Patrick Sawer, Evening Standard (London), Jan. 11
A care worker who referred to an Asian colleague as “popadom” after forgetting her name resigned in protest at being asked to attend an anti-racism course.
Rebecca Miles was working in a centre for victims of racism and domestic violence when she was accused of making the racist remark.
She had been discussing the case of a Bangladeshi woman with her colleagues when she forgot the name of the interpreter. Mrs Miles then said: “It was Pamala, Popalam or Popadom — something like that.”
The 37-year-old former legal secretary-from Buckhurst Hill, Essex, was reportedly asked to attend a meeting at which she was told she could only remain in the job if she attended antiracism lessons and wrote an essay on the Stephen Lawrence case.
Despite admitting that her remark was silly, Mrs Miles then resigned in protest.
She said: “I agree it was a flippant, silly remark, but I did not intend it to be racist and I am genuinely sorry if it caused real offence.
“During the meeting I was reminded of the Macpherson report about the Stephen Lawrence case. I was appalled they could make a parallel with the handling of the investigation into the murder of a child.”
Mrs Miles had been seconded to Alert from her employer Victim Support to provide help for the victims of race crimes and domestic violence. Alert is an independent organisation contracted by Waltham Forest.
She said: “I was told it was a credit to my colleagues that they were prepared to carry on working with me. When I got home I was in floods of tears.
“I only went back the next day to finish taking the Bangladeshi woman’s statement. I did it for her.”
Victim Support said it was confident the case had been handled correctly.
Alert said allowing “leeway” for such comments had contributed towards institutional racism in Britain.
Its director Paul Dowling said: “Bearing in mind the work we do and the area we focus on, including racial harassment, we have to have a stringent approach to these things.
“We would be open to criticism if we had not challenged her behaviour.”
From the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language:
pappadam: A very thin flatbread made with lentil flour, often crisped by deep-frying or grilling.