THE BLOG

Racist? Sexist? Who Decides?

08/08/2013 17:59 BST | Updated 07/10/2013 10:12 BST

I heard Rajesh Koothrappali refer to you several times as 'brown sugar'...but in his defence, that wasn't racist. He's also brown.

(Sheldon Cooper, 'The Big Bang Theory').

Really?

Is it really not offensive for people of the same race to make comments which would be perceived as racist if one of them is a different colour? Surely an offensive phrase or comment is an offensive phrase or comment no matter who speaks it? While black musicians seem to use the word 'nigga' within rap music with no racial overtones, would this be accepted if a white musician did it? Alternatively, if I was called 'white sugar' by any one, would you listen if I complained?

According to the Oxford online dictionary, racism is 'the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races'. Fair enough. Doesn't specify which races can or can't make the distinction though.

William Hague MP recently referred to Cathy Jamieson MP as a 'stupid woman' and was accused of sexism. After the initial amazement that Hague actually managed to find a female in the 78% male populated House of Commons, I'd be more upset at being called stupid no matter the qualifier. Cathy Jamieson IS a woman and Hague provided an accurate gender description. Without her IQ results, her stupidity is more subjective. But what if Theresa May had said it woman to woman or Jamieson called Hague a 'stupid man' - would it still be sexist and all over the news? Probably not. But the parameters of the comment haven't changed.

The same source defines sexism as: 'prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex'. So just women then. But William Hague wasn't inferring that all women are stupid or that Cathy Jamieson is stupid because she's a woman?

For a truly sexist comment from a politician, here's the infamous Prime Minister Asquith opining on suffrage in 1913:

Woman is not the female of the human species, but a distinct and inferior species, naturally disqualified from voting as a rabbit is disqualified from voting...

An amazing marker for the progression of the human race in the last 100 years. Perhaps Hague was empowering Jamieson by referencing her gender. At least he recognised that she was a woman not a woodland creature.

Then again, as Caroline Criado-Perez has received rape and death threats for campaigning to put a woman on a banknote, perhaps we haven't progressed that far after all. Personally, it doesn't concern me what gender is on the banknote. But I would consider that there are more deserving women than Jane Austen to be the first woman since the Queen to be represented. How about the woman who launched gender equality in the first place: Mrs Pankhurst?

Criado-Perez has the sympathy of the nation and rightly so. But what if William Hague had received death threats for his comment? Would there by such concern for him?

Evangelist Tony Miano was recently detained for 7 hours for comments against homosexuals. His other comments against non-marital sex, adultery, lustful thoughts and masturbation were fine but the homosexual reference was deemed offensive. He has the right to believe what he wants (within reason) but does that give him the right to tell anyone how to live their lives? I can't help feeling that if it really matters to Miano's life what sexual choices are held by people he doesn't even know then he needs to let go. Although, I can empathise with his confusion. The same book which tells him that these things are immoral also tells him he shouldn't judge those who do it. What's a religious evangelist to do?

As a species, we are left with a great deal of confusion. Confusion in that it's acceptable to joke that all Australians 'throw shrimp on the barbie' or all Welsh people engage in sexual relations with sheep but not acceptable to stereotype or joke about people of Asian or black descent. Even though it seems socially acceptable and 'just a joke', as a Welshman I consider any reference to 'sheep shagging' just as insulting as walking up to a black person and calling them a slave.

We have come a long way as a species but there is clearly further to go. I've met a lot of people from all over the world - some good, some bad. That had nothing to do with where they came from. In the end, no matter what race, gender, sexuality, hair colour (ginger) or religion a person is, we are just people. If instead of a 'black person' we just saw 'a person' or instead of a 'female MP' she was just an 'MP' then we would have so much more time and energy to put into the more important things we need to figure out. Instead of debating and legislating what is acceptable and what isn't, for a change why don't we try getting over it and see how that works? Maybe one day...