Redressing the balance

So Commander Dizaei goes to prison after a glittering career spent being investigated on the one hand, and calling down the wrath of the Gods of equality upon the Met Police on the other. It’s not for me to set myself up as judge and jury since we’ve had plenty of both already, and for the purposes of this post I’m going to assume not only that Dizaei has been found guilty as charged, but also that he is guilty as charged. Most of the commentary on the case seems to have concluded that Dizaei was able to evade his comeuppance for so long because the post-Stephen Lawrence Met Police was paralysed in pursuing him by its paranoia about Macpherson’s accusation of “institutionalised racism”. I know from my own experience in the ILEA in the 1980’s that it was at times difficult to criticise black colleagues honestly without being suspected at least of unworthy and prejudicial motives. And there is indeed a particular kind of white person that seems to thrive on a diet of guilt and self-disgust that does neither them nor their black colleagues any good.

But I think we should be cautious in jumping to the tabloid conclusion that the Dizaei case is some kind of further proof of “political correctness gone mad”. The determination of organisations to attack inequalities of race, gender, sexuality and the rest has had overwhelmingly positive results both for those at the receiving end of these inequities and for those who’ve been obliged by the process to examine their own motives and behaviour. The problem that now confronts us is how to deal with the manifest inequalities that remain, rather than to put the brakes on a process that’s somehow “gone too far”.

This is not to say that there haven’t also been perverse and unhelpful results along the way. Too often there’s been a focus on language rather than on process or outcomes. Learning not to say this word or that does not guarantee fairer consequences, and dealing with structural matters requires more than an avoidance of offence. I know that sometimes appointments or promotions have been made that had more to do with avoiding embarrassment, or meeting targets, than concern for effective work. And yes, sometimes bad behaviour by staff belonging to this or that minority was not challenged as it should have been, although in truth that was more often as a result of weak and ineffective managers who would have used another excuse if the “political correctness” one had not been at hand.

It may seem either to be stating the obvious or simply to be counsel of perfection to say that the problems have arisen largely because ideology has been allowed to usurp justice. Too much “equalities” training has concentrated on rules of behaviour to be blindly followed on pain of disapprobation rather than on a genuine commitment to understanding what justice demands, and finding innovative and effective ways to deliver it. And one key attribute of justice is immediacy. Justice does not consist in using the present moment to teach the past a lesson. Whenever we feel tempted to commit an injustice now in the interests of evening the scores of the past, we should pause long and think hard. This creates some acute dilemmas. Are all-women short-lists a justifiable accelerator for change, or an affront to the justice of the present moment? Is the promotion of a weaker ethnic minority candidate a justifiable symbol of change and the creation of a role model of hope, or a denial of justice for the other candidates? Whatever else the Dizaei case may be, it is surely a vindication of having the courage to pursue justice wherever it leads, no matter who or what is inconvenienced.

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