Posted on February 11, 2010

A Black Police Association Is a Bad, Outdated Idea

Anjana Ahuja, Times of London, February 10, 2010

My opinion was once sought by Times executives on how to attract non-white writers. The paper planned to offer internships to ethnic minority candidates who had graduated in media studies.

It was well intentioned but misguided, I ventured, because I knew of no colleague whose passport to these venerable corridors had been secured by such questionable means. There were historians, linguists, lawyers, classicists, philosophers, biologists, physicists, even an Egyptologist–but no media studies graduates. My view was this: if a brown writer sails in on an easier ticket than a white wordsmith, The Times would be construed as patronising rather than progressive and the intern would struggle against whispers of lowered standards.

Such was my influence that The Times went ahead anyway, although the scheme didn’t last long. Such schemes rarely do, which is why, in the miserable tale of Ali Dizaei, the Scotland Yard commander convicted of corruption, the fact that sticks out most is the continued, seemingly pointless and possibly harmful existence of the National Black Police Association. Substitute “black” with “white” and an outdated collective becomes an illegal organisation that is morally impossible to defend.

Why partition members of the same profession along the lines of skin colour? I would not join an organisation for black journalists (or female ones) because its identity lies wholly in the exclusion of white hacks (or male ones).

So, what is the purpose of the NBPA? To rail against bigotry, perhaps. Well, white people should be railing against that too, and they can’t join. To recruit more ethnic minorities into the police? Its Metropolitan branch was until recently advising non-whites to steer clear. To tackle the institutionalised discrimination that prevents black officers from gaining promotion? There are laws against that.

Irrelevance is not even the half of it. The binoculars of justice are rarely trained on more than one thing at a time, and undue attention to Dizaei’s colour allowed his other failings to fade out of view. So cowed were Dizaei’s superiors by the fear of seeming racist, and so vocal was the NBPA in its defence of its handsome poster boy, that the Met and others backed off when they should have clamped down.

I’m not so naive as to think there isn’t racism in police ranks (or the media). I would not be here were it not for a bursary for ethnic minority students. Mine is not an argument against affirmative action. But once you’re in the profession, it’s time to do your job, not continually reference the colour of your skin.

[Editor’s Note: An earlier story about Ali Dizaei can be read here.]