I’m me and like nobody else

25 05 2010

Category: Politics

Lena Horne

Lena Horne, who died earlier this month at 92, spent her career shrugging off the labels everyone else tried to apply to her.

Her skin colour was, to many other people, apparently the most important thing about her. She was beautiful and talented but people couldn’t see beyond the boxes they wanted to put her in.

With her mixed heritage, black, white, native American; she was called ‘yellow’ to classmates at her black school, she was given dark make-up to appear in all-black productions, MGM described her as ‘Latina’ in a contract to try and get round the colour bar, her roles were restricted, she was forced to sleep on the tour bus in days of segregation. It was the labels that infuriated her:

I’m me and like nobody else.’ She said indignantly in her older years.

It’s a voice that the last Labour government failed to hear when it too was in its dying days and pushed through the Equality Act just before Lena Horne died.

The Equality Act is all about putting labels on people, forcing them into boxes. It’s consequences will be inequality, bureaucracy and corruption…

The thinking behind the Act is found in the briefing document written to explain the bill. Here are some of the provisions:

  • A new duty on Government Ministers, departments and key public bodies such as local authorities and NHS bodies to consider what action they can take to reduce the socio-economic inequalities people face

Every government body spending earnest hours discussing how their every action and decision impacts on socio-economic inequality.

How much time will that take? How much diversion from real work will be taking place while everyone at every level in public services performs back-covering exercises over everything.

How long do they have to consider it? How do they ‘consider’ it? Whose socio-economic inequalities? What priority should they have? When should that goal be compromised?

This is lip-service politics designed for the purposes of bureaucracy rather than government.

  • The public service inspectorates such as the Audit Commission, the Care Quality Commission and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary etc will check for compliance with the duty through their inspection frameworks.

Well, it’s not like they haven’t got enough to do ensuring that government is conducted in an efficient manner; much more important that they make sure that public bodies spend their time generating reams of meaningless paperwork.

  • The new National Equality Panel is investigating the relationship between people’s characteristics: their gender, race, disability, etc, and other aspects of inequality, such as the job you do and where you come from.

A new panel? Good; we need one of those. My favourite part of this whole bill is the ‘etc’ in that sentence: ‘…the relationship between people’s characteristics: their gender, race, disability, etc…’

There’s nothing like an etc flung on the end of a sentence to really define things.

Eric Hobsbawm once said that identities are not hats; we can wear many at the same time. K Antony Appiah, a black, gay, academic said that he hated to way he was expected to behave in a certain way and to have certain aspirations, depending on the label people applied to him; in a ‘black’ way or a ‘gay’ way.

Lena Horne said, succinctly, ‘I’m me and like nobody else’

Why does the former Labour MP Oona King need to have a label: Black, Jewish, liberal socialist, woman. Which trumps the others? Is one more valid? She’s herself and like nobody else.

Cramming people into boxes and defining them by the labels you put on them, rather than how they choose to define themselves, if they choose to define themselves at all, is regressive and undemocratic. Democratic rule of law is about equality of all before the law.

Trying to enforce equality by treating sections of society in a different way promotes inequality; if individuals in society are discriminated against that can be redressed by rules which require equal treatment under the law for all.

  • A new single public sector Equality Duty which will continue to cover race, gender, and disability but will be extended to cover age, sexual orientation, religion or belief, pregnancy and maternity explicitly, and gender-reassignment in full.

OK so we have a socio-economic equality duty which all public servants and bodies will have to enforce and monitor which auditing bodies will make sure are ‘actioned’, then we have a new National Equality Panel investigating things and now there’s an Equality Duty covering an assortment of things, also needing training, instruction, actioning and monitoring. This is a Daily Mail leader writer’s dream.

  • Public bodies can use procurement to drive equality

This is a corruption charter. It is designed to benefit those with certain favoured identities which they must publicly ‘celebrate’. And watch as people who promote themselves as exemplars of sanctioned identities are brought in to front bids: Divisive, socially corrosive, inefficient and corrupting.

  • The Bill will not allow positive discrimination, which will remain unlawful.

The Bill will allow service providers to take positive action measures to meet the particular needs of disadvantaged groups

You’ll have to forgive me for being slow, but what part of this is not advocating positive discrimination ‘which will remain unlawful’? It is all about positive discrimination; just calling it ‘positive action measures’ instead (another lovely phrase) won’t fool anyone.

As for the ‘the particular needs of disadvantaged groups’; there’s a world of meaning hidden in there. We’re back to the boxes and labels for the groups but for the ‘particular needs’ there’s all sorts of lovely quantification and categorisation for bureaucrats to get on with.

And plenty of scope for those very useful and important self-appointed community leaders to tell government how disadvantaged the groups they ‘represent’ are and how they have a right to ‘positive action measures’ to address their ‘particular needs’.

This law is not a genuine attempt to create more equality it is a muddle headed interference that aims solely to create an impression of equality, a spin on equality, a subversion of equality. It is hypocritical, patronising, divisive, bureaucratic and corrupting. It’s the poison pill left by a dying regime determined to leave a legacy, no matter how ill-considered.

It will not create more equality, it will make this country a worse place.

Let us be ourselves and like nobody else.



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