While senior police officers express their surprise and disgust at
the brutal racism exposed among trainees by the BBC TV
investigation, The Secret Policeman, to large swathes of
the population, of course, the response is: what’s new?
We have seen 30 years of initiatives since the first study of
racism and the police. Now, the Chief Constables’ Council has
agreed yet another action plan to “weed out those who should not be
in our service”.
The police force is tribal, still sexist and, although it has
changed hugely in the recent years, 10 minutes in any police
canteen will tell you that the predominant attitude is that it’s us
against them. In that respect it is different from the ethos of
those who work in the field of social services.
Still, the Victoria Climbi’ case exposed implications of racism in
social care too. Are there racist social workers? Inevitably.
In the North Wales and Greater Manchester police forces, the
trainees were obsessed with “Pakis”. Racism, however, is a complex
business. African-Caribbeans dismissing Nigerians and vice versa;
whites expressing derogatory views about everyone else and some
British-born blacks expressing distaste for whites and
Weeding out those with racist views may be possible at the initial
stages of recruitment, but what if such opinions are acquired over
years of employment? The British National Party claims several
serving police officers among its members.
Suppose a social worker with 10 years’ experience gradually lets
slip virulent views (and you only have to ask young, black people
who have come through the care system whether such figures exist),
in an era of staff vacancies and overload, how often is he or she
sacked, challenged or a blind eye turned?
The actor, Ricky Tomlinson, describes in his autobiography how he
moved from membership of the National Front in 1968 to anti-racist
socialism today (a journey which, fortunately for him, has also
earned him £850,000 from his publisher). His transformation
was voluntary. Changing the minds of those whose whole identity is
dependent upon holding fast to racist views, is a much tougher
Perhaps what 30 years of race awareness courses and diversity
training have taught us is that when this is offered by an
establishment that itself is ambivalent and confused on issues of
race – epitomised in the phrase “we treat them just like us” – the
result is failure.