The recent media brouhaha about a simple tweet by Diane Abbott MP is a reflection of the continued right wing drift of the current political establishment and the country as a whole.
Abbott’s crime? She used twitter shorthand to refer to the tendency of British white people in power to use divide and rule tactics against black people.
Traditionally used as a means of maintaining control and weakening political oppositions, she was making a broader political point that is factually correct and largely uncontroversial.
The response was quite simply ridiculous. The UK Twitter Tea Party tendency seized on her 140 character comment and accused her of being a racist and using racist language. The charge was puerile political posturing against the UK’s foremost black female politician whose entire public life has been dedicated to fighting racism.
That such a charge could be made and gain credibility in the media, illustrates the chronic lack of diversity in the media newsrooms. Ironically, this is another reflection of the wholesale racism in the employment practices within the media industry.
That the story was quickly elevated to the top news item demonstrates the power and resilience of racism in British society. Calls for her resignation came mainly from the right wing lunatic fringe. These dangerous right wing and liberal, post racist romantics inhabit a world where all British citizens regardless of race are equal. They argue that Britain is by and large a meritocratic society where racism is reduced to a few isolated incidents.
Of course in the real world, as the Lawrence verdict the previous day so starkly reminds us, the country remains polluted with racism. The effects of race discrimination are devastating and reduce the majority of low income black and Muslim communities to the status of third class citizens in a supposed first class democracy.
The facts about the reality of racism tell us that Britain is less a meritocracy and more of a pigmentocracy. A nation where the colour of our skin can lead you to be shot dead on the streets of Salford or slaughtered on the streets of Eltham.
There have been 96 racist murders since 1993. There have been countless more who have been maimed and emotionally and physically scarred in that period. Throughout the last decade there has been millions of pounds worth of damage to property and places of worship and thousands of sacred monuments defaced by racist graffiti and vandalism.
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Deaths in custody, poor schools, adult and youth unemployment, illhealth: physical as well as mental, rates of stop and search, disproportionate jail sentencing of black people, disgraceful treatment of refugee and asylum seekers, racist attacks and racism on the football field; all illustrate the fact that racism is alive and well in the UK.
So let’s not kid ourselves. Racism and the tactic of divide and rule have been and continue to be, the preferred tactics of successive British Governments. Both have a long history.
Britain is the 9th largest island in the world and the largest European island whose original name prior to Roman invasion was “Albion “ whose literal meaning is “white”.
Modern Britain is a mongrel hybrid nation, whose early populations were descended from the Celts, Welsh and Irish, Vikings, Roman and Norman peoples of Europe. Latterly because of the legacy of empire and colonialism this country has become in parts a diverse reflection of the nations it once ruled.
Our history as a nation has been traditionally characterised by war, conquest, slavery and domination of other peoples. The predator nation was the English whose political ambitions extended to the domination of near neighbours and later the British whose imperial ambitions conquered countries across the world.
There was a saying that the “sun never sets on the British Empire” and there was a time when that was true.
Central to the politics of ruthless colonial oppression was the tactic of divide and rule. This was the standard domestic and foreign policy strategy of the English and then British for centuries.
Such was the international reputation of the British for duplicity, treachery and deceit in pursuit of power that the pejorative term ‘Perfidious Albion’ came into usage around the 17th century.
Perfidious: a term that signifies someone who is both unreliable and incapable of keeping his word.
Albion: the original name for Britain.
This was a policy that was devastating in its effects in Africa, India, Latin American and elsewhere hugely divisive policy that was perfected at home and exported abroad.
The negative legacy of this approach can still be seen today in both the geography and political culture of these nations.
The phrase has remained for centuries a term of abuse for what was initial English treachery and later British betrayal. Divide and rule of the poor, foreigners, Irish Catholics from English Protestants, men and women, Africans, Indians the list goes on. It remains the preferred approach of the Government in both foreign and domestic policy to this very day.
So both racism and the strategy of divide and rule are steeped in British political tradition and its effects, as black people know only too well, can be devastating.
Was Abbott right to point this out in a discussion with a journalist about the definition of the ‘black community’ the day after the Lawrence verdict? Absolutely.
Should she have avoided the imperfect medium of twitter? Definitely.
Is she a racist? Don’t make me laugh!