As part of his series for the Guardian entitled ‘Hideously diverse Britain’, Hugh Muir looks at how diversity and race impact on Britain today. This week he explores how minority groups “hold strong cards”.
t’s all about the cards, apparently. Who’s holding them? Who’s afraid of them? Card players are a menace, according to the rightwing papers. So how does it work? The first person I spoke to is a friend in the police; let’s call him Sam. Sam is Asian and he tells me that, despite all we read, the race card isn’t all it is cracked up to be. “It’s great for the higher-ups,” he says. “They can position themselves so they are seen as representing a particular community.” But for the lower ranks, the idea that you can prosper or be protected by the race card is a bit of a myth. “If you mention race, all that does is inflame the situation. The senior types panic and then they call the lawyers in.”
Context is everything, says Sam. Timing, too. “White females and gay and lesbian officers hold strong cards at the moment. They tend to get a better hearing.”
And so I have a word with Will, a gay contact, vastly experienced in the ways of the world and how organisations work. What’s the sexuality card now worth, I ask him? “It can be an ace or a deuce,” he says pithily. Most often a deuce. “Who wants to get involved with that?” he asks. “You may as well stick a label on your forehead. You work to define yourself in terms of what you do rather than what you are. But if you play a card you do the opposite. Your identity becomes subsumed by a stereotype.”
So I mull it all over with Millie, whose work provides a front-row view of what happens in the workplace. A lot of headline sex discrimination cases, I suggest. The gender card must be a winner. “It fluctuates,” she says. “At the moment, what worries employers the most is disability, race and religion, followed by gender, then sexuality and don’t forget age.”