Office Jokes

Just a quick post about today’s Daily Mail headline which made me laugh aloud – literally.

The Mail bemoans the ‘Death of the Office Joke’ due to the so-called ‘draconian new equality laws’ that came into force yesterday.

News for the Daily Mail – and this might surprise them.

Jokes don’t have to relate to someone’s race, or ability/disability. It is actually possible to have perfectly entertaining office banter and have a wonderful work environment where someone or their religion/race/culture  isn’t actually belittled.

Is that REALLY so hard to believe?

Perhaps I’m ‘shielded’ due to the area I work in. Perhaps. Although, going back a few years, I was subject to some ‘comments’ that made me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

It was back in a different office. I was a fairly newly arrived agency member of staff in a new team. I’d been friendly enough but not gone into massive details about my familial or cultural background – just because it isn’t usually the first conversation I have with people as a matter of course.

And one of the other social workers came into the office after going to see an elderly Jewish woman. I think we can all see where this might be going….

She proceeded, with some vitriol actually, to explain exactly what her thoughts and perceptions of Jews were. I suppose some of the comments might have been construed as ‘jokes’.

I was surprised at how much I was taken aback.

Firstly, this was a way of talking that came from an individual for which I had a great deal of professional respect, who often discussed informally how oppressive the structures we work with could be. She was one of the first to stand up and challenge any potential inequity that came into sight. But she still felt she could comfortable have this conversation in this office.

Secondly,  I did take it personally. That surprised me. Of course she didn’t know I was Jewish but I can’t help it. Even though I strictly place myself in the ‘secular’ camp . it is an attack on a culture with which I identify myself. Sometimes I might laugh it off, with service users I have dodged the specific issues and moved to a more general challenge, but I wasn’t expecting it from colleagues in a social work setting.

Thirdly, no-one else challenged her. I thought about this. Maybe I was being over-sensitive. Maybe no-one else saw it as derogatory, or maybe I was more sensitive because identification.

I tried to challenge in a jokey way, you know, the ‘come on.. that’s just a stereotype’ and it was laughed off and forgotten.

Forgotten by everyone else except me.

We got on with the work but even years later I recall the way it made me feel.

A lot of people in a lot of environments have to deal with a lot worse – but no-one should have to go to work and feel that a part of their lives that may be a very fundamental part of their identity is fair game to be ridiculed in a work environment.

So I say, thank you to Harriet Harman, thank you for this excellent legislation.  Lots of jokes can be made that don’t offend or upset anyone.

Sometimes legislation follows public attitudes and sometimes it has to lead it.

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