NHSBSA Blog IDotEoRD - Alastair Chan

Standing up against racial discrimination: Opening dialogue on cross-cultural understanding

Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed annually on the day the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration against apartheid “pass laws” in 1960.  

In the present day, it’s an opportunity for us all to work towards a future of equality and to inspire inclusion efforts towards eradicating discrimination in the workplace.  

We caught up with Alastair, Optimisation Implementation Advisor at the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), ahead of him co-hosting a ‘Stand Up Against Racial Discrimination’ event tomorrow, organised by our BAME network.

21 March 2023

We are all different – whether or not we look similar, share the same cultural background, or speak the same language. A recent quote that I fell in love with goes as follows:

"If agreement is the currency for inclusion, then innovation is in trouble." - Dr Steven Jones

Sometimes, we are good at being non-discriminatory towards others by simply not talking about it – here lie the question marks: if we don’t talk or ask, do we understand? And if we don’t understand, how do we accept each other’s differences? And if we are not trying to accept each other’s differences, are we truly inclusive?

In much the same way, I was very shy and afraid when it came to sharing my lived experiences of the topic up until three months ago when I was asked by the network to co-host the upcoming Stand Up Against Racial Discrimination event. Even then, I honestly did not think I was ever discriminated against since I grew up with the same peers from 10 – 17 years old when I was sent to study in Edinburgh – but the more I think, the more I question myself.

Back then, making friends wasn’t easy being the only one out of the three Hong Kongers (or Cantonese) among some 60 pupils in my year. Firstly, there were language barriers. Second and most importantly, I couldn’t tell when people were being friendly, joking, or crossing the line. I recalled there were times when we laughed together when my classmates would stretch and pull their eyes at me, repeating what I said in a funny accent – ‘they don’t mean what they mean, and it’s okay if that’s how we can connect’ I would often say to myself. I thought I had a best friend when one of my peers started playing with me every day, besides making the face, he would often call me names using a racially offensive slur, and said that I am alright with that because I knew he was joking – ‘a friendly gesture that only him and I will understand’ he said. Since I had weekly pocket money back then, we would spend the money together because we were ‘best friends’. It took me until university to recognise what genuine friendship is, and that I have been used, not because they took advantage, but because I never had the courage to open the dialogue to express what is and isn’t okay, nor have I given them the chance to fully understand me for the person I am.

Tomorrow’s event is a brilliant opportunity to listen to perspectives from other colleagues and to take part in meaningful discussions on eliminating racial discrimination. I’m also particularly looking forward to hearing from Justine King from Show Racism the Red Card on some of the amazing work they’ve done with North East organisations by giving others the inspiration and courage to stand up to be heard and seen.