Earlier this year, Sean Corby took his employer, workplace-conciliation service Acas, to an employment tribunal after bosses ordered him to remove his social-media posts criticising Black Lives Matter (BLM). In September, the tribunal ruled in his favour, confirming that holding a view that opposes critical race theory (CRT) is a protected ‘philosophical belief’ under the Equality Act. Here, Sean explains why he felt he had to take a stand.
My Dad once bought me copy of Eric Hobsbawm’s Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz. It’s a long time ago since I read it, and I cherry-picked chapters that I fancied. But the premise of the book was to tell stories of unknown men and women who have fought their corner against the odds because they believed it was the right thing to do regardless of whether they’d be rewarded, recognised, remembered, or not.
There’s something about that which I have internalised. I have experienced bullying in various forms: verbal, coercive, psychological and, on occasion, physical violence throughout my life. Some of it was just typical stuff at school with older or more aggressive kids throwing their weight about. Some was closer to home and more intimate. But at various stages it has been related to race. I clearly remember being called a n***er lover at school and fighting over it. I remember being thrown on to my back by a group of older lads and being punched and kicked. All because I made it a bit too obvious that I liked black people and that meant I’d picked my side. This was in the 1980s, when youth gangs were attached to football and Bulldog newspaper was sold outside football grounds and schools.
Of course, we are all flawed and guilty of transgressions from time to time. Selfishness, pride, hypocrisy, laziness, but I have never been a coward. I have been terrified, and I have done my best to avoid conflict, but when the rubber hits the road, I have always made a stand for what I believe to be morally right.
I have observed the condescension and contempt directed at groups of people by other groups of people, and it never sits well with me. Have I ever contributed to that kind of behaviour? Yes, but only in moments of unthinking and reactive anger or fear. There is no group of people that I hate, but there are ideas I find reprehensible and behaviours that emerge from these ideas that repulse me.
Any ideology that demonises people in relation to their immutable characteristics is an anathema to me and when I saw that a CRT-based approach to ‘Diversity’ was insidiously starting to dominate the narrative on policy and practice at work, I would not stay silent.
When a colleague announced in an all-staff bulletin that in addition to the existing Race Network, a new BAME-only network was being established and that any staff members wanting to be involved in either group should indicate whether it was as a BAME member or an ‘ally’, I spoke out.
I asked for a rationale for this decision and for an explanation on how such a segregated approach would be managed. How black would one have to be to join one group and how unblack would one have to be to join the other? I shared posts, on the internal communication platform, putting forward ideas that offered an alternative to the CRT and BLM approach to race.
Apparently, my questions and explanations distressed my colleague so much that she had to go home. So much for the clenched fist of resistance against the oppressor.
My employers warned me that although I had not actually said anything objectively ‘wrong’, I should ‘watch it’. When the day came, in August 2021, that I was ordered to remove the posts, I knew that the powers that be were coming down heavily on me. Was I scared? Yes. Scared of losing my job, and after seeing the unhinged words of Zita Holbourne and the three other colleagues who put in a complaint against me, I feared being smeared as a racist and sacked. The repercussions of that could have been catastrophic for me and my family.
But there was never any chance that I would back away. I would not be silenced, obfuscated, sent for de-programming, tarred-and-feathered by Zita and her ‘allies’, the senior leaders who allowed this vexatious complaint to proceed. They would not get their scalp like hunters displaying a lion’s head as a trophy.
I am a working-class man. I am not proud, because pride is a sin not a virtue, but I am not ashamed of who I am and how I live.
I don’t seek out conflict and I aspire to a day when I really do embody the teachings of Howard Thurman, whose presence has been with me throughout this episode. But I will fight for my right to express my deeply held beliefs, and I will fight for others to do so, and I will always stand up against racism, bigotry, and divisive ideology in whatever form it manifests.