It’s a tragedy that the ugly disease of racial and gender discrimination still plagues our society. Fifty years after the civil rights movement, one can’t but help feel that not much has changed, or at the very least, not enough. Rather than defeating the very core of racism, British politicians seem content to replace true notions of equality with the hard, shiny, plastic exterior of mere political correctness.
This is demonstrated no more clearly than by Harriet Harman’s plans to allow employers to discriminate in favour of women and ethnic minorities over white males. Whilst it’s true that on-white unemployment is overall higher than for white ethnic groups (as the following statistics from the 2004 National Census show), favouring women and ethnic minorities for the sake of a quota and for mere political correctness is not only highly patronising but also deeply divisive.
Stats and chart from the UK Office for National Statistics (2004)
Harriet Harman’s recent speech in the House of Commons is riddled with contradictions and inconsistencies. For example, she talks about addressing inequalities through creating a “fair and equal society”, and that “no-one should have to put up with discrimination.” That’s all very well, but it seems our politicians have misunderstood the very definition of discrimination itself:
Discrimination: treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:
Simply put, discrimination, whether in favour or against a particular group, is still discrimination. Putting “positive” in front of the word doesn’t make it a good thing! To quote Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,
“It’s not just that our color difference doesn’t matter to her. It’s that she doesn’t seem to think there is any difference.”
How can we expect to move forward and eliminate discrimination once and for all, if even our politicans have got it so wrong?
Addressing inequality in the workplace is imperative now, more than ever, in a period of economic instability, where employers need to have access to the best skills, to sustain competitive advantage.
Positive discrimination is highly patronising. The fact is, statistics report that girls consistently outperform boys at all levels of education. And yet despite this, National Statistics Online still report a gender pay gap of approximately 12.6%. Clearly, when it comes to salary, it pays to be a man. But, the point is that forcing employers to hire women just because they happen to be women undermines the fact that women are skilled and qualified and able to perform the job just as well as men.
It’s important to note, however, that Harman said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability. In reality, however, I think one candidate always outperforms another, even if by only a slight margin, so firms should choose the candidate with the best ability, rather than using gender as a basis for a decision.
Despite all the doom and gloom, however, I firmly believe that change is inevitable, given that the gender pay gap is closing, though we still have a long way to go to achieving equality. And, more ethnic minorities are entering university and achieving the right skills that employers are looking for.
Looking at education levels, in terms of GCSE exam results, Chinese and Indian pupils are the most successful, whilst white males trail behind in last place. Even the focus on the underachievement of Afro-Carribeans has been called “statistical racism”, as statistically, Afro-Carribean pupils do no worse than white British from similar economic backgrounds.
We need to get to a place not where we prefer to employ women or ethnic minorities over white males, but where we are blind to differences in gender and race and reward people on the basis of their ability alone. It’s obvious that deep racial discrimination still exists in our society; it’s just that positive discrimination is not the answer.
See the video of Harriet Harman’s speech in the House of Commons here.