Of all the ‘isms’ that supposedly rational mankind has inflicted on this world there is none more irrational, vicious and ridiculous than racism. It has spawned murderous violence, hatred and wasted lives like no other. But like a great many other evils in this world, a misunderstanding of the true nature of an evil and a confusion in the public mind as to what really constitutes an evil is almost as evil as the thing itself. This is now happening to the evil that is racism.
If I have a simple disagreement with my friend or colleague while we look for a solution to some problem, our lives can remain fairly simple. We don’t lose sight of the substantive issue. If, on the other hand, I find myself disagreeing on exactly the same issue with someone from a different cultural background, of a different nationality, ethnic group or even a different race, I immediately expose myself to the charge of racism. As soon as that happens we lose sight of the problem we have been trying to resolve.
This confusion is dangerous. It is crippling our capacity to think, to converse and to organise our society. It is absolutely rife in the current discourse over Britain’s relationship with the European Union and it is paralysing us in our efforts to pursue any kind of justice in resolving some of the terrible consequence the horrors in the Middle East and Africa.
The abuse of language is vicious – and what we have in this case is an abandonment of meaning in language. Language is one of our civilisation’s most precious gifts. The weakening of its capacity to help us find solutions to our problems threatens to destroy us.
A racist must always be called out for what he is. But calling people racists in the utterly lazy way in which the term is now being thrown around is not only ridiculous but is also reducing our public discourse to meaningless gibberish.