A London detective superintendent who used the phrase “whiter than white” faces losing his job for alleged racism. The unfortunate man was merely briefing colleagues about the need to be faultless and above reproach in carrying out inquiries, but somebody complained and he has been placed on restricted duties while the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates. This may take a year to complete, The Telegraph reports.

In an effort at balance, presumably, an officer in another force is being investigated for using the expression “pale, stale and male,” regarding which a spokesman said: “We are investigating the alleged use of language deliberately intended to offend and that had racist undertones. It in no way indicates that misconduct proceedings will take place.”

Despite the horrendous levels of violent crime carried out in broad daylight with little fear of the consequences, it seems that actual crime – which affects people regardless of their colour, but may be a worse problem in the inner cities, where ethnic minorities tend to live – has been sidelined in favour of addressing “hate crime” and even thought crime, as everyday expressions are scrutinised for hidden racism.

It has been pointed out that “black” has acquired negative connotations while “white” is seen as positive. Indeed, we talk of blackballing or blacklisting people, or of blackening someone's name, all of which have negative meanings. But we also refer to whitewashing scandals, and to hypocrites as “whitened sepulchres” — hardly positive usages.

However, none of these expressions originated as allusions to the colour of people’s skins, but in the idea of light and dark as positive and negative moral concepts – for the very practical reason that when people – white or black – want to do evil they prefer to do it under cover of darkness; which is probably why we do not speak of throwing dark on a situation. We can get lost just as well in a snowstorm as in the dark; light helps us to see but it is useless without contrast. The great artists strove to accurately represent shade as well as light.

The preoccupation with offensive language may seem ridiculous but it also acts as a distraction from real forms of racism such as the appallingly high numbers of ethnic minority abortions. This sort of racism generally meets with approval among opponents of prejudice, even when it involves prejudging a human being as so worthless as to be not worth defending. In America, where this has become an issue, abortion advocates have taken to advertising abortion to black women as “self care”, bizarrely calling the opposition to pre-birth racism a form of “white supremacy.”

Here in the UK, the pro-abortion Left has remained silent on Mrs May’s announcement that the Government will give £200 million of taxpayers’ money to population control groups like Marie Stopes International to be spent in Africa and Asia on “family planning”, a euphemism for birth control, abortion and sterilisation. The targets of this campaign are “women and girls in rural and poor communities who have traditionally been hardest to reach.”

Is it racist to suggest that they might start with providing maternity care and even more basic medical services that these women and girls might find hard to reach?

Our obsession with language may be whiter than white, but our record on racism is blacker than black. And while real racism goes unchecked, even unnoticed, so does the gigantic distraction exercise of policing language.

We have seen “Negro,” regarded as derogatory, replaced by “colored people” and then “people of colour,” which itself became the focus of criticism for implying that black people were simply “coloured in” versions of white people, while “non-white” was seen as implying that white is the norm.

So far no one has argued that white is not an accurate description of non-black people, but if we are to take this matter seriously, we must stop using the words black and white when referring to human beings. It seems, however, that if our language needs policing, we will have no trouble finding a PC to make sure we remain PC.

Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St Pauls, 1995), and Prophets & Priests: the Hidden Face of the Birth Control Movement (St Austin Press, 2002).

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Ann Farmer lives in the UK. She is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Campaign (CUAP, 2008); The Language of Life: Christians Facing the Abortion Challenge (St...