I've just woken up to another of those "is - isn't" conversations that have been clogging up the airwaves post-Jade Goody. I don't remember anyone using the word "racist" in the 60s and I've grown sick of the way it's flung about now. There's something about the "-ist" formulation (as in "sexist", "misogynist", "ageist" and other clanky expressions) that implies this is what people do rather than a tendency they have.
Ever since man crawled out of the bog he has discriminated against people on the grounds of difference. It's either done minutely and silently and never results in any action or in societies that enshrine that discrimination in law. As a human tendency there is no more chance of "racial prejudice" (which is what they actually called it in the 60s) being stamped out than we will stamp out lust, avarice, anger, pride, gluttony or any of the seven deadly sins. It can be contained, discouraged and its most extreme excesses legislated against but it isn't going to go anywhere. Those commentators popping up this week to tell us that "Britain is a racist society" have been unable to point to anywhere on earth where people are blind to differences of pigmentation, accent or religion. It's a human tendency which is shared by every human on earth.
In the same week Janet Street Porter is in the papers because she's alleged to have used "racist abuse" at some neighbour over a parking dispute. I've had my dealings with JSP and while I don't believe she would make any racially controversial remarks to anyone, I would be more than ready to believe she unleashed a volley of abuse on very little provocation. And actually it's the abuse that's the problem in both these stories – the lack of tolerance, the tendency to fly off the handle as soon as somebody gets in our faces, the feeling that we have a civic right to our anger, the desire to hear the sound of our own voices raised in indignation and assumed hurt, the pathetic petulance of it all. Whichever less than pleasant part of our personality all this anger derives from is beside the point. It's that Channel 4 should "confront".