Racism at the ministry of foreign affairs. An exploratory study.

The study makes clear that racism is a broad phenomenon which manifests itself in many different ways. It can be aggressive, direct, open and deliberate or subtle, indirect, hidden, unintentional or unconscious. Bi-cultural staff and local employees of colour experience different expressions of racism, including verbal abuse, derogatory treatment, cultural racism and all kinds of accusations and imputations. Staff also report being sometimes passed over, ignored and excluded. They experience racist jokes and low expectations. They experience that some of their white colleagues see them as being ‘the ethnic and cultural other’ and do not treat them as a fully fledged Dutch person or equal colleague. The emphasis on a person’s ethnic and cultural background leads to people questioning their loyalty. Staff are also concerned about the way various ethnic groups are stigmatised in everyday conversation.

Given the many experiences of racism mentioned, it can be concluded that there are patterns of racism within the organisation. All of these patterns show that racism is a problem that bi-cultural staff and local employees experience on a regular basis. Many respondents stated that racism is a structural problem.

Institutional racism

The conclusion that various patterns of racism are evident within the organisation and that many respondents see racism as a structural problem raised the question of whether institutional racism also exists at the ministry. It was concluded that this is indeed the case. The study identified various processes and mechanisms within the organisation and its organisational culture that create scope for racism and provide insufficient safeguards to prevent racism. This concerns unfair recruitment and advancement processes and unfair processes that lead to staff leaving the ministry. Strong social anti-discrimination standards, a well-functioning complaints procedure and an inclusive organisational culture are also lacking.

Institutional racism does not mean that racism occurs in every corner of the organisation and that all staff are engaged in it. Respondents said that, besides racism, they also experience pleasant relationships with colleagues and have had good experiences within certain teams. There are also differences between the various departments and missions. Nor does the existence of institutional racism mean that malicious intent is always involved. Some exclusionary mechanisms may be blind spots and may stem from, for example, reluctance to act and unconscious bias.

Discrepancy between mission and workplace practises

The results show a clear discrepancy between the ministry’s mission – to help build a just world with opportunity, freedom and dignity for all – and workplace practices. The credibility and image of the ministry is at stake.

Read the study: Racism at the ministry of foreign affairs. An exploratory study.

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