Darcus Howe believes Calvert-Smith was right

Calvert-Smith was right - and in terms of racist attitudes, the legal world is worst

Sir David Calvert-Smith, from his perch at the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, dropped a bomb on British complacency over the question of race. Not only does he accept that his own service is institutionally racist; he also states that an overwhelming majority of the white population suffers from the same shortcoming.

It is hardly surprising, given a history of slavery and colonialism, that very few whites have escaped the taint of racism. Calvert-Smith himself operates out of the most reactionary area of the public sector. Talk to any black student of the Inns of Court and you will be regaled with stories of how the legal world - from barristers to solicitors, from police to judges - practises prejudice as a matter of course.

This country has never taken voluntarily to anti-racism. Only the unceasing revolt of blacks and Asians since the 1970s put the issue on the agenda. All the race relations laws, the Commission for Racial Equality and so on, were forced out of the establishment by the refusal of blacks to accept their given place in society.

We are told that Calvert-Smith's statement - that all whites are affected by racism - is identical to the statement that all men are rapists. No, a thousand times no. Neither Calvert-Smith nor anybody else has accused all whites of racial violence. The precise parallel statement would be that all men are affected, in some measure, by misogyny. This, too, is controversial, but it is hard to deny that, in literature, the media and in our daily lives (including mine), we come across certain attitudes, apparently spontaneous to men, which are hostile to women and particularly to their career advancement. On this, government has had to give a lead. We accept that sex discrimination operates at both institutional and personal levels - in job opportunities and in our domestic lives. Race is just the same.

Calvert-Smith speaks from the most important area of public life: it involves questions of personal freedom - arrest, interrogation, trial, imprisonment. Young blacks are far more likely to end up in prison than are whites. Are we to believe this is the result of some genetic defect? Right now, in Oldham and Bradford, young Asians are getting four years in prison for throwing stones; for like offences, Northern Irish youths get a fine. Yet I fear that most whites support the harsh treatment of the Oldham and Bradford Asians. Speak on, Calvert-Smith.