How to sustain the equality lie
6 November 1996
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There is a well-known belief in the fraternity of spin doctors, media consultants, publicity gurus and other twisters and turners of fact that if you tell a half-truth or downright lie, the more often you say it, the more people will believe it.
The bigger the untruth, the greater the sincerity with which it must be delivered.
If it is a minnow of a lie, you can allow the small-fry in your organisation to peddle it. If it is a king-size whopper, then you need to bring out the big guns whose word is the truth.
If it is so in politics and advertising, then let it be so in the legal profession.
In the beginning, there was anecdotal evidence of discrimination within the profession. Not just one or two cases backed by those liberal, do-gooder racial equality moaners, but hundreds of them, by the sackful.
And when the sacks and the filing cabinets began to run out, something had to be done. And it was.
The existence of race discrimination was denied, point blank. "We only select and promote the best" became a well-worn phrase, and it wasn't trotted out to placate the black student kept out of the profession, or the ethnic minority lawyer unjustifiably passed over for promotion once again. No, it was to placate the liberals who began to ask questions. The received wisdom was that these people were not the victims of race discrimination, but were losers who were not good enough for the job.
Then came the statistical evidence. It was so comprehensive and shocking in its conclusion, that it was impossible to deny. The research technique could not be questioned. The researchers could not be rubbished. If you were black, you had one-seventh the chance of entering the profession compared with your equally-qualified white colleague.
There it was - in black and white. Even the hardliners could not bring themselves to repeat the incantation, "We only select the best".
So, after much shuffling of feet and wringing of hands, the recruitment partners decided to meet the "race industry".
The crumbs offered were gratefully received, because you soon learn in the race business, as in the human rights business, that while all eyes may be on the loaf, the "throwing of the crumbs ceremony" is an essential part of such meetings. I do not mean to belittle the crumbs on offer. They were given, by some, with genuine feeling and they have helped one or two individuals. But they were not enough.
The Law Society, quick as ever, did its bit. It published a new practice rule, code of practice and a model anti-discrimination policy. At the time, some cynics called it a toothless poodle because there was no means of enforcing it and no means of checking whether it was being adhered to or having the desired effect.
Under the society's present management, it is suspected to be a dead toothless poodle, because the poor creature has never been heard to bark.
The race relations committee of the Bar Council has obtained evidence that shows a black male has one-third the prospects of obtaining tenancy as an equally qualified white male. This says what those in the "race industry" have been saying for years. One waits to see what steps the Bar will take.
Those who believe in justice should be shocked by the statistics coming from both sides of the profession. They should be shocked by the things their elected representatives are saying on the subject. The shock waves should have forced the profession into action. I have seen only inaction. At the very least, I would have expected the vast numbers of ordinary lawyers of goodwill, who care about prejudice and discrimination, to force their firms into action. I would have expected a loud outcry. I hear only silence.
At the time of the Scottsborough Boys incident in 1931 in Alabama, US, Countee Cullen wrote a bitter poem noting that white poets had used their pens to protest in other cases of injustice but now that blacks were involved, most were silent:
"Surely, I said, now will the poets sing,
But they raised no cry,
I wonder why."