"I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivialises all our efforts." ~Audre Laude~
When I authored my book Journey to Empowerment: Tackling the Bullies Within, I never thought I would be able to articulate in a clear and concise way the impact of bullying and the overall effect it had on me and my self-esteem. The loneliness I felt within an organisation that had all the policies and procedures to take these issues of bullying and discrimination to the Human Resources departments who would be dealing with the grievance in the manner in which was fair and equitable and, in alignment with the correct policies and procedures.
I vividly remember the hurt I felt when my grievance was not taken seriously by the ‘powers that be’ who were dealing with the case and, the road I had to travel alone without being supported by any of my colleagues, because all those who knew the truth of what was happening to me, were too frightened to support me!
In my book, I explore the challenges I faced whilst navigating my career pathway and journey into senior leadership and management roles in the corporate and healthcare industry. This book is a testament of how tapping into my Emotional Intelligence, helped me to overcome these many trials and tribulations.
During my working life as a Human Resource Development Specialist (HRD), I was able to support other individuals who had experienced bullying in the workplace; signposting them to the information and support they needed to heal. The main area of my experience and expertise was to document the incidents as they happened, so there was a record of them chronologically, which showed the pattern and, frequency of these incidents along with the behaviour of the perpetrators. There was also a reflective element added to the document after each incident, this was a way of documenting how each incident made me feel after each encounter.
Now, let's fast-track forward 9 years to the 8th of August 2023, I found myself facing the same discriminatory treatment, but not as an employee, I was a paying customer of a large airline company!
Never had I thought that writing to an organisation about their staffs' discriminatory behaviour would evoke the same treatment towards me that I experienced all those years ago in the workplace. Who would not want to see justice served against the perpetrators, when blatant racism is at the helm of their discriminatory behaviour and treatment towards you?
This abhorrent treatment and behaviour left me, and my family traumatised, and I could not let 2023 go by without responding to the insipid response I received from the organisation after I complained, and a supposed investigation had taken place!
On the 8th of August 2023, I was travelling to the USA with seven members of my family, three of which were under the age of 3 years old. We had booked our tickets with American Airlines (yes, I'm naming them), with connecting flights at JFK for our onward journey to Cincinnati. We were flying over to celebrate my sister-in-law's 50th birthday and were very much looking forward to spending time with them and celebrating her milestone event.
At the departure lounge, we joined the queue of passengers awaiting to go through into the final boarding process. We were approached by an airline official who directed us to the front of the queue as we had children, so we went to the front and were processed to enter the departure lounge and what took place after this, gave use great cause and concern to put in a complaint against the American Airline staff on duty that day.
Outlined below is the shortened version of what happened in the departure lounge. I had to condense it otherwise it could easily have been turned into another book!
Upon being processed to enter the departure lounge my nephew, his wife and their three young children were subjected to a secondary security check with no explanation. This disturbed the three young children who were already feeling tired having risen at 3am that morning so, they were having none of it and cried through the whole process. They were then asked to sit near the boarding desk, and someone would come to take them through to boarding with the children. This didn't happen and the young lady at the boarding desk, said nothing to my nephew and his wife but, I noticed a while later she was speaking to a ground crew member and later on realised, she had instructed the ground crew member to take the strollers and put them in the hold.
We realised that the time was quickly passing so we spoke to one of the airline members of staff who happened to be the supervisor on duty and, this is where the gaslighting and abhorrent behaviour started to be displayed.
When asked about boarding the airplane she informed us that we had been de-boarded, and our luggage taken off the plane due to an overbooking of passengers.
She went on to inform us that a message had been broadcasted for all passengers to hear. When we explained we were there from the outset and heart no message being broadcast, she went on to say that we probably didn't understand!
When we pressed her for more information about why we were de-boarded, her story seemed to change each time and she became flustered and, this is where the gaslighting came on full force.
When we pressed her further for confirmation that our luggage had been taken off the airplane, and went on to inform her that if this was the case, why hadn't the strollers that had been taken and put in the cargo hold not been returned?
"There was a message announced but, you obviously didn't understand it!"
At this point she was really flustered because we wanted answers. She went on to say that she will go and find out more information for us, at this point, we knew the airplane had taxied away from the departure gate, which added to our stress and frustration.
The supervisor returned a little while later and informed us that 'the plane is returning to the gate at great expense!'
It was very clear to all of us travelling, that we were being gaslit by this woman, who kept changing her story when we pressed for answers. This final statement took the biscuit! She was actually blaming us for the airplane having to return to collect us!
I drank heavily from my Emotional Intelligence cup to keep me calm whilst conversing with this woman. It was traumatising and, I didn't want to be labelled as the 'angry Black woman' because we all know she doesn't exist! I have emotions like everyone else, but unfortunately in situations like this, I am not afforded the luxury of showing any form of emotion, as it would be deemed as aggression.
When we finally boarded the plane, I was approached by the in-flight crew and asked what had happened as, they had informed the desk that they were still awaiting passengers and were informed there was no-one left in the departure lounge!! When asked who the person was processing passengers to board, the description was the young lady that was actually at the desk. I was then informed by this flight crew member that other passengers had approached them and complained about the very same young woman.
The fact the pilot sought us out and apologised to us when we landed in New York, speaks volumes! He further went on to say that this incident has never happened before during his career as a pilot and says a lot!
We were then urged to complain to American Airlines as not only was this disturbing that someone would deliberately do this, but it was also traumatising for everyone in my family who travelled that day. Needless to say, the babies were unsettled for the entire flight to JFK.
I documented everything that happened that day and proceeded to draft a letter of complaint to American Airlines, giving them a deadline for a response. At first, I thought they would take this complaint seriously but, alas it was very evident that I was being fobbed off, whilst they supposedly gathered the information and conducted their investigation.
When I finally received American Airline's response to my complaint, I wasn't surprised at all!
Just as I expected, they held an investigation and spoke to the staff in the London, Heathrow office, to ascertain from them what happened on the day (and get their collective stories straight). To be informed that they saw no case for discrimination, bias, or racism after conducting a thorough investigation, and that my feedback shows areas for improvement, and they appreciated the benefit of my perspective!
To me, they had been 'marking their own homework' with this complaint, which is not dissimilar to other organisations and industries having to address grievances or complaints from Black people! Their response had all the hallmarks of my time working within the NHS and having to deal with the same mindset and behaviour, gatekept by people in positions of power. The grievance I took out in the NHS was upheld 100% but, they didn't want to let me know this fact!
Anyway, I digress. I didn't want the year to end without addressing this issue. I wish organisations would start listening to Black people when they complain about being subjected to discriminatory behaviour, bias, and racism within their workplace, or whether it is a customer complaining about members of staff within their establishment.
It is so easy to fob people off with hollow responses where no further action will take place but, lessons will be learnt!
My wish for 2024 is that organisations start to take affirmative action in dealing with discrimination, bias and racism in the workplace. It is not healthy to carry on blindly thinking it will get better, it won't! The perpetrators are given a green light to continue this type of behaviour as it gets them results.
Can I ask you the reader a favour?
Please share this story on your media platforms, with friends, colleagues or, whomever you wish!
I want people to know what is really going on out there when complaints or grievances are submitted to an organisation, because racism, discrimination and their abhorrent relatives, needs to be called out and stamped out every time!