How racist are you? Once upon a time I would have claimed not to be racist at all. That was before I had my experience. Several years ago I was coming down a narrow staircase in the London Tube, and a West Indian was coming up. Naturally I moved to the side to give him clear passage. And I went on my way, feeling good about my liberal self. It was only later that I realised that my self satisfaction was racist in itself. I would not have felt it had he been a white person. I learn’t that one can be scrupulous in behaviour and yet retain questionable, but built in, attitudes.
It is of course an ugly quality. I recall walking around Covent Garden with a rather beautiful black lady friend. (change ‘black’ to whatever is the non racist description which is currently acceptable) There I was: clearly an English gentleman but with such a person on my arm. I was really shocked at the plain hatred shown in the expressions of several passers by. It was some 20 years ago. Is it different now?
You may remember the incident of the Washington official who used the word ‘niggardly’ in a speech. His illiterate listeners kicked up so great a fuss at such a racist word that he (as I recall) had to resign.
Of course this is by no means confined to skin colour. It is fortunate for some murky people that they can use the word ‘zionist’ instead of the word ‘jew’. And this is complex because one may, or may not, oppose Zionism on straightforward grounds. It is hard to distinguish rational approaches to such problems from those which are, in fact, racial in their inspiration.
A study was carried out in which the investigators applied for several, advertised, professional jobs. The CVs submitted each gave the same information but in some instances the name of the applicant was clearly Asian. It turned out that those which had an Asian name received significantly fewer invitations to a first interview than those with Anglo Saxon names, despite their equal qualifications. I doubt if the selectors were even aware of their bias.
I am not calling for us to eradicate racism, or indeed our propensity to associate characteristics with identifiable groups. But I am suggesting that, as far as we can, we should identify any elements of racism which we harbour. They may be conscious, semi conscious or even, as we think more deeply, unconscious. We may not be able to change the world but we can change ourselves.