Diane Abbott and the deranged left

Abbott’s mad letter sums up everything that’s wrong with identity politics.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

Imagine sitting down at your computer and writing a letter comparing the persecution of Jews to the daft piss-taking faced by ginger people. Imagine breezily pooh-poohing the idea that Jewish people experience ‘racism’, and actually putting the word ‘racism’ in scare quotes like that, to really drive home the unhinged idea that racial animus against Jews is a myth. Imagine implying that in the mid-20th century, blacks had it hard – in the US, in South Africa – but Jews had it relatively okay. The victims of the Holocaust would beg to differ. If they could. If they hadn’t been exterminated in their millions in the most sinister and deranged racist crime in human history. Yes, racist – no scare quotes.

Worse, imagine then sending this insane missive to a national newspaper for publication. For people to see. Incredibly, Diane Abbott has just done all of this. She wrote to the Observer to take to task a comment piece which questioned the idea that racism ‘only affects people of colour’. It does only affect people of colour, she insisted. Sure, ‘Irish, Jewish and Traveller people… undoubtedly experience prejudice’, she generously decreed, but that’s not racism. Many ‘types of white people’ with a notable ‘difference’ experience prejudice, she said – ‘such as redheads’. But whites are not ‘subject to racism’. In mid-20th century racist America and Apartheid South Africa, it was blacks who were persecuted, not Jews and Gypsies; not white folk.

It is hard to know where to start with this bin fire of historical illiteracy, this alarming exhibition of ignorance from a member of parliament. Probably with the redhead thing. To speak of redhead mick-taking in the same breath as the ‘prejudice’ suffered by Jews and Gypsies is staggering. It is unconscionable. The idea that a ginger kid being called ‘carrot top’ in the playground is similar to the ‘prejudice’ suffered by other ‘white people’, including Jews, is one of the worst cases of anti-Semitism minimisation I have seen in a very long time. If Diane Abbott cannot tell the difference between a ginger being mocked for his hair colour and an entire people being branded an inferior species, like the Jews were, then she has clearly lost the moral plot even more than we thought.

Then there’s her historical blindness. She refers to two terrible social systems of the mid-20th century – segregation in the US and Apartheid in South Africa – to drum home her point that it’s only blacks who face racism. She doesn’t so much as mention the Holocaust, which was racism on an industrial scale; which entailed the enslavement and extermination of a people entirely on the basis of their race. This isn’t even Holocaust denial – it’s Holocaust amnesia. She seems just to have forgotten that, in living memory, one of those groups of white people who apparently do not experience racism were subjected to an unprecedented racist tyranny, to a uniquely malevolent effort to wipe them from the face of the Earth. ‘Jewish people… were not required to sit at the back of the bus’, says Abbott of mid-20th century America. True, but Jews were required to go into gas chambers in Europe in that very same period. Imagine thinking it’s a trump card to say Jews weren’t required to sit at the back of American buses while neglecting to mention that they were instead being forced into overcrowded cattle trucks and transported to camps that existed solely for the purposes of racial mass murder.

Abbott’s insistence that white people, including Jews, do not experience ‘racism’ brings to mind Whoopi Goldberg’s comments about the Holocaust last year. The Holocaust was ‘not about race’, said Goldberg. The Holocaust was ‘two white groups of people’, she said. So how can it be racist? Racism is something only blacks experience.

This is the rotten end point of the politics of identity. The identitarian elites’ infantile take on racism, where blacks are always oppressed and whites are always privileged, has led them into a cesspit of historical ignorance where they cannot even compute the Holocaust as an act of racist savagery because the people being reduced to ash had pale skin. The Nazis believed that Jewish people’s race made them subhuman. The identitarian elites believe that Jewish people’s race – their ‘whiteness’ – means they can never be true victims of racism. The former denied their humanity, the latter deny their suffering.

Abbott has been suspended as a Labour MP. That isn’t surprising – her comments were reprehensible. She has expressed regret for her letter, claiming an early draft was sent to the Observer by mistake. No one’s buying that, Diane. But here’s the thing: Abbott’s letter, mad as it was, is of a piece with identity politics. This was less the rantings of a woman on the edge than a pretty faithful articulation of what passes for ‘anti-racism’ today. The supposedly radical left has been completely corrupted by the divisive creed of identitarianism, which is less about fighting for genuine racial equality than about sorting human beings into boxes marked ‘oppressed’ and ‘privileged’ and judging their moral worth accordingly.

One of the most perverse consequences of this hyper-racial politics that masquerades as progressive is that Jews have been rebranded as ‘white’, and thus ‘privileged’, and thus incapable of experiencing racism. This has led not only to the minimisation of anti-Semitism in the present, but also to the minimisation of anti-Semitism in the past. We’ve now arrived at a situation where the Holocaust is reimagined as a merely unpleasant event – ‘man’s inhumanity to [other
men]’, as Goldberg described it – because our understanding of the racial ideology has become so narrow and thin as a consequence of identity politics. That an actual member of parliament can publicly question the idea that Jews experience racism is a testament to the lethal narrowmindedness and historical naivety that have been nurtured by the woke ideology.

Corbynistas like to complain about a ‘hierarchy of racism’, by which they mean that the Labour Party, in their view, treats anti-Semitism more seriously than other forms of racism. The Abbott affair confirms that if anyone is fashioning a hierarchy of racism, it’s the Corbyn-leaning left. One of their number has just publicly decreed that the suffering of Jews – and Gypsies and the Irish – is of a lower order than the suffering of blacks. It’s mere prejudice, not racism, Abbott said. Corbynistas’ complaints of a ‘hierarchy of racism’ are really just the flipside of the alt-right’s feverish ranting about ‘Jewish privilege’. In both cases, the complaint goes up that Jews are being given special treatment, whether as special victims, in the view of Corbynistas, or as special people in general, in the view of hard-right bigots. If your political worldview is reanimating suspicion and contempt towards Jews, then it might not be as progressive as you think.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today