What the Ukraine conflict tells us about race

Published:

A war instigated by a super power invading another sovereign country resulting in death, misery and civilians becoming refugees seeking an escape is a blight on us all.

The outpouring of wanting to help them in their darkest hour is a very human response because there but for the grace of God go all of us.  

I am of course talking about Ukraine, but I could have been talking about any number of other countries that are occupied by invading forces such as Iraq that has been occupied in 2003 on the pretext of possessing weapons of mass destruction.  


Aid for those fleeing conflict:

Businesses keen to employ refugees but need support

How HR can step up and support Afghan refugees

HR’s role in refugee integration

Refugee hires supported by new employer network

Refugee women half as likely to find employment than women born in UK


War reporting. What is it good for? Even less than nothing when it allows bias to surface and hate to continue.  

The war in Ukraine has been covered by every network and news station underscoring the pain of those being affected. The language being used by journalists including the BBC, NBC, CBS and others who are supposedly meant to impartially report the war have been leaking their bias and underscoring stereotypes.  

There has been many examples of this. One newscaster said it was emotional to “see Europeans with blue eyes and blonde hair being killed with Putin’s missiles”.  

Another reported: “Now the unthinkable has happened to them, this is not a developing third world nation, this is Europe”.  

“These are not refugees from Syria, these are refugees from neighbouring Ukraine. They’re Christians. They’re white”.  

There is a clear comparison and contrast between the Ukrainian conflict and previous wars.  

Comments such as: “These are prosperous middle-class people; these are not people trying to get away from areas in North Africa. They look like any European family that you would live next door to,” and: “this isn’t a place with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European, I have to choose those words carefully too, city where you would not expect or hope that would happen”.  

The irony is that while Europe was still in the dark ages, Iraq was regarded as the cradle of civilisation giving birth to the earliest cities and empires, writing and literature, monumental art, science, mathematics and being credited with creating the first identifiable written language.   

All refugees fleeing wars have already suffered and deserve to be treated with dignity whether they are from Ukraine, Myanmar, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, irrespective of their colour, faith or class. 

When one human life is given more value than another human life that is precisely what leads to conflict – because of who I am, by virtue of birth, have a claim greater than you or over you by virtue of your birth.  

Many surrounding countries have welcomed Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova but sadly colour and ethnicity has surfaced with reports that Africans in Ukraine trying to flee are being stopped at the border while white Ukrainians are being allowed to pass through.  

It has been uplifting to see the voices being raised against war. We are seeing hashtags of ‘No to War’ and ‘I stand with Ukraine’ trending. We have seen the colours of Ukraine being worn and displayed as an act of solidarity and defiance.  

In this context it has been great to see our HR community asking itself what it can do to support Ukraine with groups being created such as ‘HR for Ukraine’ to combine efforts, resources and ideas.  

This is very much needed right now but is also revealing the bias within the profession as prior to Ukraine there have been no similar initiatives for others.  

It is hoped that once this terrible war ends, and we can hope and pray that it is sooner rather than later, that the group is repurposed for HR to be better attuned to all people who are still under military occupation and fleeing wars.  

War is ugly but can also be very revealing. We may not be able to stop this war, but we can call out the inequity and hate also check our own bias and mindsets. We will never truly have peace until we accept our common united humanity.   

Shakil Butt is founder of HR hero for Hire