Before moving to Britain, I had not heard the phrase ‘If you don’t like it, leave’ when I entered into debate/raised a concern/or questioned a decision. It would appear that in Britain a common response from anyone born in this country to those of us from other parts of the world is ‘If you don’t like it, leave’. In fact, speaking to those from places such as Ghana, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, China, Italy and France – reveals that they do hear the phrase quite regularly or at least once.
The phrase has been directed at me many times, sometimes in the workplace – which is what I want to focus on. If managers and colleagues cannot think of a better way of engaging with debate other than suggesting an employee leave, then the organisation needs to look at their competency and professionalism standards for managers. Telling an employee to leave is a way of undermining and devaluing them. Few would disagree. The phrase effectively dehumanises people and their contributions at work.
It is conveniently forgotten, that those of us who were not born in this country contributed to it in some way before even relocating – and so did generations before us. And in the workplace, most of us do contribute and there should be space for employees to raise concerns, ask questions about progression, put forward suggestions about improvements to practices etc. without being cut down by being told to leave if they don’t like it.
So what is the solution?
The phrase, ‘If you don’t like it, leave,’ in all its variations, is a cowardly response. Most people in woke activist circles concur with this.
It is almost always made by people when they have been caught out in their unjust practice. Or it is made by people when they want to hurt others and undermine confidence. It is particularly used against those of us who weren’t born in Britain and are constantly being ‘othered’ daily across socio-political-economic institutions.
Either way, the phrase implies that arguing for change is not permitted, that dissent is unwarranted and that diversity of thinking is not possible when they are around or in control. In the workplace it is often bullying behaviour which almost always emanates from people in positions of power who are content to use their privilege to violate the rights of others. In wider society it represents bigoted behaviour on a wider scale which continues to support unjust systems of oppression. It is also often used by those who have been caught out with ideas which are ridiculous, logically flawed and can’t garner legitimate support other than by using a tired, worn phrase loaded with xenophobia and not much else.
So what can you do? You can walk away, stop wasting your time explaining or you can escalate (if it happens in the workplace) and keep escalating – organisations that support bullying behaviour and do nothing to challenge the culture that validates it, need to be called out so that others do not have to face the same problem. It is expensive in terms of time, poor work performance, sickness levels and turnover. So why isn’t more being done?
My own experience and observations suggest that if you call out senior people about bullying behaviour they use strategic incompetence – they’ll say they didn’t know, they weren’t aware, they lack understanding. They use the same responses that you get from people who use racist language, who misgender, who are homophobic and who perpetrate sexual harassment in the workplace.
So, if you really are going to confront the bullying behaviour and you are the target – you need to get support. Try wider national agencies. Bullying behaviour is so prevalent in workplaces that there are helplines dedicated to it.