“I wouldn’t have joined the Western Australia Police Force that’s for sure and should’ve quit as soon as I could.´
That’s what Jim Taylor thinks he would have done differently to respond to workplace racism he experienced in his 8 year service.
Jim now wants to share his story to raise awareness of how harmful racism can be to mental and physical health, and what one can do about it when it happens at work.
Jim says at the time he felt that making a complaint would make the situation worse, saying he feared people would “avoid you and ostracize you.”
But staying silent took a toxic toll on his mental and physical health.
“You end up dealing with more problems than you started with,” he says.
Jim was known by his Turkish name, Umit Demir, when he entered the force. The racism he experienced started shortly after he joined.
The ongoing effects of that racism led to his early retirement from WA Police on medical grounds. He has experienced major depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has been living on a disability pension since the age of 36. He even changed his name to an Anglicised name hoping it would make him less of a target.
Initially, he couldn’t see his health problems were caused by racism.
“At first I didn’t recognise it, I was not in a position to recognise when people were racist…I wanted to think my colleagues liked me and they were making jokes.”
“I had no idea what racism was and how it manifested in real life.”
“I started to feel sick. Racism slowly set under my skin, negatively affected me, and [began to define] who I am.”
From unsettling to life-threatening: Jim’s experiences of racism
Mr Taylor provided the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) with a list of the many forms of racism and discrimination he suffered throughout his time in the WA Police Force. It ranges from casual racism, to racist and dehumanising slurs, to being left out and ostracised, to being endangered in the line of duty.
Comments were made such as “What kind of law do you have in Turkey? Hand chopping law?”, or “They employed you because they needed to fill their quota for foreigners.”
Whilst on duty at Perth Police Station, Mr Taylor overheard his colleague talking over the phone to a boyfriend: “Yeah I am working with a goat shagger today.” This person kept calling him a “goat f***er” and “goat shagger” the entire day.
The colour of his skin was also subject to ridicule when a colleague said, “I am white, and you are? I don’t know? brown or something?”
It also came in the form of non-verbal threatening behaviour.
“I felt that I had no backing of my colleagues when we were dealing with the public.
The worst form of racism was when they ridiculed me in front of members of the public with the uniform on. There were occasions that my colleagues sided with the public with racist slurs.”
Jim speaks to the corrosive effects of this lack of support, saying it “weakened my hand with the public and made me lame duck.”
Sometimes this led to life-threatening danger.
“There were also some coppers that would be glad if I was injured or killed during the duty. There were a few who would look the other way in a dangerous situation, which could have led to me being injured or killed.”
AMAN advisor Rita Jabri-Markwell says the harms Jim experienced were acute and sustained over a number of years, in an environment that was high risk to his personal safety.
“The behaviour Jim describes from fellow police officers suggests they believed they didn’t owe him the same moral responsibilities they owed fellow white officers,” she said.
“Dehumanisation of racial minorities associated with Islam, as inferior, barbaric, savage ‘others’, might have played a role in this.”
Ms Jabri-Markwell explained that if someone thinks you’re less than human, they’re much more likely to “enact violence against you or condone violence against you.”
“Racism in media, culture, in political dog-whistling and official rhetoric, contributes to attitudes and won’t change without clear leadership at the top,” she said.
“I am furious that Jim has experienced such dehumanising and discriminatory treatment over a number of years, and is yet to receive acknowledgement.”
AMAN is urging the WA Attorney-General Mr John Quigley to respond “fairly and compassionately”, arguing he could make a grace payment and acknowledge this wrong.
Options for survivors of discrimination
The daily abusive behaviour led Jim to withdraw more and more.
“I was always nervous and constantly feeling sick at work and kept myself in the shadow to avoid racist comments from my colleagues.”
His experience, according to studies, was not uncommon.
But there are options to explore. Each state and territory in Australia has equal opportunity and anti-discrimination agencies with statutory responsibilities.
Employers are bound by this legislation. They are liable for the wrongful actions of their workers or agents. Discrimination might include your employer refusing to take action on racist abuse or behaviour.
Complaint processes are free and you don’t need to have a lawyer, but you can seek one. Free legal aid is available for some.
However there are time limits on taking action. Usually one has 12 months to lodge a complaint from the last example of discrimination. Employers are supposed to handle these complaints with care and people who make them cannot be victimised for speaking up.
In Taylor’s case, he wasn’t aware of the true nature of discrimination or his rights until years later. But it doesn’t mean the effect was any smaller.
The WA Police needs to take responsibility
AMAN wrote in support of Taylor to the WA Police Commissioner in January 2021, but they weren’t prepared to engage.
Meanwhile, question marks about racism continue to loom over the state agency.
A recent report obtained by SBS News showed that a WA Police Force senior constable was accused of targeting people of Aboriginal, Indian or Pakistani background for roadside drug tests.
Mr Taylor’s key message to the WA Police Force is to stop denying his appalling treatment and to approach his issues with open minds to improve the culture within the organisation.
“WA Police have not embraced multiculturalism. They were rather pushed to do so…As the organization itself did not internalize multiculturalism, the individual officers follow the same path…. and this creates a hostile environment for a multicultural person.”
“I am seeking WA Police to do more than just cursory multiculturalism training.”
AMAN’s advisor Ms Jabri-Markwell echoes his call, saying workplace diversity and inclusion needs to be made a priority.
The path to healing
When asked how he dealt with the pain of this experience, he says “I went back to my religion and formed friendship with Aboriginal Noongar people.”
These days, Jim Taylor works as a translator. He is a board member of the Ethnic Communities Council of Western Australia and the Islamic Council of Western Australia.
He continues to pressure the WA Government for a response.
And Jim remains passionate about fighting racism in this country, especially in the workplace.
Mr Taylor encourages others who are experiencing racism and discrimination to record every incident and report it immediately.
“Silence will make it worse,’ he says.
‘Don’t stay silent and keep it in the house like I did and explode later. If we show a collective attitude, things will change even though it may take a long time.”
If you’d like Brother Jim Taylor to speak to your organisation about the effects of racism at work, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve experienced or are experiencing discrimination now, please report it to the Islamophobia Register and tick the box for referral and support. www.islamophobia.com.au/report/