Barbican described as ‘institutionally racist’ by its own staff

·2-min read
Barbican Centre (NIGEL HOWARD)
Barbican Centre (NIGEL HOWARD)

Staff at the Barbican have branded it “institutionally racist” and accused it of failing to live up to anti-racism commitments it made last year.

Current employees, as well as former staff, have collated dozens of alleged racist incidents into a book which accuses senior staff of using prejudiced language, The Guardian reports.

The allegations date from as far back as 2014 up until the past 12 months and it is allegedly part of a wider culture which sees career progress blocked for staff from ethnic minorities.

The Barbican told the Standard it has launched an “immediate independent review” and that is “recognised the pain and hurt caused by the incidents”.

A spokesperson said: “We are shocked and saddened to hear about these allegations, and will immediately launch an independent review into them.

“Although we have not received formal complaints, all staff will be able to contribute to the independent review so that their experiences can be heard and those impacted can get the support they need.

“We want everyone’s voice to be listened to and respected. 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 is alleged that a member of its senior management team referred to an Asian employee as “a yellow”.

Other contributors to the book told the Guardian about a work culture that they regarded as “subtle and insidiously” racist.

They allege a “clear division” between diverse staff in casual and short-term roles and the whiter ranks of those in permanent and more senior positions.

Some accounts said the phrase “diversity hire” is used in reference to recruiting a person of colour, while an intern recalled a director confused them with the only other person of their ethnicity while introducing them to a group.

The person in question allegedly corrected the director but was left concerned they had “permanently destroyed their prospects of getting a job at the Barbican”.

Another member of staff said they were forced to cut their afro hair to stop colleagues trying to feel it.

The Barbican published an anti-racism action plan signed by its managing director, Sir Nicholas Kenyon, in June 2020.

He said the organisation was “determined to change this now” and committed to “eradicating racism in all its forms”.

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