A Load of Bright
An atheist's views on religion and the supernatural

Positive Discrimination (wince!)

In the age of political correctness in which we live, almost every employer has an equal opportunities policy or mission statement. This is the equal opportunities policy of the Metropolitan Police Force.

Equal Opportunities

The Metropolitan Police Service seeks to employ a work force which reflects the diversity of background and culture within which we operate and to provide a working environment free from any form of harassment, intimidation, victimisation or unjustifiable discrimination.

We shall treat individuals openly and fairly with dignity and respect. We shall value their contribution towards providing a quality service to the people of London.

All members of the Service will demonstrate their commitment to these principles and will challenge behaviour which is unacceptable, in particular on the grounds of nationality, gender, race, colour, ethnic or national origin, disability, sexual orientation or marital status.

We shall ensure that our policies and procedures reflect these principles. (Emphasis mine)

At a quick glance it seems honourable, but on closer inspection, it is rife with contradictions of Biblical magnitude between the first and third paragraphs and even within the first paragraph, which I have highlighted in bold print. The only possible way in which the police can achieve a work force which reflects the diversity of the community it serves, other than leaving it to random chance, is to discriminate against certain candidates in the recruitment process, thus violating the end of the first paragraph and the third.

It seems, according to the news in Britain today, that they are beginning to realise and accept this inconsistency in their reasoning. Being forced to choose, they are sticking to their plans for a diverse work force, and are therefore proposing laws to allow positive discrimination.

ACPO [The Association of Chief Police Officers] says raising the 3.7% of officers from ethnic minorities to the Home Office’s 7% target by 2009 cannot be done without changing policy.

Critics are calling this suggestion “reverse discrimination”. It isn’t. Nor is it “positive discrimination”. No qualifier is required, it is, quite simply, discrimination. When an employer has to choose the right candidate for a position, if they base that decision on anything other than each candidate’s experience, qualifications, attitude, references and general abilities to carry out the job required, they are discriminating unfairly against someone. Whether the factor of discrimination is something that places the victim in a majority, minority or neither, is irrelevant. This is, and should forever remain, illegal.

In the heat of the national debate, I am alarmed that the most important question is conspicuous only for not being asked: why do we actually need target quotas for ethnic minorities? The news article from the BBC quotes Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Cheshire (speaking generally, not directly in response to my question).

Having the confidence of “all sections of the community” was “absolutely critical” to protecting the public and ensuring that “justice can be delivered”

This is typical politically correct nonsense. The way to win the confidence of the community is not to create an artificially diverse work force, it is to create the best possible police force consisting of the highest quality police officers, regardless of ethnicity. Fill every last post with the best candidate, ensure that officers can do their jobs, and forget about race all together. The reason we have tension and crime in depressed areas of Britain is that small communities of ethnic minorities are insular and hostile to other similar local communities from other origins. The tension is built on differences between race, nationality and religion. Is that the “diverse culture” that the police wants to reflect? If the police live by this ethos of trust from the community, where they can send a Muslim police officer to deal with an incident in a Muslim area, they will only further reinforce the in-group/out-group mentality in these areas. What these areas need to see is that all police officers, regardless of their race, nationality or religion can do their job effectively and treat the people they serve with respect and dignity, when it is deserved, and efficient, humane justice when it is required.

However, even if Mr. Fahy were right, it still wouldn’t justify discrimination at the recruitment stage. Choosing a candidate based on their skin colour is either wrong or it isn’t. They can’t have it both ways. What would happen if they accidentally exceeded their target quota of 7%? Would they then start discriminating the other way again, against ethnic minorities? It would be fascinating to see the difference in the public, and even international reaction.

The quotas are even insulting to the ethnic minorities whom they claim to be helping. It implies that their communities can only be dealt with by officers who share their ethnicity, as if they were some sort of oddball group requiring a “fight fire with fire” response. Aside from this, the quotas suggest that candidates from ethnic minorities would not be strong enough to obtain positions in the police without help from positive discrimination. If I were from an ethnic minority and were applying for a job in the police, I would want to succeed or fail on merit, not on the colour of my skin. Whatever you want to say about outspoken racists, at least they are selective. The ethnic minority quotas are actually racist against all races – at least they don’t discrimate there!

The very goal that political correctness is supposed to be working towards, is a world where skin colour, and other arbitrary differences between us don’t matter. And yet, every action that people take motivated by, and in the name of political correctness seems to stride powerfully and obliviously in the wrong direction. If I’m being mugged and a police officer comes to my aid, I don’t care if they are a male or female, gay or straight, Christian or Muslim, or how they like their eggs cooked. These are arbitrary, pointless facts about which I could not possibly care less at anytime, least of all a moment in which I fear for my life. And yet the police are arguing that it’s ok to tell a candidate, “you’re the stronger candidate and you would make a better police officer, but we can’t hire you because you’re not from an ethnic minority”.

I realise that not everyone is as liberal and open minded as I am, but to me, this is as ludicrous as having a target quota for hair colour, blood type or people who like marmite. “Lots of people like marmite, and we feel that it is important that we have enough people in the police force who like marmite, otherwise people who eat marmite won’t trust us.” The response to this point I can most easily anticipate is, “don’t be stupid, nobody gets beaten up, murdered, persecuted, repressed or discriminated over their taste in toast topping spreads, and it isn’t a cause of division, hatred and war in the world”. To which I would reply, exactly! It is only when we genuinely stop caring about what colour someone’s skin is that it will cease to be a source of discrimination. It is only when we say, “we want the best possible police force, with the best officers, and we don’t care about anything that doesn’t affect their ability to do their duties”, that we will wear away at the ignorance and bigotry that still plague our planet. Ethnic minority quota targets are not a solution, they are part of the problem.

There is no such thing as “positive discrimination”. It is a phrase born out of absurdity, the love child of hypocrisy and political correctness, to make discrimination on the grounds of a factor over which the victim has absolutely no control, sound like it is sometimes ok. It is never ok. There is only one kind of discrimination, and it is always, unashamedly negative.

I would like to take this opportunity the police have given us to propose a consciousness raiser. Just as the feminists raised our consciousness to notice “he” instead of “he or she”, and in the process inspired Richard Dawkins to raise our consciousness about “a seven year old Christian” or “Muslim children” instead of “a child of Christian parents” or “children of Muslim parents”, I urge you, I earnestly implore you to physically recoil when you hear the term “positive discrimination”. Don’t let it wash over you, as many people do because they’ve heard it too many times and don’t question it. Let every absurd, hypocritical syllable grate against you. Let it go through you, like nails on a blackboard. Let it irritate you like a careless grammatical mistake. Wince like you’ve just touched a hot plate. Above all, politely but firmly, confront the person who has just used it, and show them the error of their ways.

Political correctness is often to be commended for its goals, but criticised for its methods. It so often lacks foresight, coherence and common sense, and the terminology with which it has burdened us is the most prominent example. Maybe, if we can begin to break down this particular term and raise people’s consciousness to its absurdity, we can begin to turn things around. We’ll finish with a test, remember to wince. Positive discrimination!

8 Responses to “Positive Discrimination (wince!)”

  1. Excellent post.

  2. “Positive discrimination”
    The term is positively Orwellian.

    It takes mere grade-school logic to aovid these kinds of ethical pitfalls: two wrongs don’t make a right.

  3. Polly,

    I completely agree – two very shrewd points.

  4. Excellent point, and I shall add it to my list of phrases-I-can’t-resist-criticising (such as “general consensus”).

    On an unrelated point, is the colour scheme of this site open to criticism? I’ll proceed anyway: the white-on-black scheme causes me to see a permanent after-image of the preceding lines – a small point, but it puts me off visiting this site.

  5. Darren said:

    Excellent point, and I shall add it to my list of phrases-I-can’t-resist-criticising (such as “general consensus”).

    Thank you, and I’ve added “general consensus” to my list. 🙂

    On an unrelated point, is the colour scheme of this site open to criticism? I’ll proceed anyway: the white-on-black scheme causes me to see a permanent after-image of the preceding lines – a small point, but it puts me off visiting this site.

    Of course, I’m always open to criticism, and there were a couple of similar comments when I first started the blog. Sadly, wordpress offer very little choice of layout to their “.com” users (especially considering there are a nearly a million of us!), and this is the only one I could really get along with. It’s not ideal, but I’ll probably stick with it unless you can start a campaign, sorry.

    If it’s really bad, you can always copy the text into a word processing program and adjust everything accordingly. Alternatively, you can use a blog aggregator, and all of my posts are duplicated at Planet Atheism. Hope that helps.

  6. OK, I’ll add my minor complaint to the campaign. I have a hard time typing in the response text-box. I can’t see the cursor so if I have to go back and edit, I completely lose my place and can only “see” where I am by deleting a letter or two. Anyway, just FYI.


  7. “I realise that not everyone is as liberal and open minded as I am…”

    That’s the crux of the problem right there – not everyone can see people beyond the color of their skin. When it comes to police work, if you send in a police force composed solely of the majority racial group into a minority nieghborhood… well, you’re in deep shit.

    As far as I’m concerned, this sort of thing is a necessary evil; until everyone is as liberal and open minded as you, we are stuck trying to make everyone happy in very backward ways.

  8. Amissio said:

    As far as I’m concerned, this sort of thing is a necessary evil; until everyone is as liberal and open minded as you, we are stuck trying to make everyone happy in very backward ways.

    There’s no such thing as a ‘necessary evil’. If it’s necessary, it’s not evil. And vice versa. What we have is a vicious circle, and vicious circles need someone to have the courage to break them, even if it means things get worse before they get better.

    What you describe is fine in the short term, but it gets us nowhere beyond that. I think my suggestion has more benefits in the long term.

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