Tone-deaf Toryism strikes again: Theodora Dickinson didn’t think there was anything wrong with telling Labour MP Naz Shah to go “back to Pakistan”, even at a time when racism is at the top of the news agenda.
This Writer doubts that it ever entered her head that she could lose her party membership – even for the two weeks that seems to be the maximum punishment for Conservatives accused of racism.
I doubt it would have occurred to her that she would get into trouble for belittling a person from a minority ethnic group. That’s white privilege.
She had responded to a post showing the Bradford West MP discussing her experience of poverty, saying that if “Naz Shah hates this country so much why doesn’t she go back to Pakistan?!”
Ms Shah is not only MP for Bradford West; she was born in that city. She has been to Pakistan, but the circumstances are unlikely to have endeared that country to her.
Perhaps Ms Dickinson thought she could get away with a racist tweet against Ms Shah because the Labour MP had previously been forced to admit anti-Semitic intent behind tweets that she had sent in 2014 (before she became an MP)? Sauce for the goose?
It’s not good enough.
And all at a time when celebrities are opening up about the racism they have been forced to endure – bringing the unacceptability of Ms Dickinson’s behaviour into sharp focus.
We hear former X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke talking about entertainment industry demands for her to bleach her skin, not wear braided hair and tailor her music to a white audience. She also says she was told to “be quiet” during attacks on her in the press during Strictly.
Skin bleaching is seen as a way of making a black person more acceptable. Blackness is seen as indicative of poverty and powerlessness – of undesirability. As Akala wrote in his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, “That even black people can seriously internalise anti-black sentiment can be seen in the massive trend for skin bleaching across black communities… As long as whiteness is a metaphor for power, blackness must of course function as a metaphor for powerlessness, and as long as money whitens, poverty must blacken.”
News presenter Clive Myrie said racist abuse he receives is at its worst now than at any time since he started his career in 1988. He told The Guardian: “What bothers me is the general sense that we live in a country where some people think racism is either imagined, or in people’s minds, and I think that is a notion that has to be fought.
“We’ve had God knows how many reports over the last 40 years detailing systemic racism and systemic lack of diversity across a range of institutions across British society, but nothing seems to get done,” he said.
“Without dealing in opinion, we’ve had numerous reports and we’ve had little action done on the recommendations. One wonders what is the point of reports if the recommendations are not going to be acted on.”
Myrie has reported on the disproportionate use of stop and search against black people in recent weeks and he said police should be restricted to using the power solely on the basis of intelligence received about a suspect.
“You can’t just stop people on the street because they’re black, and that is what’s happening,” he said.
How about the “terrifying” racist abuse against Ian Wright – Wrighty – on social media? He shared some of it:
These aren't isolated incidents!!! It's daily!! This is what I received for posting and talking about #BlackLivesMatter yesterday. The abuse started a week earlier, the taunting is terrifying. Coming back and back again. pic.twitter.com/2un0ZbqOlV
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) June 19, 2020
According to (again) The Guardian: “Wright has now called on others who had been racially abused on social media to speak up. ‘Let’s show these social media companies how bad this has got, it’s ridiculous!!! So easy for them!!’ he wrote.
“’If you or a black friend has had online racist abuse then please post a tweet with the hashtags #NoConsequences and #BlackLivesMatter.'”
When the actor David Harewood saw a link to the article, he questioned whether he should talk about his own experiences. I doubt I’m the only person who encouraged him to do so:
Talk about it in public, David. Make people aware of what it is, what it does and what it means. @guardian
— Mike Sivier (@MidWalesMike) June 20, 2020
For This Writer, perhaps the most poignant sign of the times is the fact that Blue Peter presenters have been subjected to racist abuse:
We want to stand together and pledge to do better at fighting racism, to build a better future for everyone. pic.twitter.com/EXcgdl7URk
— CBBC (@cbbc) June 11, 2020
The message is right, too – we all need to do better. The problem is systemic, as Clive Myrie said – it is part of the society in which we live. It is long past time we all understood that and called for change, because it is holding us back.
Black people – and other ethnic minorities – are told they are of less value by incidents like police stopping and searching them because of their skin colour, or teachers marking them down and otherwise sabotaging their education, or employers finding reason not to take them on. Society pushes many of them towards crime – and then uses this to justify the way it treats them. Even those who achieve success suffer appalling abuse every day of their lives. Consider the examples above. Think of Diane Abbott, who still receives more than half of all racial abuse directed at BAME MPs.
Harming people in this way harms society. It diverts resources into both harming and punishing them that could be used for better purposes – and that includes the resources that are put into the detection (or should I say the pretence of it?) of racist abusers? And it holds society back because, instead of nurturing talents these people may have that would benefit us all, the system is actively creating problems for itself.
That situation will not magically change by itself. We have an actively racist government – look at the Windrush scandal and Boris Johnson’s many racist outbursts. He is the prime minister.
The UK needs a mass movement for change – that helps everyone, rather than victimising a vulnerable few.
We won’t get it while we have rulers who are openly racist while pretending to punish members of their gang who get caught out.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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