Monday, August 23, 2004


"While everyone in the policy world is talking about the rising problem of racism, the reality is almost the opposite. While there are still serious cases of racial discrimination, on the whole the British Social Attitudes survey shows a dramatic decline in racist attitudes over the past two decades. Of people surveyed today, twice as many view racial discrimination by employers as wrong, as compared with gender discrimination. Indicators such as the rising numbers of interracial relationships suggest a high level of social integration.

But the more public authorities talk about racism and devise anti-racist policies, the more they racialise people's everyday experience. It seems that everyone today is seen as a potential racist who needs to be monitored and every member of an ethnic minority as a potential victim of racism.

Race relations policies are having a dramatic impact in the modern workplace, by encouraging the growth of diversity training throughout the private and public sector.

Participants are instructed in the 'correct' ways to engage with people of other cultural groups and how to tread carefully around their different values. Yet the little evaluation that has been done on diversity training schemes shows their spectacular failure. A recent in-depth study by the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) on diversity training in the police force admitted that a large proportion of officers felt their training was patronising, and resented the implication that they were closet racists.

Where diversity schemes are introduced in an institution or community, the number of reported racial incidents often rises. The clearest example of this trend is in the USA, where diversity training is already a mature, multi-billion dollar industry populated by consultants and video and guidance literature. Its most notable achievement has been a year-on-year increase in complaints and racial harassment litigation.

Institutions are not the only targets of diversity management. Since the mid-1990s, whole communities have been subject to such policies and practices. The town of Oldham provides the clearest example of what can happen when public authorities take on the role of diversity managers.

In the 1990s, the Oldham police force began a deliberate strategy to raise awareness of racially motivated crimes in the area. Officers were so keen to demonstrate their commitment to dealing with racism that they treated crimes between whites and Asians as racially motivated, even when they were not reported as such.

Oldham was also unique in that the majority of victims of racial incidents were white - 116 out of 204. The local BNP was strongly vilified in the media for pointing to this figure as evidence of white victimisation by ethnic minorities, but it was the police who promoted such explosive statistics in the first place.

Indeed, much of the BNP's opportunistic strategy has piggybacked on the racial divisions flowering under official policy. Long before the BNP started to make an impact, Oldham council's multicultural policies had begun to racialise communities and make divisions seem like a natural fact of life. When white people in Oldham are constantly told in the classroom, the police station and the local library about how culturally different their Asian neighbours are, perhaps we should not be surprised if some of them start thinking that Asian people inhabit an alien world. In the wake of policing and other diversity policies, the perception of hatred between Asians and whites gathered pace. Part of the result was the explosion of racial tension in Oldham in the summer of 2001.

On the night of Oldham's local elections in 2001, all the elected candidates were banned from speaking on the grounds that they might fuel racial tensions. Implicit here is the notion that the people of Oldham cannot be trusted to listen to their elected representatives and debate with each other without descending into fanatical violence. Many residents felt that the decision was patronising and fuelled a sense of disenfranchisement. More importantly, it closed down debate on race issues in Oldham, perhaps where such debate is needed most.

While diversity policies are supposedly introduced in the name of protecting ordinary people they inevitably result in policing and managing them, making race relations worse. Left to their own devices, individuals today are more tolerant and willing to engage with each other than in the past. But as government and policy-makers implement diversity policies in institutions and communities, they risk storing up distrust and anxiety for the future"."

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