A course in Dignity at Work yesterday reinforces what every employer knows. In law and in fact, Discriminatory is as Discriminatory does. If a behaviour is experienced as belittling (and it is for the person who feels it to decide this, not the perpetrator), and it actually expresses itself in measurable behaviour, that's it. Discrimination has occurred whatever the motives or intentions of the perpetrator.
Imagine I open a Hungarian restaurant and refuse to serve anyone but Hungarians. I am discriminating against non-Hungarians. I may point out that I never served non-Hungarians before, or there are parts of the world where racial discrimination is legal, or my head office in Budapest likes me to do it, or any other excuse that comes to mind. I may even say Jesus is telling me to do it, but that is evidence I am crazy, not Jesus. None of it is strictly relevant.
Discriminatory is as discriminatory does, even if I have no conscious intention to discriminate, even if I cannot believe I am the kind of person who would do such a thing. Thirty five years ago I was once quartered with a Christian lady, call her Doris, who explained to a colleague and me that "darkies deteriate (sic) the area.” My more courageous colleague tactfully said he found this sentiment racist. Doris was horrified. Of course not. “If it were,” she said, “that would make me a racist, and I'm not.” Doris was wrong. Hers was a racist sentiment, and, thank God, less likely to be heard from a good Christian lady now, I imagine, than it was thirty five years ago.
In that spirit, it is more than high time for the Church of England to stop discriminating against women in its senior staffing. It really is as simple as that. Whenever this obvious point is made, howls go up from various Dorises that they have no intention to discriminate. We are not as other men are. When we discriminate it is not discrimination. Increasingly, this assertion seems merely ridiculous.
I was glad to read John Sentamu’s recent Telegraph interview on marriage equality, because the full transcript reveals just how little of it was actually about marriage equality. As sometimes happens, the newspaper concerned span the controversial bit largely out of a couple of stray comments at the tail end.
Most of it was moving testimony to how it has felt to be on the wrong end of one of the Church of England’s dirtiest little secrets — genteel and not-so-genteel Racism. When, back in the Halcyon days of the fifities the Windrush generation arrived, 90% of whom were weekly churchgoing Anglicans, we froze, humiliated and drove them out from our churches, often in a few weeks. John Sentamu has himself played a noble part in changing the Church the way it had to go, in the face of howls of protest from Doris and her compadres. It is a positive story looking a happy ending. That will come when the racial balance among clergy in parishes corresponds to the makeup of the communities we serve, and not before.
Now all that is necessary is for Sentamu’s colleagues in purple to join up the dots and get on with ending discrimination against women in bishop appointments. Whether they have the guts to do it now will say much about whether they have anything else of value to offer a society crying out for alternatives to materialism, prejudice, selfishness and apathy. Martin Luther said “The time is always right to do what is right.” After twenty years of ludicrous faffing and wiggling, the time to sort things out is now.