Racism, as I know you’ll agree, is a crime that towers in its enormity over any other.
I use the word ‘crime’ advisedly, since racism is delinquent even if the perpetrator doesn’t act on it. Such a scoundrel isn’t fit to walk the earth simply because of his innermost feeling.
Unlike most other crimes, racism defies a precise definition. Somebody who insists that the white race is superior to all others is a racist, that hardly needs saying. (Although a similar claim for other races is justifiably exculpated.)
But what about a chap who tells a joke starting with “Seems like this white bloke, a black bloke, a Jew and a Muslim…” Is he a racist? Absolutely, and I do hope that when you next hear an offensive gag like that you’ll promptly report it to the authorities.
Under those circumstances you’ll have to exercise your judgement, of course. Is the joke indeed racist? I’d suggest you should always err on the side of the affirmative answer to that question – even if the joke doesn’t sound all that racist to you.
You should realise that your standards may not be sufficiently rigorous. Other people may still cringe at the racism of a line that seems innocuous to you.
Think of those other people, is my advice, not just of yourself. Display the true community spirit by reporting the offender to the police – let them decide his culpability. That’s what they get paid for.
Admittedly, if we define racism in an arbitrarily broad fashion, most people are guilty – and the broader the definition, the greater the number of guilty parties.
Thus I know dozens of racists, and that’s just among my close friends. And if you expand the notion to include Islamophobia, then the police could just pluck any random stranger out of a crowd and feel his collar. In fact, one detects that our jurisprudence is definitely moving in that direction.
Now all the racists I know or have heard of share one thing in common, besides moral decrepitude. They are all human beings, although Jeremy Corbyn may at times force one to reassess that sweeping observation.
Yet the bacillus of racism is so pervasive that it has now penetrated vehicular transport, specifically self-driving cars that will soon dominate our roads, making them free of accidents, obscenities and the kind of hand signals that don’t appear in the Highway Code.
One has to welcome this development, considering how often human beings disappoint when held up to a shining ideal. Sometimes the purveyors of the ideals feel the disappointment so acutely that they simply have to kill everyone who falls short.
Hence transferring the task of conning a car from fallible people to infallible microprocessors sounds like a winner in theory. However, it turns out in practice that those self-drive microprocessors share human foibles – including the most egregious one of all.
Self-driving cars are programmed to make ‘ethical’ decisions, and there I was, thinking ethics is the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens. Mercifully, vehicular ethics is defined more narrowly than racism.
It boils down to handling a lose-lose situation where an accident is unavoidable, and the choice has to be made between hitting an object, say a parked car, or a responsible taxpayer crossing the street.
Something clicks in the electronic brain, equipped as it is with facial recognition systems; it makes the right choice and writes off a parked Fiesta rather than knocking the pedestrian into kingdom come.
However, and I wouldn’t be able to describe adequately the anguish I feel at having to write this, that system is racially biased.
It’s less likely to recognise a dark-skinned person as a human being – and I hope ‘dark-skinned’ is a permissible modifier not yet replaced with ‘differently pigmented’ or some such.
In fact, self-driving cars are 12 per cent less likely to acknowledge the humanity of a differently pigmented person (I’ll use this term just to be on the safe side) than that of a paleface.
Researchers ascribe this vehicular racism to the dearth of differently pigmented persons among the models used in designing and testing the software, but that’s a lame excuse, if you ask me.
Why were racial and ethnic minorities so excluded? Incipient racism, that’s why. Actually no, forget this incipient bit. Virulent, murderous racism is at play here, akin to the widely publicised tendency of American southerners to lynch differently pigmented persons.
I’m amazed that the newspapers that picked up this story have reported it in a deadpan manner rather than expressing at least some of the indignation I’m feeling. Perhaps their editors fail to realise the full extent of the tragedy unfolding in those labs and testing grounds.
For, if a self-driving car refuses to recognise as human someone whose skin is a shade or two darker than Jeremy Corbyn’s, what would be its reaction to persons of the female persuasion whose skin is wholly covered in black cloth?
Persons who make this fashion statement are Muslim women (if such binary terminology hasn’t yet been outlawed) who, if most cars on our roads are self-driving, will have no chance of survival whatsoever.
I’m preparing a petition to condemn and bring to account the manufacturers of such racist vehicles. If they can’t treat all chromatic groups equally, the least they can do is programme their cars to victimise palefaces rather than differently pigmented or differently clad persons.
That’s the least we could do to atone for centuries of racist oppression that stigmatises every white person more severely than even original sin (which, as we know, is totally mythological). Je suis noir!