Diane Abbott’s Letter to the Observer

By Catherine Dunlop

Abbott in her letter was responding to an article in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/apr/15/racism-in-britain-is-not-a-black-and-white-issue-it-is-far-more-complicated), by Tomiwa Owolade, a contributing writer at the New Statesman.

This article commented on a report just published about racism in Britain, Evidence for Equality National Survey (EVENS). That report says that more whites than blacks say they have experienced racism.

“Remarkably, the survey found that 40% of white Irish people reported experiencing some form of racist assault in their lives. This means that white Irish people are more likely to say they have experienced prejudice in Britain than black African people and all Asian ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and other Asian groups.”

The obvious comment on that is made by the journalist himself :

“One response to this is obvious. Some minority groups might under-report their experience of racist abuse, others might over-report. We shouldn’t take the survey as an objective account of racism in Britain.” 

 Owolade could also have looked more closely at who filled in the questionnaires that were analysed to produce the report.  The survey was advertised via social media, the media, and organisations representing minorities.  People then applied to register for the survey, in other words they were self-selected.  As the authors of the report themselves say, this is an unusual approach to data gathering.

But instead of making these points Diane Abbott wrote the letter that was published and headlined by the Observer, as follows:

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

Diane Abbott mixes up racism/prejudice today (her contemporary example is redheads; and the fact that real racism is life-long) and examples of racism in the past.    Bringing up the past leads to competing claims as to which minority group suffered the most historically. This is a confused and muddleheaded way of addressing the question of racism today.  And Abbott lost all credibility when she issued a grovelling apology.  If she sincerely believes that white people on the whole and unless they stand out in some way, are not victims of racism, then why apologise for that sincere belief?

Wilson John Haire adds:

“What does the plight of the Afro-American in the 1950s deep South have to do

with the Caribbean people recruited to come and work in the UK?  When they

came here to fill vacancies in transport, building construction and other jobs,

it was equal pay and conditions, overseen by the then powerful trade union

movement. I worked with these newcomers and many of them themselves were 

Leftist, when Left politics was sweeping the Caribbean. When they weren’t Left

they were religious. All in all, they came with established values. Diane Abbott

needs to know this. It is she, like other black MPs who decided the black vote was

theirs only. What a difference from Bernie Grant, the late MP for Tottenham from

1987 – 2000. He was a Leftist and an integrator, who wasn’t afraid to be on

Sinn Fein platforms in London. His death at the age of 56 stopped the proper development of the black community.” 

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