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Gowling WLG apologises after post describing Black man as ‘very nice and extremely polite’ draws criticism online

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‘We recognise that we have more work to do,’ says firm’s UK chairman

The screensaver quote

Gowling WLG has apologised after computer screensavers in its Canadian office describing a black man as “very nice and extremely polite” drew criticism online.

Gowling tweeted on Monday calling for firm members in Canada to share what black history and culture mean to them, in recognition of Black History Month, which is celebrated in the month of February in Canada.

One statement made by a firm member surfaced on social media, and was widely condemned by users for appearing to be “tone-deaf” and perpetuating anti-black stereotypes.

“My daughter inspires me a lot. When she was younger, she often spoke of her friend Daniel,” read the quote (screenshot top). “One day, my husband and I attended an event at her school and finally got to meet Daniel. He was very nice and extremely polite; my grandmother would have said he was ‘well brought up’. Never during the course of her friendship with Daniel did my daughter mention he was black. That night, I went to sleep with the hope that one day, race-based conflicts would forever be behind us.”

One user tweeted in response, “let’s do some issue spotting together on why this quote from one of your employees should have been left on the cutting-room floor”, while another paraphrased, “‘our company is so committed to diversity, that one of our employees has a kid with a black friend!'”

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Gowling WLG tweeted on Wednesday: “We apologise for our screensaver message that appeared in this post. It does not reflect our values. The message has been taken down and we are reaching out to all of our people to listen to their perspectives and learn from this matter.”

Andy Stylianou, chairman of Gowling WLG UK and the firm’s lead on diversity and inclusion, said in a statement:

“We are deeply sorry that a post that does not reflect our values appeared on an internal network in Canada on Wednesday. We apologise for the offence this has caused people and have removed the post. We are also speaking with our people to ensure their voices and perspectives on this are heard, and so we can learn from this matter. Addressing racism in society requires a collective effort and we actively encourage our colleagues to become allies. However, we recognise that we have more work to do to educate, upskill and empower them.”

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24 Comments

Alan

The sentiment was right. I am not sure that this is worthy of huge criticism.

(61)(16)

hmm

Tricky one.
Very patronising comment – it is not a special or surprising thing that a black man be polite. We would not accept something along the lines of, “she was very smart, you would never have thought she’d be a woman”.
However, it is simply an unfortunate fact that people from older generations are clumsy with this stuff. The comment was well intentioned, and people do need to be given room to grow into the conversation.

(79)(7)

BAME Person

Prejudice is awful no matter what generation you are from.

If anything, I would expect an older person with extra life experience to have a more open-minded view of others compared to the racist attitudes they might have grown up with.

We live in the reality of a multicultural country. That isn’t going to change no matter how poorly BAME people might secretly be viewed by some.

There isn’t any other option but to view and treat BAME people with the same respect you would afford anyone else.

(26)(40)

Anonymous

It’s a question of whether you want progress or not. If you shout at well meaning people when they try to enter the conversation they will switch off.

(37)(11)

BAME Person

Who’s ’shouting’? Well-meaning people don’t switch off caring about others if they are truly sincere. If you are unhappy about the way someone is being treated, you’ll stand up for them when they aren’t in the room.

There are many though who will gladly jump on the ‘But I have BAME friends!’ bandwagon for the respect of their peers, Twitter ‘likes’ or just to look cool.

(18)(30)

Ally

I don’t know who on earth is clicking thumbs down on a message saying “treat BAME people with the same respect as anyone else” and “be open minded”.

No progress can be made if people don’t point out when something is condescending or perpetuating stereotypes. It’s not ‘shouting’ to hold people to account. To call it shouting actually plays into stereotypes even further.
There’s a real culture of people getting incredibly defensive when they are asked to change something. Just because you grew up racist doesn’t give you the right to stay racist. Similar issue to people who think that they’re being ‘cancelled’ when others point out that they’ve been hurtful or don’t want to associate with them.

(22)(39)

Hear Hear

One of the best comments ever on here.

‘Cancel culture’ is simply holding manipulative people accountable for their horrible behaviour.

Funny how those who complain of being ‘cancelled’ never seem to be quietened during all those radio interviews, Twitter, on their blog, Instagram account, magazine features or on the news.

(7)(36)

Just Anonymous

I don’t interpret this post the way hmm at 12:51 has. The author is not, in any way, suggesting that a reasonable person would have been surprised by a black person being nice and polite.

Rather, the clear point is that the daughter had a healthy and meaningful friendship with a nice and polite individual who happened to be black, and the author is saying what a good thing it is that irrational prejudice and hatred did not get in the way of that friendship (as sadly sometimes happens).

But this is why I refuse to virtue-signal. It’s pointless. The people who demand it are never satisfied. Whatever you say, no matter how well meaning, they will find a way to be offended by it. My position is that I have nothing to apologise for and nothing to prove to anyone. To my knowledge, I don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of protected characteristics. That is enough for me, and I need say no more.

(74)(19)

Big up Hmm

The fact that you’ve had to expound so extensively upon that arguments suggests that it is not the inferred meaning most people have drawn from this post. It is implicit in the message that had Daniel been mentioned as black, the previously positive comments may not have been mentioned. That is not to say the post was racist, just that the sentiment you’re trying to convey was not done so successfully.

(12)(39)

hmm

As I said – well intentioned, clumsily worded. He’s not racist, he’s not a bad person and he does not need to be shouted at. But he worded his comment in a way which could reasonably be interpreted as patronising. No one is asking you to virtue signal or say any more, just suggesting ways we can make this a learning experience.

(9)(5)

Ally

” I refuse to virtue-signal. It’s pointless. The people who demand it are never satisfied. Whatever you say, no matter how well meaning, they will find a way to be offended by it. My position is that I have nothing to apologise for and nothing to prove to anyone. To my knowledge, I don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of protected characteristics. That is enough for me, and I need say no more.”

Celebrating BHM is not virtue signalling if it meaningfully celebrates the contribution of black people in society.
Who is ‘demanding’ it? Do you mean activists who would like to make the world less racist? Seems like a reasonable request.
Minority groups don’t need to find ways to be offended, they have enough experience of prejudice.
No-one is asking you to apologise for, prove anything or in fact give any view at all??

Seriously who are the 32 people agreeing with this?? This reads like someone getting incredibly defensive because something they wouldn’t have thought was racist is actually racist and they’re pissed off that they may have to change their mindset.
Just so incredibly unhelpful and backwards.

(20)(33)

Anon

You sound very angry

(27)(12)

Anon

You sound very disingenuous

(8)(19)

Anon

And you sound like you have no empathy.

I’d be angry too if I had to explain to anyone over the age of 4 why BAME people should be treated respectfully.

(23)(9)

Anon

And you still sound disingenuous.

Literally no-one said BAME people should not be treated respectfully

Marketing People Are Evil

Whatever BHM was, it is now been hijacked into dull gesture run by advertising and marketing departments. And thus the vast vast majority of references are just empty virtue signalling. There is also lazy journalism adding to the problem by patently diarising “black” stories for October in the same way they diarise “new year’s fitness stories” for January and “what I am reading/wearing on holiday” stories for July. The dollar/pound has taken over.

So for the first time, ever, I was sick of BHM this year. Because of all of what I have said. Now I wish it was in February like in the US. Then it would end 3 days quicker.

(10)(1)

Archibald Pomp O'City

I suspect you are riddled with unconscious bias that infect your dealings with BAME people.

(6)(4)

Anon

I am more disappointed to learn that the Canadians are using the American “z” form instead of proper English. I thought better of them.

(24)(0)

Bom F EmCee

I liked this story when I read it moments before on Roll on Friday.

Great journalism guyzzz!

(5)(0)

Anon

The problem is “We are also speaking with our people to ensure their voices and perspectives on this are heard”. When they spoke to their people, that screensaver quote was the voice & perspective of that person, and a person responsible for editing / selecting suitable quotes.

I read this as saying basically I was looking forward to meeting Daniel and was shocked to discover he was black. I had no first hand experience of speaking to black people before and had a pre set view of what they would be like. This man was not what I expected. I was proud of my daughter for not seeing colour.

Surely this is a victory – because a person who had gone through their life with unconscious bias had their view challenged. It may be inelegantly expressed, but it is honest. The next step is getting people to understand why not all black people are like Daniel, just as why not all white people are like Daniel (by the sound of it mild mannered & reserved). Influences in black culture such as music artists & so on as well as life experiences can all shape voice which is why young black men can be perceived as ‘angry’, but this is to judge by a certain defined standard of ‘acceptability’ (ie by what that person’s (white) grandparent would view as acceptable).

The problem is, all of this corporate grandstanding does not want to hear or accept there are still a lot of people with genuinely held, but wrong, prejudices. And instead of letting all views be aired so a discussion can be had, we only want to hear voices that fit the narrative. Which basically means ‘preaching to the converted’ and entrenching silos rather than bringing everyone on a journey of discovery.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

“It may be inelegantly expressed, but it is honest.”

People are completely missing the point.

If someone told you “Wow, your boss is working class? I thought they were all Chavs!” or “Wow, your boss is a woman? I thought they should be at home looking after their kids!”, you wouldn’t think that person was being ‘honest, but inelegant’. You’d think they were horribly snobbish and small-minded. You might feel uncomfortable working with them.

There is a blind spot when it comes to race. BAME people are not obliged to clap and cheer when anyone wants praise for ‘not being a racist – honest!’.

(6)(39)

Anon

An analogy with gender illustrates well why this is problematic:

“My daughter said she had a smart friend. I met the friend, and they were indeed smart. My daughter didn’t say they were a woman.”

Why would the person making the statement think there would be any need for her daughter to reference the friend’s gender before they met, unless she believed there was something noteworthy about a woman being smart?

The damage limitation by the company saying this doesn’t represent their views seems disingenuous to say the least. This wasn’t some rogue operator, it seems to have been officially sanctioned if it was a company screen saver.

Also it may have been well-intentioned, but so are many hurtful racist/sexist comments; does that mean we shouldn’t call them out, discuss their harmful impacts and demand immediate change? Also, the tone-policing by those unaffected by these issues is disappointing.

(5)(0)

BAME and Born in the UK

Let’s be blunt – there is a huge problem with racism within the legal profession. It’s there amongst law students and all the way up to the lack of BAME partners/QCs/judges.

This is why there are so many apologists for racist comments and ‘Whatabout-ery’/irrelevant comparisons with socioeconomic groups on here.

A large number of people have no empathy for the experiences BAME people go through, no desire to work with them and no wish to learn anything about their lives.

Racism exists. Fact.

(5)(3)

Anon

Lack of empathy is not racism.

Lake of desire to learn about BAME lives is not racism.

Noting there are a range of other issues, and for example, taking the view that most of what is alleged to be data supporting racism are data showing socioeconomic discrimination is not racism. Nor is it apologist for racism.

(2)(5)

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