A 25-year-old Black woman in the United Kingdom recently shared a recorded conversation in which her two colleagues were heard making several racist comments. In an interview with The Mirror, Janika Frimpong said her phone recorded the conversation after she temporarily stepped away from her desk. She said she had unintentionally left her phone on record at the time.
In the recording, her two colleagues are heard making a number of racist comments including, “you know Black girls, they don’t wash their hair” and “Black people have a smell.”
Janika was employed at Mitie at the time of the incident. And the company had been contracted by Legal & General to provide reception and concierge services for the financial services firm.
Janika said the incident left her distressed and impacted her mental health, adding that it ultimately led her to quit the job on January 10. “I felt drained and unhappy working there and at times I would have panic attacks from the sheer hurt,” she said about the conversation which was recorded in December.
In the recorded exchange, the first woman is heard saying, “Do you feel like, I don’t want to be rude, but she has a smell about her, like a fried oil smell, is it just me.”
“I don’t know, it is a strong smell, I don’t know if it’s oil,” the second woman responds, to which the first woman says, “Or if it’s like a lotion.”
“It could be cocoa butter,” the second woman adds. “Black people have a smell about them,” the first woman is heard saying.
The second woman subsequently says, “We were talking about cocoa butter, maybe it’s that, mixed with –
“Something else, hair gel or something,” the first woman chimes in. “Oh yeah maybe yeah,” the second woman adds.
“You know some people smell clean and fresh, that’s one thing, this is something else. She’s not here though, she went toilet or something,” the first woman says before one of them is heard laughing.
Janika said her phone recorded their conversation after she left her desk to use the toilet, and she actually forgot she had activated the device’s record feature at the time. “I usually take notes on my phone for work purposes and on this occasion, I had been doing that but needed to pop to the toilet; forgetting I had the recording still running,” she recalled.
“To my surprise when [later] I went over my voice notes I heard two employees saying racist remarks such as; ‘Black people have a smell about them,’ ‘Black people don’t wash their hair’ amongst other things about myself.
“I instantly went into a state of distress and discomfort – I even tried to brush it off for a few days but I just couldn’t do it anymore as my mental health was being severely affected as I couldn’t stand to go into that work environment.
“I felt drained and unhappy working there and at times I would have panic attacks from the sheer hurt that two people of color could say these things about me for no apparent reason.
“This is also the first time I have ever experienced racism and discrimination such as this in the workplace.”
She continued: “Outside of work, I constantly felt sad, as the incident would keep replaying in my mind. I had never experienced anything like this so it was a lot to take in. It was a struggle going back into the office every day.”
On January 10, Janika reportedly addressed the incident on Twitter and also brought it to the attention of Legal & General. The company subsequently reached out to her to condemn the incident and let her know an internal investigation was underway.
A spokesperson later told The Mirror “the person making the complaint was not an L&G employee but a temporary contractor employed by Mitie.” “Mitie provide outsourced reception and concierge services to L&G. The two individuals against whom the allegations were made are also Mitie employees. Mitie are now conducting a full internal investigation,” the spokesperson added.
“We are in close contact with Mitie during the process and we have made it very clear that we expect all our contractors to operate to the standards we expect of our own employees.”
Mitie also confirmed they were looking into the incident. “As a business that is committed to ensuring a company culture where every colleague can bring their true self to work, we were very concerned to hear about this incident,” the company said.
“There is no place for racism, bullying or discrimination in our business. An investigation into this incident is already underway.”