The PC Police?

by Dish Staff

Margaret Talbot examines the role of political correctness in the sexual exploitation scandal taking place in Rotherham, England:

One explanation for why these crimes went on for so long, more or less unchecked, is that police officers didn’t believe what they were hearing: they thought that the social workers who reported a pattern of sexual abuse involving Pakistani gangs and young girls were exaggerating or misinterpreting. The scale of it could have seemed implausible—an understandable human response, perhaps, though not the most useful one for law enforcement.

The other leading explanation is that, because most of the perpetrators were Pakistani and most of the victims were white, local officials were reluctant to proceed, worried about inflaming ethnic tensions. Last week, the British Home Secretary, Theresa May, denounced what she called “an institutionalized political correctness” at work in this case.

Though this might sound like a rhetorical flourish, there seems to be some truth to this claim.

Rotherham is an economically stressed city of two hundred and fifty-eight thousand people, with an ethnic minority population of about eight per cent. The Labour Party has long controlled the town council, but, in recent years, the Party has been joined by a few members of the populist right-wing faction U.K.I.P. When investigating individual cases, the Rotherham report found no evidence that ethnic consideration had determined outcomes for children. But, when it came to setting policy, a certain skittishness seems to have played a role. According to the report, “Several councillors interviewed believed that by opening up these issues they could be ‘giving oxygen’ to racist perspectives that might in turn attract extremist political groups and threaten community cohesion.” Perhaps that, too, is a concern that deserves some sympathy—though because its immediate result was a failure to rescue children from brutal circumstances, the sympathy only goes so far.

A few days ago, Hugh Muir challenged that interpretation:

[C]an it really be true – as the tabloids and the right robustly claim – that a significant contributor truly was political correctness; the fear of officials that by intervening appropriately in cases where the suspects were Pakistani Muslims, they themselves would be castigated as racist? If it is, it is outrageous. It is also ludicrous.

Political correctness – if we are to persist with that hackneyed term – required members of a diverse society to accord to others the level of dignity they would want for themselves. The right conflated its meaning so as to describe any prescription on its behaviour that it didn’t like. Everything, from the description of coffee to adoption policy, became “political correctness gone mad”. Perhaps the idea was to discredit the concept by hoisting it into the realm of absurdity. But even then, the concept never, ever required anyone to turn a blind eye to the mass abuse of the vulnerable by criminals. And anyway, to do so on grounds of political correctness would never have made sense.

If a backlash was feared, where would it have come from? There is no minority lobby for criminals and paedophiles. So long as communities knew the issue was one of law enforcement rather than an assault on those communities themselves, they would have supported tough action by the authorities.