No Longer Racist…?

22 02 2009

I read today with interest that the MET is apparently “no longer racist” according to Jack Straw. By this he meant that the MET is no longer “institutionally racist” as opposed to specifically racist. That’s great news in the 21st century.

Yet I don’t feel happy about this at all. Racism is still prominant in today’s society. Yet it is not white-on-black racism. Nor is it black-on-white racism. It is, at least in my experience, white-on-white, orchestrated by our caring government.

Allow me to explain. About a month ago I found an interesting job/career opportunity that I was keen to apply for. I read through the information and was hugely encouraged about the opportunity. Until I read one line, “ for a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities“. Meaning that I could not apply because I would not be considered for the role. I would not be considered on racial grounds. This is, I am convinced, racial discrimination. I grew more disillusioned as I read the accompanying blurb about the council which said “ [the] Council is committed to ensuring that job applicants are treated fairly and consistently and that no one is disadvantaged or discriminated against because of their gender, ethnicity, age, disability or any other personal characteristic which has no bearing on their ability to do the job“. To my mind, the two statements completely contradict each other. Angry that I was being forced out of applying for the role due to my ethnicity, I wrote to the council in question, demanding answers.

This is the full response:

Thank you for your letter of 3rd February 2009 expressing your concerns that the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity advertised by [the] Council is only available to a candidate from the Black or Minority Ethnic Communities.

I will try to address the concerns you raise and assure you that the Council is acting responsibly in offering this opportunity.

The post is not a permanent appointment but a Positive Action Traineeship 24 week work placement with bursary.

Positive-action training within the museum sector is part of a much wider initiative to address the under-representation of Black and Minority Ethnic staff in museum services locally, regionally and nationally.

The Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity, which is being hosted by The Arts and Museum Service, is part of a national strategic initiative developed by the Museum Association called the Diversify Scheme. This aims to create long term changes in the cultural diversity of the museum workforce. Diversify has received significant government funding through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and forms part of the Positive Action training which has been advocated in the museums sector since the late 1990s.

Positive action training is not a quick fix but is designed to create long-term sectoral and cultural changes which will encourage a wider pool of potential applicants for permanent positions. The Arts and Museum Service is committed to supporting this process.

You raised the concern in your letter that the County Council was acting in a discriminatory way in only allowing candidates from Black or Ethnic Minority communities to apply for the Arts and Museum Trainee opportunity. All public authorities have a duty to promote race equality under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000.

The Race Relations Act does not allow positive discrimination or affirmative action- in other words, an employer cannot try to change the balance of the workforce by selecting someone for a job because she or he is from a particular racial group. This would be discrimination on racial grounds, and unlawful. Selection must be raised on merit and all applicants treated equally.

However, employers can take positive action. The Race Relations Act 1976, Section 37 (1) sets the legal framework for organisations to take positive action. The aim of positive action is to ensure that people from previously excluded minority groups can compete on equal terms with other applicants. It is intended to make up for the accumulated effects of past discrimination. The law does not compel employers to take positive action, but it allows them to do so. Section 37 (1) is the section relevant to running positive action training initiatives.

The enclosed document, “What is Positive Action and How Does it Work”, outlines the rationale behind running this scheme . The scheme was run successfully in the County last year and continues to run across the Region in other organisations including Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

I hope that you are satisfied with my response to your complaint. The Council takes complaints very seriously and we do investigate each one carefully. If you need any further clarification or explanation of what I have told you, please contact me. If you are not satisfied with this response you have a right to request that the matter be reviewed by the Corporate Director at Stage 2 of our Customer Feedback/ Complaints Procedure.

In actual fact, the letter has done nothing to convince me that I was not racially discriminated against, but due to a combination of other things, I have not pursued the issue any further.

There are a few points which jump out at me:

1. They can, apparently, discriminate to make up for past discrimination. The logic is that two wrongs will make a right.

2. They seem to think that because everyone else does similar things that somehow justifies it. It doesn’t, in fact, it makes things worse.

3. They are trying to force an issue here. They have identified that people from minorities are not getting the roles they are advertising, so have simply said that they will only consider people from those backgrounds.

4. They do not offer a similar opportunity for white people.

5. They dress up the discrimination in another term and somehow think that makes it better. It doesn’t.

There is something more fundamental about this problem. I accept that there may not be the numbers of minorities in the library/museum sector. This shouldn’t be made into my problem though. The council have made it my problem because I have been alienated from applying for a role which may be beneficial for my future career. Addressing this issue of a lack of numbers should occur at a lower level, more likely at school level. I do not have the answer to the problem, but I am absolutely convinced that the solution that has been found is completely the wrong one. Racism is not dead, far from it. There is still the more traditional forms of racism, but we should not forget that white people can be discriminated against too. The solution to older problems of racism is to over-compensate now, thus actually remaining racist, but against a group which isn’t allowed by society to complain about it.

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