So, the questions you ask will generate the landscape you expect to find. That’s problematic if you’re overly-sensitive to racial slurs: every slight will be attributed to racism, rather than its real cause, general prickery.
Race is a trivial detail of pigmentation. Acknowledging this, we used to believe that all people had the right to be treated equally. Black or white, gay or straight, our similarities far out-weighed our differences, and everyone should be allowed equality of opportunity to earn respect. Campaigning on this principle we made much progress – from slavery to widespread acceptance of difference (at least in principle) to a vibrant multicultural society. It’s appalling that it was necessary in the first place, and that it took so long to achieve such partial victories, but at least progress was made.
Now, however, we seem to be going backwards. The distance between self-identified racial groups seem to have increased, since the rise of Critical Race Theory and the latest iterations of the Racial Justice movement (at least, in Britain.)
I think far fewer people make racist assumptions now, than in my childhood. We have largely abandoned the 20th century modes of thought that understood the world by broadly categorising it. The zeitgeist is now consumerist individualism. Our grandparents and parents are the most likely people, in any gathering, to make embarrassing racist generalisations. They are the unreconstructed products of a more racist age.
Racist abuse has increased, but that’s because the amount of abuse has increased exponentially due to the internet and social media. That’s why BBC Radio’s File on 4 programme dedicated a whole programme to the rise of racism in football. Various insiders pointed out that, in the past, players of colour only had to endure racist abuse in the stadium, whereas, now, they are vulnerable at any moment. Of course, stadium racism is absolutely horrifying and unacceptable – it’s a sign of a racist population, but the rise in reported incidents doesn’t necessarily mean we are more racist than we were.
Trolls reach for the most hurtful thing they can think of. They don’t necessarily believe what they are saying; they just want to defeat you and see you cry. In the wake of England’s defeat in the Euros some fans were angry and wanted to hurt the players who had missed penalties. These fans knew they’d be susceptible to racial slurs, so that’s how they opted to attack their victims.
Modern social media users advertise their over-sensitivity. They believe they have a human right not to be insulted, triggered, or even made uncomfortable, and this fragility should be served and protected by the structures of society, policed and maintained by other people. Just as the council arranges for the rubbish to be collected, they should be able to register their anger online and then the insulters, or the insensitive, should be jailed, prosecuted, persecuted. Outrage has become a weapon.
But, of course, highlighting where you feel most vulnerable lights a flare path straight to it along which the trolls, emboldened by online anonymity, can attack.