The word “racism” has become ubiquitous in recent decades. To deny the reality of racism would be to inhabit a paranoid world where the Kennedy Assassination is still unsolved, climate change is a Zionist plot and Kim Kardashian is an attractive, talented woman. I grew up in a country where black footballers were routinely subjected to monkey chants, where alleged comedians used racial slurs on primetime television and even cartoons used stereotypical images of black people to get cheap laughs. I believe that most people would not tolerant such things today. But as real racism has declined, accusations of racism have increased.
“Racism” has been redefined to apply to so many actions and ideas that is has become essentially meaningless. The word is no longer a description but a cudgel used to silence those with whom one disagrees. Like the phony word “Islamophobia” it is designed to both obfuscate and to shut down debate. Once they can wield the accusation of “racism” some people believe they have won an argument by default. Like the bizarre cult of identity politics, “racism” accusations seek to divide people in to ever smaller and mutually-antagonistic groups. (Incidentally, when I was at university, there was a group who called themselves the Gay and Lesbian Society; reading the news this morning, I came across the acronym “LGBTQIA+”!) But those who live by accusations of racism, die by accusations of racism, as Jesus Christ didn’t say.
The Labour MP Diane Abbott has dined out on accusations of racism for more than thirty years now. First elected to parliament in 1987, Abbott’s spectacular mediocrity means she has never held ministerial office, despite Labour being in power for nearly half her time in the House of Commons. I have no doubt that some of her (many) detractors are motivated by racism. No doubt some are also motivated by sexism (yes, I am aware of the nonsense term “intersectionality”). But I will content myself with merely looking at some of Abbott’s own pronouncements over her long and undistinguished career.
For a start, I will stick to a dictionary definition of racism –
“the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”
I do not subscribe to pseudo-Marxist interpretations of racism as a form of oppression. I’m not even sure that “race” is a real thing; whether the differences between various groups of Homo sapiens sapiens are anything other than superficial. There is far more difference between a Great Dane and a Chihuahua than between an Australian Aborigine and a Scandinavian or between a Japanese person and a Sub-Saharan African.
Abbott defended herself against accusations of hypocrisy when she sent her son to a private school despite being a vocal advocate of state education. “I’m West Indian mum,” she said “and West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children.” I merely point out that Abbott was born in London not Jamaica. I would also point out that all mothers would “go to the wall” for their children. Why bring race into it?
Hatred of Finnish people is not racism apparently. Abbott is on record as criticising the recruitment of Finnish nurses into Britain’s NHS because they “may never have met a black person before, let alone touched one…” She referred to ‘blonde, blue-eyed girls” – a clear racial stereotype. And her contention that “nurses from the Caribbean who know the language and understand British culture and institutions” would no doubt be condemned if some blazered buffoon from UKIP said it about other national groups.
I wonder what would happen if a front bench Conservative said “Black people love playing divide and rule. We should not play their game.” Said Conservative would be fired instantly, lose the whip and no doubt be deselected. But Abbott survives because she said “white” not “black.”
The disgusting attack on a Kurdish-Iranian asylum seeker in Croydon was a cue for another of Abbott’s speak-first, think-later outbursts. She ranted about Brexit, “right wing politicians” scapegoating immigrants and the “politics of hate.” Abbott seems to have gone very quiet since the police released pictures of those wanted in connection with this attack. It rather unminds the narrative of horrible racist white people doesn’t it?
I have no doubt that Diane Abbott does not consider herself a racist. As I said above, some of her detractors are motivated by racism. But the evidence from Abbott’s long public career suggests that she holds some extremely, shall we say, controversial opinions about race.