How to define racism

Richard Middleton writes: Re. “Fairfax sorry for the ‘throw away’ racist cartoon that made it to print” (yesterday). There are two terms that are used here that should be used carefully and with due regard for their meanings. One is racism. I am aware how broadly some would like to define racism, and I suspect that many such people have a particular, personal axe to grind or something to hide.

Racism to my mind is the act of inciting hatred or violence against another. The consideration of various “emotional hurts” is too difficult to define, let alone quantify. Therefore unless it can be shown that very real “psychological damage” was done, in no way related to pre-existing condition, then such claims should be dismissed.

Much as I loathe Andrew Bolt for his staggering ignorance (particularly basic sciences) and nuanced dog whistling, I do believe that he has a democratic right to express certain opinion, as presently prohibited by 18c.  I understand that many learned legal minds can spend many costly hours going around this particular point but it appears self evident to me.

Personally I do not find this cartoon racist. I think it makes a number of comments that are probably too obscure for some to receive, hence the nervous editorial response.

The other word is discrimination, as used by Ms Wines. There are two parts to the definition of this term: to recognise a distinction (this is hard to avoid doing, when much of human interaction is to do just that, recognise people and how they are or are not); and to make unjust or prejudicial distinctions in treatment of people. This is the only meaning of discriminate that should be accepted. Unjust or prejudicial.

I submit that the second definition of discrimination is the relevant basis for claims of racism. No other. If the above joke was about bald, middle-aged, slightly overweight Caucasian men it still would not bother me, unless the take-home message was we should all be put up against a wall.

Dangerous speech

Tony Gallagher writes: Re. “A hard case of harmful speech: should we ban anti-vaccination talk?” (yesterday). Harmful speech that “does, demonstrably, cause harm” and “has a provable body count” does not end with anti-vaccination. Can we include the Church’s stance against condoms? Cardinal Pell, April, 2009:

“The idea that you can solve a great spiritual and health crisis like AIDS with a few mechanical contraptions like condoms is ridiculous … Condoms are encouraging promiscuity. They are encouraging irresponsibility.”

Ignaz Amrein writes: Bernard Keane needs to do a bit more research before making statements about anti-vaccination as he did in this article. I can’t remember ever reading any article of his as unbalanced as this one. This issue is not black and white.

Peter Fray

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