"They prospered inside my regiment, but if you'd said to them: 'Have you ever been called a nigger,' they would have said: 'Yes.'... But equally, a chap with red hair, for example, would also get a hard time - a far harder time than a black man, in fact....But that's the way it is in the Army. If someone is slow on the assault course, you'd get people shouting: 'Come on you fat bastard, come on you ginger bastard, come on you black bastard.'"Now personally, speaking, on that bit alone, I'm not sure what he said wrong, it was just telling the tale of his life in the Army. What should he have said? "Oh no! Everyone was really lovely to each other when they were on a training ground"? Anyone with half a brain would know that would be bollocks.
However, I'm guessing it was this bit that really did it for him,
"I came across a lot of ethnic minority soldiers who were idle and useless, but who used racism as cover for their misdemeanours.... I remember one guy from St Ann's (Nottingham) who was constantly absent and who had a lot of girlfriends.... When he came back one day I asked him why, and he would say: 'I was racially abused.' And we'd say: 'No you weren't, you were off with your girlfriends again.'"I can certainly see, politically, how the first sentence in the second post could be construed as being racist, although I can equally see it as someone stating the matter of their empirical experience.
It seems to me that this is one of those times when resignation is the right thing do for political reasons (and Danny Finkelstein has a good point to make on that here), but at the same time I do have a wider cultural concern. This relates to the argument that if once perceives offence (in this case racial offence) then it makes it so, irrespective of the intent of the person making the original comment.
Do not misconstrue that statement though, I do not know Patrick Mercer from Adam* and for all I know he could be a raving racist thug or equally he could be a saint. However I don't think that detracts from the wider concern about how the perception of offence is often, today, equated with intent to offend.
Sadly though, there are many people out there who do have a chip on the shoulder and use racism, sexism, or whatever other victim group-ism for achieving ends (there are also many who don't who are genuinely subjected to discrimination). When it happens I personally think people should be called on it and offered some salt and vinegar.
I also think that in Britain we have a problem with race. That problem is that we don't talk about it enough. Unlike America, we had no giant civil rights movements, the result has been that the issue of race is framed in debate in much more pernicious and oppressive way.
If you talk about race, and if you are not careful enough with what you say, you find yourself charged with all sort of things, as I imagine someone will say about this post probably. However, we really need to deal with the way we deal with our use of language and the difference between actual deliberate discrimination and simple name-calling with no malice intended which is part of life whether one likes it or not.
I say all this, incidentally, as someone with ginger hair.
Update: I've been thinking about this post on the way home and wish to clarify something. When I talk about "name-calling" I'm referring to peer groups and the manner in which they speak to each. They will, quite often, use language which, in isolation could be deemed racist, but within the group is not considered so.
* OK that's a slight lie, I met him once outside Doughty Street whilst I was smoking a ciggie with Rachel North, the conversation consisted of "Hello, I'm Patrick Mercer". I'd hardly call it an interest though.