In Western countries the businesses, the media and the education system go to great lengths to remove ‘racism’ from their infrastructure, and all traces of material that might be construed as racist from their brochures, presentations and classes. It seems that to be tarred with the word constitutes such an ugly branding that people’s main motivation for avoiding it has become fear of condemnation, rather than an active quest for moral justice. Perhaps it would be prudent to discard the stigma for a moment and ask the rather controversial question, ‘Is racism really wrong?’ That is to say, is it racism itself that we should be fighting against? Have we actually forgotten what we are fighting?
This morning I held a door open for a lady and was met with a smile and a “Thank you”. A nice example of courtesy and politeness, you might think. It might then surprise you to learn that this event made me angry, and that incidents like this make me angry on a daily basis. The problem is a racial one: I am living in South China, the lady is Chinese, and she said “Thank you” in English. I am assured by Chinese friends that the general population’s deliberate use of the English language when faced with a Caucasian face is a mark of respect. However, why do they think in these circumstances respect needs to be conveyed at all? Why do they feel it is necessary to draw attention to my whiteness? It almost smells of a guilty conscience.
The lady’s reaction to my help was prejudice no matter how you interpret it. She was concluding from my white face that (a) I spoke English and (b) I could not speak Chinese. She had no direct evidence that either of these were true. I use the term ‘prejudice’ in preference to ‘racism’ as I think the former to be more important and fundamental, and all too often dropped in favour of the latter in a case like this. I believe in the drive the West has seen to stamp out ‘racism’ it is often forgotten that ‘racism’ is just one example of prejudice, that barefaced prejudice is the real moral injustice, and indeed that we can have racism without prejudice.
“I will never work for a Chinese boss again,” my friend declares routinely. Although this is clearly a racist statement, my friend’s use of the word ‘again’ is what differentiates it from prejudice. In fact my friend’s employment history spans a number of Chinese employers, a catalogue of lies, mistreatment and underpayment. In the wake of this, would it not be idiocy on the part of my friend to assume yet another position with a Chinese employer? If I met fifty swans and they all bit me, would I not be a fool to exercise caution when greeted with the fifty-first?
Race is only one way to divide and categorise a population. Another might be age. However, a sign in a shop window declaring “no under 16s” in the West would be received without even a raised eyebrow, in complete contrast to a sign declaring, for example, “no Japanese”. Yet the shopkeeper’s motives for wanting to write either of these signs might be essentially the same, and based entirely upon the shopkeepers experience. Is it not the shopkeepers right to be able to select on the basis of any categorization system that he or she chooses? Why should he or she be able to select on the grounds of age but not on race?
Passing judgment without sufficient experience is certainly unfair. But I believe there is a distinction between ‘racism’ and ‘racial prejudice’, the former being a trumped up charge of which the media are fond, the second being just a single member of a set of possible social complaints, all of which deserve equal attention.