Let’s imagine we’re debating the finding that white people earn 19.1% more on average than black people.
Let’s call this the Race Pay Gap.
Let’s imagine that an individual looking remarkably like a living shrine to Boris Johnson’s hair goes on Sky News to give a master class in how to wilfully misconstrue complex data by arguing that the Race Pay Gap is patent nonsense, fuelled by broad brush statistics that ignore individual differences in occupation, ability and working hours.
Let’s say he continues to make the following case (just audible through the drawled inarticulacy, contemptuous snorting and slack-mouthed entitlement that afflicts certain of the would-be British elite):
1/ There is obviously no Race Pay Gap because otherwise clever companies would be full of cheap black senior management.
2/ There should be a Race Pay Gap — because black people don’t work as hard: they don’t make as much money for their companies; they don’t work as long hours (maybe because of children, or nursing elderly relatives, or they’re just a bit lazy) and they do less overtime.
3/ This is totally OK. Black people simply aren’t interested in the aggressive, obsessive, goal-oriented domains of white power. They prefer hobbies. And holidays. Society should be supportive of that. It just shouldn’t financially reward it.
4/ ALL of these sweeping generalisations are backed by tonnes and tonnes of specific, stratified, credible data. It’s just that none of it is coming to mind right now.
Now imagine this takes place in a live TV studio; white commentator pitched against black; chaired by a black news anchor — just to see how far they can be pushed for viewers’ entertainment in this televisual blood sport. Imagine the look on the anchor’s face when the interview is extended for an invisible-but-presumably-salivating audience, because in our dubious age this counts as TV gold.
Now. If this sort of gallingly unfounded and repugnant exchange were to take place, it would rightly constitute the latest scandal in public injustice and outrageous media bating.
How odd, then, that when this did occur in July — arguments made in exactly this vein; the hair also, inexplicably, real; attached to a self-styled provocateur so knowingly vile that to watch him for any length of time is to court profound despair and the urge to shower repeatedly — no one really noticed. No shock waves came. No condemnations were issued.
Because one small detail was different.
It wasn't about race.
It was about women, and the Gender Pay Gap.
Now examine your response.
Next month will see the release of Beyond Belief: Racist, Sexist, Rude, Crude and Dishonest: The Golden Age of Madison Avenue — Charles Saatchi’s nostalgic nod to the days when white supremacy, doped-up housewives, overtones of gang rape and sexualised children were the fast track to that corner office and a big fat bonus.
Whether titled in irony or blind optimism, Beyond Belief is a lesson in the boundaries of 21st century prejudice: the stains that have been wiped away, and the ones that remain — fixed, and grubby, and entirely familiar.
It’s to the credit of social progress that however manifest racism may still be in myriad, insidious ways, it’s now impossible to imagine the outrageous commercial prejudice of Elliot’s White Veneer in 1930 (‘so effective’, apparently, that black people could paint themselves white with it).
But the misogyny that cuts through these images is 21st Century fresh: whether it’s the glamorised sexual violence, or the ludicrously gratuitous female nudity, or the implied domestic servitude of any one of the millions of ads we absorb on a daily basis.
And if adverts are the images that shape our preconceptions, our media is the gladiatorial ring where they do battle: men, pitched against women, for sport. But it's not blood these lusty media producers are after: it's controversy.
Controversy, at the cost of clarity; in exchange for half-truths, and poison, and insinuation — pored over by a young audience increasingly unable to separate fact from opinion.
We've got a misogyny problem in our advertising and our media. But more than any of that, we've got a misogyny problem in our reactions: in the silence with which we condone the intellectual inadequacy and swaggering bravado that feeds these lies.
This week we learned that women's earnings are only now catching up to the male equivalent a decade ago — meaning it will take us another 118 years to close the global pay gap.
One thing's for sure. Until we stop craving the controversy that propagates these myths; or relentlessly demand the separation of fact from fiction on our national media; or start examining our own flaccid responses to the misogyny underpinning our daily experiences; we’re not going to get there any faster.