In celebration of Black History Month, Citrus Ornge’s CEO, Jason Baker was invited recently by BNY Mellon, with four other panellists to discuss: – Race and Society, A Military Perspective, for its internal audience across its 1000’s worldwide employees.
Here he shares his personal story of what it was like as a person of Mixed Heritage to serve in the British Armed Forces.
“I am both privileged and honoured to be invited by my old Sergeant Major Steve Kiely, and the team at BNY Mellon, to share my experience on racism whilst serving in the British Army. Over the last few weeks, my fellow panellists and I have come together to work through discussion points for our planned interactive webinar, taking place on Wednesday 27th October. The webinar is planned for their internal consumption but this has been such a journey I think it’s worth sharing.
One of the key questions posed by our host Karim Perrineau was “Did the topic of race ever come up between my Sargent Major, Stephen and I?” In short, the answer was no.
Steve, was effectively my line manager when we served in Iraq in 2004 and I was very fortunate to serve in a regiment where there was little to no visible racism. From memory, the only time I encountered any was during my time as a recruit. This was in the form of the nickname ‘Brown’ which was given to me by one particular corporal, which in terms of the majority of my peers, was referring to a brown suit I was wearing on my assessment weekend back in 1997. However, for this one particular individual, there was an inference that was more than just about a choice of colour of my clothing.
One of the other discussion points, something that was incredibly revealing to me, is that my experience of racism in the army was very different to those of my other panellists, Milton Kirklees and Alister Murray, who served in the military (Alister Murray, in the US Army); The question was raised as to whether this was because I’m lighter in skin colour or down to progression around race and culture in the military. In my honest opinion, I believe that this was the combination of progress made by the military with regards to how it has tackled racism within its ranks and the colour of my skin. (I have to also say my regiment, not to say any other military organisation was any different, but I was lucky enough to serve with a great group of men and women that for every good reason the race issue didn’t really come up) That is not to dismiss the idea and to say that it is somewhat acceptable because “I’m lighter”, racism in any variation is inexcusable and should not be tolerated in any capacity.
It’s not easy admitting, but with regards to my own interactions, I believe there has been a veneer with regards to the issues surrounding racism. I’ve been fortunate enough to have only experienced a relatively small effect in comparison to others. However, it has been a powerful experience for me to have this conversation with others who have suffered at the hands of such direct or indirect discrimination, especially from those who have been in the same sector as myself, serving for Queen and Country.
However difficult it may be, this process has been a catalyst for me to believe in the necessity of having an open and honest conversation about race and oppression. Such opportunities are not only powerful but also healing. They open a window for conversation which can help bring resolution and clarity, which in turn, promotes growth. I am extremely thankful to the team at BNY Mellon who have committed their time to allow these kinds of conversations to take place.
The more amplified organisations can be about this going forward, the further we can collectively progress across not just the corporate culture and similar institutions, but more importantly, the wider, global landscape in the fight to end racism.”