Last year I was contacted by students at leading UK university about putting my name to a petition demanding a college remove from their collection a portrait of a past benefactor who had, I was told, ‘profited from slavery’.
I did not know much about this benefactor. He lived 400 years ago. So I called a friend, a historian who specialises in British history of the age, for advice. I was told that the person in question was, in fact, not a slave owner nor involved in the slave trade. There is no record of him having in defence of the trade. In fact, he was neither particularly notable nor wealthy.（註 1）
The only connection he had with slavery was he had inherited a very small shareholding in a trading company which counted the slave trade as one of its many lines of business.（註 2）
Given how tenuous the link, I replied to the request by saying I was uncomfortable signing a petition on a specific case I did not know much about. To be tactful, I decided to not let on what I had been told. However, I did say that I would be happy to sign the petition if the organisers would be prepared to also raise an issue which I do know quite a lot about, being the college’s current and ongoing connections with a Chinese company that is known to be using forced labour.
Modern slavery, I added, was as much a stain as historic slavery, and arguably more morally abhorrent given prevailing morals.
I did not expect the student organisers to accept my suggestion. But I had expected them to consider the point I made, and to understand my reticence in signing such a narrowing framed petition. As happens, my suggestion was ignored — and I was called a racist.（註 3）
The story continues to hurt. Thankfully, I am not employed by the University, as the charge could well have had further consequences. People have lost jobs and seen careers destroyed, not for being racist, but for simply being called so. In the age of “felt experience”, evidence is no longer required to substantiate an allegation such as this.
At the same university, the student union went from having separate male and female toilets (declared discriminatory), to unisex (also declared discriminatory), to male and female toilets that include a sign welcoming people to choose what they feel most appropriate depending on what ever gender they identify as at the time.
A leading geneticist, with whom I spoke recently, told me of how he had been ‘de-platformed’（註 4）by students and called a ‘racist’ for stating that we are genetically distinct.
“Race has nothing to do with genetics,” he said to me in obvious frustration. “Our genetically distinctions are what allows us to evolve.”（註 5）
Despite being of mixed race, and proud of his heritage, he was categorised by his accusers as a “white male”.
These experiences pain me on two levels: firstly, they are so patently wrong. They are factually wrong, and they are also misguided in reasoning. This should not be how university students think, let alone taught to think. It is neither critical nor scientific.
Secondly, I am pained by the damage this does to those who seek, quite rightly, to discuss issues that are important. There is a repulsive irony that racial hatred is being promoted in the name of fighting racism; and that in the name of addressing the historic wrongs of slavery we ignore slavery as it continues to exist today.（註 6）
Neither should it be overlooked that this particular thinking, the promotion of this culture of self-victimisation and the censorship and extreme intolerance demanded, manifest not in the most racial and oppressive societies in the world, but in the most open, tolerant and just. Thus in the US the term “LatinX” is promoted in favour of the gender specific Latino (male) and Latina (female) in the name of gender and cultural sensitivity, and social justice — despite it being a term universally rejected in Latino societies themselves, who view it as insulting to their history and culture.
I do not condemn the students for rejecting my suggestion, though I am disappointed that they did not seem willing to even entertain the point made.
I am, however, concerned that society has become so sensitive and tolerant to positions that are not only unreasonable and counterfactual, but intolerant. People should be allowed a voice, and we should listen.
But the adults do need to be more discerning when deciding to act. Whilst it hurts to be called racist, I have no doubt that I am not. But no one should lose their jobs or silenced, nor signs altered and words changed.
The problem in the UK is not intolerance or insensitivity, but that it is too tolerant and too sensitive, and to afraid to cause of give offence, even when that offence is unjustified. As a society, it is too hesitant to call out falsehoods and bad thinking, and too willing to let things pass. We fail to remember that those who find offence and who demand action are a merely a vocal minority. We need to more away from signing up for what sounds right to what we know to be right.（註 7）
事緣他畢業的英國大學母校，有一些學生發起聯署，要求移除校內一名 400 年前的贊助人畫像，理由是這位善長曾經由「販賣奴隸」而得益。作者拒絕之後，即被該校的左翼學生稱為「種族主義者」。好笑嗎？
- 作者發揮求知精神，不是收到這種聯署就妄自答應。跳上一艘「反種族大愛包容號」列車，一齊高歌，駛向道德高地，十分容易，但這樣做對嗎？搜索真相、理性思考，是大學教育的基本精神，於是作者自己做了一點點 Research，發現這幅校董畫像的人物，與所謂的販賣奴隸完全沒有關係。
- 極左翼勢力喜歡製造新名詞，「去平台化」（De-platformed）就是其中一個例子。這個世界本來就不需要太多 platform，火車站的月台除外。
- 今日的中國製造，不是來自所謂的血汗工廠嗎？這是不是現代的奴隸制度？還有香港中產家庭聘請的菲律賓和印尼女傭，又算不算另類的奴隸制度？她們居住香港通常滿 7 年，卻無法得到永久居留權，這是對人權平等的公然剝奪。但今日西方的「白左」，對於「活在當下」的奴隸制度不聞不問，視而不見，卻對其祖宗的一些歷史人物，小事化大地投射巨大的自我罪疚感，這是一種精神上的被虐待狂。