Older white people who use term 'coloured' are not necessarily racist, judge rules

Phoebe Southworth
·2-min read
The scales of justice
The scales of justice

Older white people who use the term "coloured” are not necessarily racist as they have not had "multicultural acquaintances", a judge has ruled.

Judge Robert Clark, adjudicating on a work harassment claim, said those unversed in modern linguistic mores may employ the term when referring to an ethnic minority individual in the belief they are being polite.

He said they may think the word is acceptable due to the "less polite alternatives" used in the past.

Or, he suggested, they may not have not benefited from having "multicultural acquaintances", so use "outdated" language while trying not to cause offence.

The judge's comments came after a black cleaner launched a harassment claim against his employer, Atlas Facilities Management Limited, because one of his white colleagues used the term "coloured".

Ryan Justin was enraged after another cleaner made a note in the comments book used by Atlas employees to communicate with each other as they changed shifts at the Pure Gym in Derby.

Markham Pell, 49, wrote that "three coloured guys were messing around (i.e. play fighting and not really training)". Mr Justin was so angry that he confronted Mr Pell, the tribunal heard.

Mr Pell immediately apologised and said he hadn't intended to be offensive or racist, and thought using the word "coloured" was less offensive than "black".

Despite the apology, Mr Justin pursued a harassment claim.

He wrote in his witness statement to the tribunal: "Black people have had to put up with offensive name tags or described with offensive racist slurs for many years, however times have changed and this should not be accepted or considered OK in this current time."

However, the tribunal ruled that Mr Justin's approach to Mr Pell was "confrontational", and Mr Pell had genuinely tried to use sensitive terminology.

Dismissing the claim, Judge Clark said: "The fact that this outdated language was once used descriptively by people who genuinely felt it to be a polite term, is only so because of the less polite alternatives that existed in that past era.

"We accept white people of a certain age who perhaps have not had much opportunity to benefit from multicultural acquaintances in their day to day lives may draw on this outdated language in the mistaken belief it is polite and genuinely descriptive."

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