Fighting for unity means fighting against racism – Diane Abbott

“The fact that successive governments have done little or nothing to address [institutional racism] is a marker of how unresponsive they have been to the most egregious and deadly forms of discrimination.”

By Diane Abbott MP.

The evidence of widespread, deep-rooted and longstanding institutional racism is all around us. Everywhere, that is except in the speeches and policies of ministers, and the ‘research’ they have commissioned.

Their research is a whitewash and is widely and justifiably derided. Except by ministers. For them, the denial of the existence of institutional racism has a twofold effect. First, naturally it means they have excused themselves from any responsibility to tackle the issue, which they have declared non-existent. But secondly, and more perniciously, it allows them to persist with policies that are themselves racist and even to worsen them.

You only have to see how asylum seekers are treated in this country and the appalling conditions where they are detained. The RSPCA and others would be intervening vigorously if animals were kept in similar conditions. And the media flow of sympathy for Afghan refugees has been closed tight ever since their delusions of Britain ‘going it alone’ in Afghanistan were shattered.

Black Maternal Health Awareness week is just coming to an end. It is necessary to raise awareness in this area because Black mums are four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than their peers, twice as likely to experience stillbirth, and have a 50 per cent greater likelihood of experiencing neonatal death.

These are issues which have not suddenly arisen. The fact that they are chronic problems is by itself an indicator of institutional racism in the health care system. The fact that successive governments have done little or nothing to address it is a marker of how unresponsive they have been to the most egregious and deadly forms of discrimination. It also shows that raising these issues is not, as frequently claimed, divisive. The division arises from the discrimination and racism. Raising the issue is an attempt to heal divisions in the only way they can be healed, through the struggle for equality.

Of course, these two issues are not the sole or even main issues indicating the level of racism in British society. But they are very current ones. Anti-racist campaigners and others will readily testify that there is a virtual spinning-wheel of racism currently, which switches from attacks on refugees, discrimination in public services, increased stop and search, attacks on prominent Black campaigners, support for racists, ‘culture wars’ over the legacy of Britain’s colonial past, to excusing racists and racist behaviour sometimes on the grounds of ‘free speech’.

The background to this is the enormous toll being exacted on the population as whole through the illness and death caused by the government’s failure to tackle the pandemic effectively, and the huge attack on jobs, pay and conditions that have followed it. 

Within all of this Black and Asian people have had to bear by far the biggest burden both in terms of public health and the attack on living standards. If we are to fight back against this government on any of these issues, we must be united. Unity means fighting the divisions this government is deepening.

  • Diane Abbott is a former Shadow Home Secretary and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. You can follow her on twitter and Facebook.
  • This article is reproduced from the Labour Outlook Autumn update, read it in full here.
Diane Abbott speaking at a Windrush demonstration in London. Photo Credit: Labour Outlook Archive.

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