Objective Prescriptions, and Other Essays

By R. M. Hare | Go to book overview

16
WHY RACISM IS AN EVIL

16.1. RACISM is certainly an evil; but why? This word 'why' is very important. Most people who discuss racism take it for granted that it is an evil, and of course I agree that it is. But if that is all you say, you will not be led to ask what it is about racism that makes it evil. And if you do not ask that, you will not have defined clearly what practices you think should be condemned under the name of racism. There are some things that could be called racism which really are evil, but others which could also be called racism (especially by those with axes to grind) which are not evil, or at least not so evil. The case is even worse with the word 'discrimination'. Suppose that it were agreed that racial discrimination, in some ill-defined sense of the expression, is wrong. Then people will say that it is wrong just because it is discrimination. And then they may go on to say that if what is wrong is the discrimination, other kinds of discrimination must be wrong too. And then, because they never tried to say what made racial discrimination wrong, they will not know what it is about these other kinds of discrimination that makes them wrong (if anything does).

The result may be that 'discrimination' becomes a ready-to-hand rhetorical or propaganda weapon for use against anything you happen to disapprove of. For there is absolutely no practice or policy that could not be called 'discrimination' in some sense of the word. Anything you choose to do, you choose to do because it is different from, and, you think, better than, something else you might have done. So when you choose to do the thing you do, you are discriminating between it and the other thing that you do not do. It used to be thought a virtue to be discriminating in what one did, meaning that one looked carefully at what was proposed and its distinguishing features, and chose that option which had the features that made it right, and avoided the other options having features that made them wrong. But if we follow the line of thought I have been describing, we shall not be able to exercise our discrimination in this way.

____________________
"'Why Racism is an Evil.'" Not published before.

-179-

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