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I would dearly love to ban the word “racist”. It has been so exhaustively abused that it now has but one meaning: the user has run out of arguments and wants you to shut up. Even the most lucid minds dare not criticise a black person without scrabbling around for a white counterexample. Fear of the charge of racism has had a pernicious effect on any discussion of Islam, which is not a race, and has led to woefully misguided policy of “affirmative action”, under which the undeserving are promoted beyond their competence. Sadly, accusations of “racism” are multiplying, and there is no defence. Theodore Dalrymple writes on the McPherson Report, produced after the botched investigation of the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, which found the police guilty of “institutional racism”, a charge as unanswerable as it is meaningless. From City Journal:
Among the report’s many pernicious recommendations was the following: “The definition of a racist incident should be any incident which is perceived as racist by the victim or any other person.” Nothing could be better designed to destroy the possibility of easy—dare I say normal—relations among people of different races. For the notion that racism is so pervasive and institutionalized that it is everywhere, even where it appears not to be, induces in the susceptible a paranoid state of mind, which then finds racism in every possible situation, in every remark, in every suggestion, in every gesture and expression. It is a charge against which there is no defense.
Two incidents in my clinical experience illustrate this nonfalsifiability. In the first, the lawyers for a black defendant asked me to appraise his fitness to plead. The defendant faced charges of assaulting another black man, out of the blue, with an iron bar. The man was obviously paranoid, his speech rambling and incoherent; his lawyers could obtain no sensible instructions from him. I argued that he was unfit to plead. Whereupon the man’s sister denounced me as a racist: I had reached my conclusions, she charged, only because her brother was black. Her 15-year-old daughter started to describe to me her frequent difficulties in understanding her uncle, only to be told to shut up by her mother. The lawyers had been unable to obtain instructions from the defendant only because they were white, the sister persisted. Give her brother black lawyers, and he would be perfectly reasonable. Of course, if I had said that he was fit to plead, she could have claimed with equal justice (which is none) that I came to that conclusion only because he was black.
The second case, far more serious, ended in a man’s death; the blame was partly mine. A black man in his mid-twenties arrived at our hospital with severely cut wrists. He was nearly exsanguinated and needed a large blood transfusion; his tendons also needed an operation to repair. By all accounts, he had been a perfectly normal man, happily employed, a few weeks before, but suddenly he had stopped eating and become a recluse, barricading himself in his house until police and family broke in to reach him. His suicide attempt was not one of those frivolous gestures with which our hospitals are all too familiar. If ever a man meant to kill himself, this man did.
His mother was by his bedside. I told her that her son should remain in the hospital for treatment (you’d hardly have to be a doctor to realize this). At first she was perfectly agreeable; but then a friend of the young man, himself young and black, arrived and instantly accused me of racism for my supposed desire to lock the patient up. I tried to reason with this friend, but he became agitated and aggressive, even menacing. Whether from conviction or because she, too, felt intimidated, the mother then sided with the friend and started to say that I was racist in wishing to detain her son.
I could have insisted on the powers granted to me by law—asking a court to have social services replace the mother as the patient’s nearest relative for the legal purpose of keeping him in treatment. But I did not fancy the process: the young friend had threatened to bring reinforcements, and a riot might have ensued in the hospital. Instead, I agreed to the demand that I let the patient go home. The two said that they would look after him, and I made them sign a paper (of no legal worth) acknowledging that I had warned them of the possible consequences.
This piece of paper they screwed up into a ball and threw away immediately outside the ward, where I found it later. I had made copies, and it was one of these that I sent to the coroner when, six weeks later, the young man gassed himself to death with car exhaust. The notion of ubiquitous, institutionalized racism resulted in his death; and I resolved that it would never intimidate me again.