THE last few weeks have once again seen a number of incidents where attitudes or the language that people use has been held up to scrutiny.

Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of systemic institutional racism has shocked the English cricket authorities into action. What is particularly useful about these latest allegations is that Rafiq has named specific individuals.

There is a lot of discussion and disagreement about systemic racism and many allegations are thrown at institutions about how racist they are. Indeed, it often appears that institutions themselves actually go looking for examples of their own institutional racism, as was the case with Dundee University with the publication of their report based on a survey with staff and students.

It is rare, in the many discussions about the racist nature of society and institutions, that specific individuals and actions are named or identified, and I’m often left frustrated and muttering about the need to “name names”, rather than using abstract concepts to address this matter.

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With Rafiq, it is different, and we will hopefully have a proper discussion about these specific cases.

But where there is evidence of individual racism or, indeed, individuals making comments that others find offensive, what should be done about it?

I raise this in part, because one of the most depressing trends of recent years has been the growing demand that is made for people to be sacked for things they have said.

This is often couched in the language of tolerance, while incorporating a demand or sentiment of zero tolerance. To be tolerant today, it seems we need to be intolerant!

The other reason that this issue is of interest is because of what is happening in America at the moment.

Matthew Hawn, a social studies teacher in rural Tennessee, has been sacked for teaching that white privilege is a fact. This sacking came three days before Tennessee’s legislature enforced a law that will result in funds being withheld from schools that teach about white privilege.

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Hawn’s case is complicated by allegations that he would only teach one perspective, that he was insubordinate and had already been disciplined about this. But even still, what is happening in the US looks like a serious overreach of law restricting ideas that some disagree with.

In schools, particularly the latter years, and especially in universities, very different perspectives should be aired by teachers and lecturers. This is different to allegations of racist language, but the common thread is the growing intolerance in society and the demand that people be cancelled, literally, from working.

Left wing lecturer David Miller, for example, has been sacked by Bristol University, for what some claim to be anti-semitism. He talks about Sir Kier Starmer being in receipt of “Zionist money” and about Zionism having “no place in society”. Indeed, some Jewish students are likely to find Miller’s outlook intimidating. Nevertheless, I would defend Miller’s right to lecture – despite thinking that some of his ideas are reactionary.

Similarly, I would argue that teachers in schools should be able to teach about white privilege, although in schools this should also be done within a framework of a curriculum where different perspectives are part of the education. And I would also hope that Rafiq himself is not cancelled for his anti-semitic Facebook posts.

We need professional standards at work and sometimes disciplinary action, but this should be the last straw, not an automatic reflex, and we also, more than anything, need to learn how to challenge people ourselves without the automatic call for them to be sacked or cancelled.

Why? Because we will never overcome prejudices in society by constantly turning to employers and the authorities to do this for us. If people say things we find offensive or reactionary we need to have the courage to question it ourselves, in that moment, and indeed to have our own ideas challenged.

Whether you’re on the left or the right, cancelling others is not a solution that will help society to develop and to become genuinely tolerant.

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