As thought crimes go, racism is right up there as the worst.There is no way back if you are called a racist. But trying to stop other people being racist may be creating more harm than good.
Laurence Fox, the actor was invited on Question time recently and what he said created a storm of excitement.
He was asked if racism had played a part in Meghan and Harry leaving the country? He thought not. He said that all the evidence was that Great Britain was one of the most racially tolerant places in the whole world, and whatever else lay behind the drama, it wasn’t racism.
The questioner called him racist. She said that as a white man he was racist by definition. He called her racist for attacking him as a white man. He said he was born that way and couldn’t help it, and shouldn’t be attacked for it. She obviously believed that you can’t be called racist for discriminating against a white man. The audience split down the middle on this. The country did the same. It started off inthe pressure cooker of twitter, but it spilled out into the social media and elsewhere.
A new book called Whiteshift by a Professor of politics at London University Eric Kauffman looks at this division of our society into two warring furious factions. He sets out to provide facts as an antidote to the worst examples of thought crime. Kauffman points out that the more racism is used as an accusation of horrendous socially unacceptable thought crime, the more people accused of it get angry, and resist the accusations. The more they resist, the more they are accused, and so on until…
So that may provide some explanation as to how racism works to ratchet up division, but it doesn’t explain want racism actually is, if anything at all.
We live in a world where it’s not altogether clear what makes up ‘race’. There is a political definition and a scientific one. It doesn’t bode well for us that they contradict each other.
Science tells us that the language of genetics tells us there is no such thing as ‘race’. There is however such a thing as genetic modifications which cause changes in skin pigmentation. But all that skin pigmentation tells you is who far people are (or were) away from the equator and how their genetic inheritance developed to cope. It had to face either too much ultraviolet radiation (if your pigmentation was black and you needed protection,) or the need to create more vitamin D as you got nearer the poles., (which is what white pigmentation achieved)
Politics has a different story. For instance, the Schools Council in New York recently introduced a mandatory unconscious bias and equity training for its 73,0000 teachers,and senior officials (to be passed on to their pupils of course.) As part of it they were taught that white supremacy was characterised by “perfectionism, worship of the written word, individualism and objectivity.”
As you digest what the cultural and political implications of this are, you might also consider what it means when political rhetoric and science go head to head with each other? Science sets out to do facts, but the new politics sets out reorder power and privilege irrespective of the facts.
We are in real trouble whenever a dogma gets imposed on a society irrespective of the facts. Marxism tried it in the early 20th century, and after six decades collapsed because the story it told about class warfare and state economics wasn’t true.
This new progressive culture wars about group identity (which some people think is a new mutated form of Marxism) is doing it again. But this time using race and sex instead of economics and class. And what it is telling us is not true; which is why it is at the root of so much social division and harm.
If you are one of those people who like facts, science and objectivity, how do you escape the charges of racism when you are told you are exhibiting all the characteristics of white supremacists, (irrespective of your actual skin colour)?
What do we do about the discovery that there are in fact some national characteristics that seem to suggest grounds for a virtuous racism? It looks like Kenyans are the best at Marathon running. They have produced 68 out of 100 top marathon runners. It is racist to notice that? Obviously.
The Jews (with 0.2% of the world population) have produced a quarter of all the Nobel Prize winners. Is it racist to notice that? Can there be virtuous racism as well as vicious racism? Well if there is, you never hear about it.
And it’s made more complicated by the discovery that race and skin shading both mean different things in different contexts.
Being on the alert for racism is meant to create a fairer society. But it looks like it is creating more harm than good. It is poisoning our public conversation and creating deeper divisions than before. It wants to save people from being discriminated against because they look different, but the new politics has weaponised it and turned it nuclear.
At the root of what most people identify as racist behaviour is deeply inherited fear of the unknown and the different. But you can’t rescue black people by demonising white people. Laurence Fox was right. That’s just racism. ‘Vitamin D’racism can’t cure ‘ultra–violet’ racism. In fact, the recent culture wars ought to have taught us that political weapons do as much hard as good, and we should avoid and reject them.
We might try looking instead for a different kind of philosophy to make our relationships better. What about “Loving your neighbour”? Religion may after all turn out to be less dangerous than politics. It might even work better.