Barbican launches probe after being accused of 'racism' by staff

Barbican launches probe after being accused of ‘institutional racism’ by its own staff and handed dossier of allegations dating back seven years

  • Asian worker allegedly called ‘a yellow’ – boss insists it was reference to her aura 
  • One worker claimed they were forced to cut back their afro hair to stop touching
  • Another said they were asked for cannabis from colleague because he is black
  • Staff complaints emerged after murder if George Floyd and rise of BLM in the UK 

London’s Barbican Centre has been described as ‘institutionally racist’ by its own staff who claim bosses called people from black or ethnic minority backgrounds ‘yellows’ and ‘diversity hires’.

One worker claimed they were forced to cut back their afro hair to stop workers touching it while black staff insist they were regularly muddled with colleagues of the same race by white bosses.

Others said they were regularly confused with cleaners and an employee alleged that he was only asked if he could sell someone some cannabis because he is black. 

Barbican staff past and present have collated a book of more than 100 alleged racist and prejudicial incidents, often involving senior staff using racist language, and claims that ‘career progress is curtailed for staff of colour’ in incidents dating back six years.

Staff have publicised their claims in an article with The Guardian because they claim leaders at Europe’s largest performing arts centre, in the Barbican area of the City of London, have failed to keep anti-racism promised made in 2020, in particular after the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the BLM movement in the US and the UK.

The Barbican has launched an investigation and said a statement: ‘We fully recognise the pain and hurt caused by these experiences. We are committed to pursuing the ongoing programme of action which we have laid out to advance anti-racism in the organisation, and to achieve necessary change.’ 

It said it was ‘shocked and saddened to hear the allegations’ and had ‘always strived to be an inclusive, welcoming and open organisation’. 

London’s Barbican Centre has been described as ‘institutionally racist’ by its own staff who have compiled more than 100 examples of discriminatory behaviour

The statement added: ‘Although we have not received any formal complaints, all staff will be able to contribute to the independent review so that their experiences can be heard and those affected can get the support they need. We want everyone’s voice to be listened to and respected.’  

Barbican’s managing director Sir Nicholas Kenyon  has been accused of failing to keep his promise of ‘eradicating racism in all its forms’ for staff

One Asian worker alleged that a member of the senior management team referred to them as ‘a yellow’ while chatting – when confronted they insisted they were referring to the employee’s aura not their race.

Several people said that they were openly referred to as ‘diversity hires’ and that that BAME people were commonly in the casual roles and white people in permanent and more senior positions.

Others said that in meetings they were upset by the number of times they were confused with another black or Asian colleague.

On one occasion an intern confused for another person of the same race pointed out the mistake by a senior manager and had ‘permanently destroyed their prospects of getting a job at the Barbican’. 

And staff also claimed that they were called ‘n****r’ by visitors. 

The Barbican declined to comment on specific allegations – but promised an independent review of them.

The claims emerged after a demand for greater equality because of the rise of BLM.

After George Floyd’s murder the Barbican posted three black squares on Twitter and Facebook during ‘blackout Tuesday’.

Staff claimed the squares lacked meaning and were merely ‘performative’, the Barbican’s managing director Sir Nicholas Kenyon released an anti-racism action plan admitting his organisation had not done ‘enough over time to address these issues in our organisation’. It committed to ‘eradicating racism in all its forms’.

But staff believed the plan was vague and released their claims today because they feel Sir Nicholas action plan has not fulfilled its promises.

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