On Diane Abbott

Black woman steps in brown stuff and shows true colours.

My membership fees for the Diane Abbott Fan Club were long overdue, long before yesterday.

Whether it’s the way she tended to greedily gobble up most of the sofa she used to share with Michael Portillo on BBC 1’s This Week, or her shameless hypocrisy in criticising selective schools and then sending her own child to a fee-paying school (which in all fairness she herself described as “indefensible” and “intellectually incoherent”), or her frequent barbed references to old white men, for some reason she has never quite done it for me.  Can’t quite put my finger on it.

My conscience is clear, though, because I judge people on what they say and what they do (and, sometimes, what they specifically refuse to say or do). As far as is humanly possible I do not judge people by their colour (or lack thereof), their religion (or lack thereof), their gender or their sexuality because I would not like to be judged on any of those myself.

It appears from her comments on Twitter yesterday that Abbott does judge people – or white people, at least – on their skin colour.

Abbott is a fat black woman. That is neither defamatory nor racist; it is a statement of fact based solely on observable evidence. How about, “Abbott is a fat black racist woman”, though? That is not a racist statement but it might be defamatory or untrue.

What she said yesterday was certainly racist. However, just as eating a tablespoon of cranberry sauce twice a year (and always, bizarrely, on the same days, 25th and 26th December) does not necessarily make me a “cranberry sauce eater”, so one racist comment does not of itself make someone a racist. In Abbott’s case, though, she does have some previous in this field. See this and this for worthwhile discussions.  If nothing else please watch the hilarious YouTube clip on the second link; 5mins 31sec of pure gold.

The main intention of this post is to discuss how we discuss racism so I will not conclude here one way or another whether Abbott is a racist; I will merely say there is a reasonable case for her to answer.

I happen to agree completely with Abbott’s comments on the use of the term “communities” and I have written about the dangers of “group rights” versus individual rights before.

Carving society into “communities” who are spoken for by unelected leaders is inherently divisive. It imparts whole sections of society with homogenous traits – be they negative or positive ones – and it sometimes gives sections of society a different rights status to others – be they additional or fewer ones. This “community” fetish fails to acknowledge we are all individuals with the same rights (and responsibilities), and it is one of the fundamental failures of multiculturalism.

Abbott got a reasonably comprehensive mauling in the media yesterday but it’s very reasonable to suppose that a media trial would have been far less humane, and the sentence imposed by an employer far more severe, had the offender been non non-white.

There was outrage recently when Sepp Blatter, the clueless FIFA dictator, suggested a brisk handshake might be enough to defuse racist comments on a football field but strangely there was no such outrage when it was already being suggested yesterday evening that maybe we should not get too excited about Abbott’s comments, and that we should all move along quietly, nothing to see, etc. Abbott’s friend, Darcus Howe, speaking on Newsnight, even said Abbott had nothing to apologise for.

I do not like witch hunts and immediate calls for enquiries, resignations and the like, and neither do I care much for apologies extracted under media torture. I would rather everyone calmed the fuck down and discussed issues – especially high-octane ones such as racism – in a sober and rational fashion. We do not speak nearly as honestly or as freely as we should on many important matters, including racism. But this has to cut both ways. Overweight black females should be free to make controversial comments without fearing instant, frenzied, vigilante, trial-by-140 characters summary injustice and so should old, white, incompetent Swiss bureaucrats – or anyone else.

As Pat Condell said in a recent video, democracy is the only system of government that has proved it can be trusted with our freedoms, and I say that one of the most important of these is freedom of speech. Maybe there is a superior form of government to democracy waiting to be unearthed but it is the boundless discourse bequeathed by democracy which would give this superior alternative system – if there is one – the highest possible chance of revealing itself to us.

So let’s use that freedom of speech whilst we still have it and “push the envelope” a bit here. There is a school of thought – I am not saying I agree with this – that if you are white, then in principle you can be called a white cunt. And that if you are short, you can be called a short cunt. And that if you are ginger, you can be called a ginger cunt. And that if you are black (you probably know where I’m going with this), you can be called a black cunt.

Still with me? Well done. Of course, context is king: something might work, say, on the football field amongst acquaintances but not on a finely manicured bowling green, or at a vicarage garden party, or during a televised debate of US presidential hopefuls, or in a job interview, or when returning books into the safe custody of an elderly bespectacled librarian. Furthermore, a joke or banter is one thing but harassment, discrimination, reasonable fear of violence or the use of the terminology I have described in conjunction with the application of violence is quite something else.

Surely, though, if we are mature enough to resist gravity and hurl men onto unfamiliar celestial objects then we must be mature enough to resist the lynch mob urge and at least explore unfamiliar discussions here on Earth, even if the sole purpose of that is to insert some much-needed humour into a serious issue.

Taking offence is now a national past time.  We all need to lighten up a bit (that wasn’t a racist comment) because a bit of black humour (neither was that) is what makes this eccentric little island of ours so colourful (and neither was that).