BEING an anti-racist, indeed, in my younger days an active anti-racist for many years, it was disappointing to see the attempt by a Twitter mob and a few journalists who should know better, to brand me as a racist last week. But in our intolerant times when racism has been redefined as a ‘secular sin’, any questioning of official anti-racist policies risks such a reactionary response.

The branding came following an interview I gave on Sky News and my column I wrote here last week that questioned the idea that Bulgaria was a nation of racists or that English footballers walking off the pitch on hearing racist chants was a good idea.

It wasn’t long ago that there was a basic instinct in society that despite hating what some people might say you would never call for someone to be sacked for their opinions. Today, it is becoming a norm to do precisely that.

What my detractors appear to perhaps purposefully misunderstand is that anti-racism was never one simple idea. Quite the opposite in fact.

There has in fact been a long tradition of anti-racists who understood the problem of racism needed to be examined and understood as a structural issue – related to power and the ability to oppress minorities not only with rhetoric but with racist immigration laws, denial of fair employment, housing, and equality of treatment by state institutions and officials.

In comparison, in recent years, official anti-racism has increasingly focused on the policing of language, particularly, of all places, at football matches. On this latter point I stand with ex-England and Liverpool legend John Barnes who mocks the myopic focus on football, pointing out what should be obvious - that if there is racism in football it must be a societal problem rather than something that can be tackled during the 90 minutes watching a game.

People talk about the need for “education” but beyond saying “racism is wrong” and flashing slogans telling us to “Kick it out” or “Say no to racism”, I see no education.

If we are going to take the race debate seriously, we need more conflicting ideas not fewer. We need to ask ourselves if treating black people and black players differently helps or hinders anti-racism. We need to question whether educating a generation of young people that words hurt, empowers them or takes away power. And we need to ask whether closing down debate with the insult of “racist” does society any good.

Rather than being a clash of ideas, anti-racism has become a state dogma, a secular sin, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission called it. As such, it acts as a barrier to open discussion and progress and limits the cause of anti-racism.