ALASTAIR Stewart’s “resignation” is a good example of how anti-racism has moved from the streets into the boardroom. Anyone involved in anti-racist campaigns in the 1980s will remember the left wing nature of many of these campaigns.

At a time when governments, employers, institutions and much of the trade union movement paid little attention to the idea of equal opportunities it was left to black activists and various radical groups to take to the streets and challenge British racism.

Today official anti-racism is part of the boardroom furniture, visualised less through a political slogan on a placard than in the form of a human resources training manual.

Rather than acting as a mechanism to potentially unite black and white against their employer it acts as a disciplinary management tool. Being racist, or being seen to be racist, or not even being racist but having someone mistakenly think that you may have been, have all become sackable offences.

Here we find anti-racism is no longer about someone’s politics but about “offence”, about feelings and the management of language. In this respect, anti-racism has become more akin to a new etiquette regulated by authorities and employers, a form of therapeutic protection for people who are officially labelled as vulnerable.

It has been interesting to note that many of those defending Stewart have done so by describing what a gentleman he is, to all people. This is not entirely insignificant but nor is it necessarily anything to do with being for or against racism. Indeed, in the 19th century it was upper class gentlemen who embodied most fervently the elitist outlook of the racist.

But once anti-racism becomes understood as a form of politeness both the “sacking” and the defence of the “gentleman” Stewart make sense. Of old, it was not only radicals who would oppose people being sacked for having incorrect opinions, there was a more general sense of solidarity and recognition that it was not the place of employers to determine correct thoughts and ideas.

Today, in comparison, there is an understanding that you can be sacked for causing offence – it has become a new norm. Similarly, there is an understanding that if someone offends you, you should complain to the authorities. In this respect, the complainant in the Stewart affair was simply following the correct protocol of the modern citizen. There has been a significant backlash to the events at ITN.

Many have questioned how this official approach helps the cause of equality, pointing out how divisive it is and how forcing reactionary ideas underground or creating an atmosphere of anxiety amongst different sections of society helps nobody. They have a point.