaviour you deem to be discriminatory, a concern or complaint can be made to their registration body.
The institution where the behaviour took place can also be contacted as they have a duty of care to ensure that all participants are protected from race discrimination.
If the interpreter or translator is a NUBSLI member we will work with Unite to address the situation, which may result in their NUBSLI membership being revoked.
If the interpreter or translator is a NUBSLI committee member, please contact Unite’s Equalities Officers to raise your concerns. You can find their contact numbers and email address here.