Tag Archives: GRT

Diane Abbott loses Labour whip for making a fair point the wrong way

Diane Abbott: she has suffered more racist abuse than anybody you can name, due to the colour of her skin – and has now lost the Labour Parliamentary whip for attacking a newspaper article that apparently tried to minimise racism against people of colour.

First they came for Jeremy Corbyn…

Then they came for his grassroots supporters…

Then they came for left-wing Jews…

Now they are coming for members of the Socialist Campaign Group – and Diane Abbott is the first to be targeted.

She is an easy target because she has an unfortunate turn of phrase and often fails to think carefully before going public with her words.

This time, it has cost her the Labour whip, after the Observer published the following letter:

For those who can’t read images, here‘s the letter in full:

Racism is black and white

Tomiwa Owolade claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from “racism” (“Racism in Britain is not a black and white issue. It’s far more complicated”, Comment). They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.

It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.
Diane Abbott
House of Commons, London SW1

Anybody can see what she was trying to do: she was pointing out that people of colour suffer racism far more often in their daily lives than those who might be defined as “white/European”, because the difference is visually obvious.

(It is also misleading. I have a friend who is white and Welsh, but whose face might seem to have a Middle-Eastern look about it to those who live by stereotypes. He tans very easily, and tells me that, when he has been on holiday abroad (lucky fellow!) he is habitually picked out for a “random” bomb check on the way back into the UK, by security officials who think he looks like an Islamic terrorist.)

Nobody who knows her history could deny that she has a very strong point; if I recall correctly, Ms Abbott receives more racist hate mail than all other MPs put together.

She tried to make a distinction by saying people of colour suffer racism while Irish people, Jews and Travellers (the GRT community), suffer prejudice instead – and that’s where she went wrong.

It’s all racism. Jewish people (for example) were originally Semitic (hence the word for hate against them: anti-Semitism), and the fact that their culture, like Christianity, has been successful in absorbing people from other races does not stop hatred being directed at them because they are different.

I was going to suggest that she could have used the word “xenophobia” to describe the hatred of people of colour in this context – the so-called “dislike of the unlike”. But that does not only refer to race/skin colour but also to culture, so it might be a better umbrella title for the prejudice faced by all the groups she mentions.

The problem here is simply finding the right word for the distinction she intended, which is that the other groups can avoid abuse on occasions because their skin colour means they can blend in with what, for want of a better word, I’ll describe as the majority.

But it was enough for the usual suspects to spring to the attack – presumably secure in the knowledge that nobody is about to ask them to compare the amount of abuse those of them who present as white/European receive against Ms Abbott’s.

(Indeed, judging from the abuse that Ms Abbott has received over this letter, it seems some of them may even have perpetrated some of it.)

At the end of the day, it was a valid point made in a very clumsy way.

Ms Abbott has apologised for it, claiming that the letter published in The Observer was a draft that should not have gone out. That’s still her mistake, though – and one she should not have made. Here’s what she said:

Again, for people who can’t read images:

I am writing regarding my letter that was recently published in the Observer.

I wish to wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them.

The errors arose in an initial draft being sent. But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused.

Racism takes many forms, and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers and many others.

So she accepts that she was at fault and has apologised.

If she was a member of Keir Starmer’s gang, that would be the end of it. But she isn’t, so she has lost the whip and there will undoubtedly be attempts to push her out of the party (or at least out of ever again being able to stand for election to the Hackney Parliamentary seat).

But some good has come of the row, because alongside the screaming, some people are discussing her points in a reasonable way. And they have good points to make:

It’s possible to foresee difficulties for Keir Starmer, though, as the suspension can be seen to carry a meaning that is harmful to him:

How about this from a Jewish Twitter user?

And this is an important point about the online wolves who are currently baying for her blood:

At the end of the day:

Diane Abbott overreacted to a newspaper article and published hasty words and, while that reflects badly on her, she has apologised, and that goes in her favour. The Labour Party that has suspended her – and the critics and abusers who have lined up to pour hate on her – will need to justify any action taken against her in that context – and I don’t think they’ll be able to.

It is they who will come out of this smelling like bull manure – not Ms Abbott.

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