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The Intellectual Truth About Racism

12/08/2013 15:24 BST | Updated 12/10/2013 10:12 BST

I've never thought of racism as just being an instinctive reaction from an ill-educated minority. In fact in my experience - with the notable exception of one specific memory of the above - it has always been a poison spewed by intellectuals.

Three weeks ago, a Saturday night soiree in West London. A fellow guest at the end of the table, an extremely successful lawyer - aware of a high-profile Jewish person I once worked for - quite freely admitted, in a not-soft-enough voice to his neighbour that he'd 'never work for a Jew, you just can't trust them'. A well-timed kick in the shins from my wife sat opposite me stopped me throwing a knife or even a wobbly. I let it go, just as I have done for most of my life.

Which is why I found the results of a new study both fascinating and, sadly, all too familiar. Smart people are just as racist as their less intelligent peers - they're just better at concealing their prejudice, according to a University of Michigan report.

It claims that: 'Racism and prejudice don't simply come about as a result of low mental capacities or deficiencies in socialisation. Rather, they result from the need of dominant groups to legitimise and protect their privileged social position within an intergroup conflict over resources. More intelligent members of the dominant group are just better at legitimising and protecting their privileged position than less intelligent members."

Racism, in effect, is an intellectual pursuit for some people, a philosophy. It's not shouting filth from the terraces, it's a form of suppression exercised by the most powerful in society.

Thus the upper classes' enthusiasm for fascism - particularly in Britain and France. Thus the paucity of black and Asian people in positions of responsibility in the media and City. Thus the perpetual General Election-fuelled fear of immigration that has been expressed for almost precisely 100 years.

My list of encounters is endless - unless of course I'm paranoid, which is entirely possible.

The local Council Leader who once warned me off approaching a colleague of his because 'He's terribly Indian, if you know what I mean.' The incredibly famous and wealthy entrepreneur and Prime Ministerial confidant who once told a mutual friend that there was no way a Jew (me) was going to marry his daughter. The time a perfectly good story was spiked because the case history was black. The political adviser who quite happily admitted to me (OK, we were slightly drunk) that he won't allow his children to play with Asians at school because he thinks their parents are either illegal immigrants, shirkers or wife-beaters.

None of these cases involved people from what you might call 'less advantaged' backgrounds. They were all highly-educated racists.

And the more we try to convince ourselves that racism is the preserve of the disenfranchised, the more we bury our heads in the sand. And that would be very dangerous indeed.