“As much as I understood that anyone who has encountered any form of racism in Britain would experience a range of negative emotion, I was nonetheless disarmed and disappointed by the intensity and force of the emotion I felt. I was also dismayed at the speed with which I went from someone who felt rage with no outlet: a rage that caught me off guard and caused me to implode.”
It is difficult to try and categorise the book Almost British. On one level it is the remarkable story of one woman’s triumphant battle against institutional racism, an incredible tale that documents her struggle to endure the relentless pressure and attacks on her body and spirit after challenging the racist attitudes and actions of managerial staff within the British Prison Service. It shows how the power of love and faith can heal as family and friends support us during our times of woe.
And yet, on another level it serves as a definitive guide offering practical support for all employees facing harassment and discrimination in the workplace, a forensic report on how to survive managerial bullying and discrimination in a system that actively works to protect its own.
In many ways it is a harrowing story, one where we see Olivea start with a bright optimistic attitude towards starting work at the Prison Service College at Newbold Revel, Rugby and gradually being subjected to circumstances that almost lead to her ending up broken as a pessimistic, paranoid victim on anti-depressants.
Fortunately the story does not end there and we are taken through her journey of vindication through a world of grievances, investigations, employment tribunals, self representation and eventually victory - as a survivor.
Throughout this epic tome Olivea juxtaposes her real world introduction to the reality of covert racism with an emotional narrative littered with related historical facts and statistics that reveals the true impact discrimination has on the human psyche. Yet whilst the book ends in triumph, it does not mask the limits of the law.
Indeed, investigations, litigation all whilst recognising injustice, continue to fail in applying remedy or appropriate sanction for unjust and covert racist behaviour in the workplace let alone throughout society.
In many ways articulating this Truth is one of the key strengths of the book. For whilst it would be a valid criticism to recognise there are no counter perspectives given space to account for the racism experienced, Olivea excels at locating the ‘justifications’ given for her experience that permeate corporate and legal systems maintaining the status quo across the UK.
In one such killer quote an acting Prison head responding to comments about the consistent poorer appraisal markings Africans get than their european counterparts states; “white people are more comfortable with people who are like them... I don’t regard this as racism.” (Wotton, 2010)
Fortunately on 14th April 2008, in the case (1304048/2006, 1307055/2006 and 1301543/2007) of Mrs Olivea Ebanks vs Her Majesty’s Prison Service (HMPS) the Tribunal’s unanimous judgment was that her complaints about harassment and victimisation on the basis of racial discrimination by Diane Watkins, Stacey Tasker, Sue Brookes and HMPS were upheld.
This legal victory therefore makes Almost British a historic journal of the events that led up to that judgement that should be read by all those interested in understanding the failings and haphazard management style of HMPS, institutional and British racism, employment law and practices and the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity.