A few years back Arsenal were playing West Ham.
The West Ham defender, Neil Ruddock, tackled the Arsenal skipper, Patrick Viera.
As Viera got up he spat at Ruddock.
Ruddock called Viera “a French prat”.
The FA immediately accused Ruddock of racism.
This was incorrect.
Because “French” is not a race.
It’s a nationality.
Viera is also black.
If Ruddock had called him “a black prat” that would have been racism.
Unless you’re a member of the loony right, race is not the same as nationality.
A couple of years later, in a TV broadcast, Anne Robinson said “The Welsh: what is the point of them, what are they for?”
And a Welsh MP immediately accused her of racism.
Because “Welsh” is not a race.
Wales is a country.
We should all know the difference.
Put simply, race is a physical attribute.
It’s something you’re born with.
You can’t change it.
Nationality, however, is simply your country.
You can change that if you want.
My wife is racially oriental: she describes herself as Chinese.
She’s very proud of it.
But she couldn’t change it even if she wanted to.
Her nationality is Singaporean.
If she wanted, she could change her nationality and become British.
Because nationality is not a physical part of us, like race.
So to ridicule someone because of their nationality isn’t racist.
It may be a lot of things: bigoted, nationalistic, xenophobic.
But what it isn’t, is racist.
The same confusion exists with religion.
People who are anti-Jewish are often described as anti-Semitic.
Semitic is a race, Jewish is a religion.
The Semitic peoples came mainly from the Middle Eastern area, the modern day Arab states.
So most Semitic people aren’t in fact Jewish.
Most are actually Moslem.
What happened was, to a barmy right wing group in Germany in the 1930s, all Jews looked Semitic.
So it stuck.
The actress Vanessa Redgrave was active in denouncing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Immediately her detractors labelled her as anti-Semitic.
She said “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Zionist.”
Making the distinction that she isn’t anti-Jewish.
Jews can be European, American, African, or Chinese, she has no quarrel with Jews.
She objects to the state of Israel treating Palestinians as an inferior people.
Making the point that hers is a political argument.
Not a religious or racial one.
A lot of people will say “But that’s not important, it’s just semantics.”
I think sloppiness in any area leads to sloppiness in other areas.
Sloppy language allows sloppy thinking.
Get the language correct and we force ourselves to be more attentive about what we say.
Which forces us to be more attentive about what we think.
Discriminating against people because of their nationality may be wrong.
But it isn’t racism.
Nowadays we know it’s wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of something they can’t change.
Like their race.
Or their sex.
We know it’s sexist to discriminate against someone on the basis of gender.
And no one reading this would refuse to give anyone a job because of their race, or their sex.
But I meet lots of people who say they can’t get a job in advertising because of their age.
They’re considered too old.
And they’re discriminated against on the basis of something they can’t change.
Strangely enough, no one in advertising seems to have a problem with that.
It seems we’re horrified by the slightest hint of racism or sexism.
So horrified we over-react.
We even try to find it where it doesn’t exist.
But it seems we’re perfectly happy to practice ageism on a daily basis.
That hasn’t become unfashionable yet.