Does Diane Abbott Represent Black People in Britain or Just Herself?
Phew!! An interesting few days, where all sorts have crawled out from the woods to flex and prove intellectual prowess and crass. I hope you don’t find that in any way offensive? Personally, I have had some time to think about it and take in other people’s point of view on the matter. While it is worth debating and everyone is free to say what was right or wrong about it, after all, we live in a democracy where free speech reigns supreme; the noise about it, was blown out of proportion as soon as it was seized upon by the media led by the likes of the Daily Telegraph, for who Charles Moore wrote an article about the slave trade in 2006, after Tony Blair, then prime minister expressed “deep sorrow” for what had happened. He said: “There is no reason for Mr Blair to say sorry. He is not responsible for the slave trade in any way, and by half-suggesting that he is, he surrenders to unreason and creates difficulties for his successors.” After all, “When England joined the slave trade in the early 17th century, it was taking part in a practice that, in different forms, was as old as human history. The spur was competition with Spain, which had been slaving away for more than a century, in theAmericas.” Abbott’s tweet – “white people love playing ‘divide & rule’ We should not play their game #tacticasoldascolonialism” – became a smoke screen in spite of there been more news worthy stories on race/racism to bring into the discourse of the public sphere such as what the conviction of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence means…more later
When the Diane Abbott saga started, I thought to myself, here we go again, we are going to be so angry for a few days and after that, return to life as we know it because that is what we do. We don’t give ourselves a chance to have a discourse that goes beyond the surface and as usual blame, so we can at least address one thing and say yes, we know better now, let’s move on. When the next one comes along, we can also address it. Instead, we show utter outrage, spew vitriol, insult a few folks because they disagreed with us…bottom-line, we make a lot of fuss and there it is. It is sorted until it blows up in our faces the next time another person errs…When I first saw the Twitter comment, I will be honest that I was not offended. I understood what she meant in spite of the generalisation about White people. Let’s get this straight, any form of racism is not helpful and wrong and certainly not all white folks are racist as noted in a Facebook response to someone’s comment on a link I posted, which of itself caused a lot of hullabaloo. If my memory serves me right and I hope he does not mind his private FB comment appearing here, he said something along the lines of “Diane Abbot expressed herself in a totally wrong way. Total generalisation without facts is wrong. “White people love playing divide & rule” can be taken by a white person a racist statement. If a White MP tweeted “Black people love disorganisation” we would rightly see it as racist. What Diane should have said is “Some western powers love playing divide and rule” or “Europeans played divide & rule”. I equally understood his POV. In fact, felt he made a valid point about the way she could have worded what she wanted to say/said. In my response to his comment, I made the point that ‘Yes, not all white people are racist.’ And no, I don’t need to have one or a million white friends to prove that. It would be wrong to assume everyone from a particular race is one way or the other when society itself is not one huge homogeneous block.
Race and racism is a TABOO subject we don’t like to talk about. When things like this come up, we tip-toe around the subject, and in this case, ask if it was xyz (white person) that said it, they would get this and they would get that. When in reality, there are people, on both sides, who say and think this way in private, including those who have said she was wrong but would never publicly say so, tell the truth. After all, ‘We JUST DON’T SAY SUCH THINGS IN PUBLIC.’ By all means, she happens to be a public figure and as such, it is a platform where her words will be scrutinised and found contentious irrespective of the context in which she said it. Yes, she has a track record of saying what many consider offensive or as they say gaffes. If I was a fan and followed her religiously, I would know all of them but I don’t and the one I can point out was when she made a generalised comment about Nigerians. Painful to read, yes because it came from someone, who is from the same race and you would not expect or think that she would berate anyone from her own race but she did. If I may be so bold to take this further, it could be referred to as an example of the very divide and rule Abbott was talking about with her Twitter comment. Sugar-coat it all you like, there is a tension between the African and Afro-Caribbean community though not as bad as it used to be but it does exist, and goes back to the time of slavery. While we are busy fighting each other as to who sold who, who came from the bush, whose culture is best, we take our eyes of the ball…and guess what?? Figure it out…
There will never be a perfect way to say what Abbott said…if she had contextualised it and said “some” as suggested by other folks, maybe we would be having a different disco. Maybe someone would still pick it apart and find it offensive but we will never know. Without excusing her generalisation of white folks, the latter part of her comment, which was ‘Divide and Rule’ is a reality that was and still is even if we want to admit it or not. It is a HISTORICAL FACT. It has been going on for decades and is still going on individually, corporately, politically and socially. The point I tried to make on FB, (that it still exists) though according to some, that was not the case. It is a shame her comments come at a time that is tense for the nation, racially. Even more shameful that the disco which led to her comments are connected to the recent verdict and sentencing of the two men found guilty of Stephen Lawrence murder, 18 years ago. Inadvertently and as rightly noted by Simon Woolley in his op-ed for the Guardian, Forget Diane Abbott’s tweet – let’s talk about the Stephen Lawrence case, her remarks meant we all lost track of the big issue at hand, to have a conversation about how best to move forward and what this moment in time means for race relations in the England on many fronts.
According to a different individual who chimed in on Facebook, and equally felt she was wrong for what she said because “She said something offensive to white people and that is the crime.” Firstly, there are folks on both sides, who found the comment offensive as we had MPs, White and Asian give their POV among other commentaries. Given the history of race and racism, and please be aware, this is not about the suffering of Black people. Let me put this in context without making victims or asking anyone to feel sorry for Black people because ‘We are not victims’ and must continuously work to achieve our desired personal and corporate goals in order to achieve an equal society. It is a feat many have worked hard to achieve and as individuals, it is doable and I don’t see us as victims. And in case you didn’t know, there are marginalisation’s in other ethnic communities and yes, the white working-class too.
However, may I be so bodacious and dare to ask if this is not the same country where generalised, stereotypical and marginalising comments have been made about the “Black Community” for years and it was not considered a crime as such. Don’t get me start on the generalised comments about Africa. We have a media machine where certain strands use generalised titles among many others, where reportage is concerned and brand everybody as one and that is okay, I guess. If you want to talk about offense and crime, how about the fact that it took 18 solid years to get 2 out of 5 convictions over the racist death of a young black man. If you want to talk about a crime, how about the fact that our prison population has more black men than any other ethnic group? Case in point and according to a 2010 interview with Lee Jasper (“Since 1990, we have seen a doubling of the Afro-Caribbean in prison population. An example would be, that for every 1000 white people, there is, 1.4 white people in jail and for every 1000 Afro-Caribbean people, there are 7.5 percent on jail and for every 1000 Asian, it is 2.4 in jail.”)
If you want to talk about a crime, how about the over-representation and adverse outcomes of Black people in and who use the mental healthcare system, some die there and it is ruled accidental? And if I may, once again, based on a different 2010 interview with Matilda MacAttram, founder and director of Black Mental Health UK, who gave the following stats based on the Count-Me census. (“The latest data shows that people from the African-Caribbean community are 44 percent more likely to be sectioned than their white counterparts. The stats also show that this group are 50 percent more likely to be referred to the mental health services via the criminal justice system or via the police. In fact, it is through force, an association of compulsion and an association of being criminalised.”) If you want to talk about a crime, how about the number of Black people, who have died in police custody over the years, yet no one is held accountable for it because it was accidental among BS excuses we get? If you want to talk about crime, how about more black men being stopped and searched than any other ethnic group? I could go on but as stated earlier, we are not victims and as a community, we must share our equal part in the problem and make more and every effort to ensure that our young men and women are steered in the right direction for a better future, enough with our babies killing and shooting each other down.
If one thing is clear from this incident, we are not ready to deal with race matters head-on. However, we can take this away…now that it is clear both White and Black folks are offended by generalised comments about them, maybe the next person that wants to say something will think about it a little more, knowing that White people get hurt over generalised comments about them like Black people do.
That said, what resonated with me about Abbot’s comment was ‘Divide and Rule’ due to its history and impact. In my FB comment, I talked about the fact that someone was finally bold enough to say what we all know. ‘Divide and Rule’ is a term you will hear everyday now and again in various contexts and as far as human relationships are involved, you will find it. For anyone to have their way where multiple parties are concerned we find a way to make others agree or sympathise with us and the division starts. It is also a political and economic tactic employed over the years and it does come up when you start looking at the historical context of a few African countries. There are African countries where this was/is the case in the example of an African leader, who got to the position of leadership because he had the backing of a colonial master over a sitting president or prime minister who refused to play game…all will go well until he too starts to misbehave and soon finds himself out on his ears. I must add…we have a history of also raising the wrong leaders who become puppets. If I’m to use an example about ‘Divide and Rule as best as I can, I can only talk about the one I know and is closer to my truth, the good, old faithful Nigeria, one of Africa’s most embattled nations. Its impact still exist because when you set a course of action in existence, it will trickle down to ordinary citizens, who will either consciously or subconsciously revert to that division based on a form of superiority they have been told they have over the other. Which means the lesser party will certainly retaliate. In Nigeria, it is ever present along ethnic, regional and faith/religious lines. The very lines along which divide and rule was used when tribes were pitted against each other. To date and unfortunately, we still cannot get our act together…when killings happen in Jos and parts of Northern Nigeria, the news media brings it down to religious conflict but no one wants to go to its historical origin where the Igbos were pitted against the Hausas. Bringing it back to contemporary issues in Nigeria, divide and rule is still present in our politics, social and economic life as we remain blind to its devastating impact. I DON’T BLAME the colonial masters for what is happening now , that falls to us because we refuse to wake up and see the damage it is doing to us as a people and as such, take full responsibility for ourselves. I am tempted to deviate and even go as far as the intrusiveness of a few jokers from the international scene right now with the fuel subsidy sage taking place in Nigeria, let’s not go there for now, a topic for another time.
If Diane Abbott erred, it was in her generalisation because as noted in a response to a Twitter comment by another social media acquaintance when he asked its relevance to the British people, it is wrong to classify all white people as racist. That said, if we are going to deal with the issue of race whenever it arises, we best get our head around the fact that it will take someone saying or doing something that is not the norm as far as the right ‘Political Speak’ is concerned. Race matters are a ticking time bomb in this country and the more we push it aside, the tougher it will be to talk about it…Beat Abbott down all you like for her generalisation of white people as we have seen but also take a moment to think about divide and rule in all its ramifications. And for what it is worth, I don’t consider her to be a racist. As for ‘some’ who said: “I don’t see Diane Abbott to be representing blacks in Britain; she’s always represented herself.” Abbott has served as an MP for over 20 years and been elected in five* consecutive elections; she is obviously representing someone even if it isn’t you or ‘the blacks’ as claimed.
If my post seems to suggest that I like Diane Abbott, you may well be right. If it suggest I worship at her feet and bow before her every morning, you may well be right, same with any other suggestions you may have. There is no need denying it as it won’t make a difference…Whatever suggestions you may have or assume, oh well, so we have it…
Photo credit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcr1GeGaFsc