Diane Abbot was the first black woman elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament in 1987. Bridget Minamore’s article on The Pool outlines clearly and succinctly “racism and misogyny explains why there are so few black women in politics.” Minamore details Abbott’s experiences of misogynoir (the intersection of racism and sexism) as an example of the challenges all black women politicians face “all Members of Parliament (especially the female ones) get online abuse. But still, I’ve never seen a white female MP get abuse at the scale Abbott does.” The online abuse Minamore’s article focuses on isn’t from your average, backwater troll. It is public figures “journalists who write about her and her parliamentary peers” and so confident are they in the acceptance of misogynoir by the British public, they do not even seek the protection of anonymity online trolls enjoy.
One of the tactics adopted to discredit the left-wing Labour Party during this snap General Election, called by you lot’s walking question mark of a Prime Minister tresemmé, has been to double down on the anti-black woman rhetoric so prevalent in this country and aiming it squarely at Diane Abbott. Jeremy Corbyn appointed Abbott Shadow Home Secretary in 2016 and should Labour win the election of June 8th she will become responsible for all the dealings of the Home Office including security and terrorism, the department’s legislative programme and expenditure issues, a role Abbott denouncers curiously forget was previously held by Theresa May. This is an important role one which after the terrorist attack in Manchester has come into stark contrast. Voters want to be assured the person responsible for country’s security is a trustworthy individual. Thus, right wing publications, news pundits and Members of Parliament (even the odd Labour MP *cough* Jess Phillips) use any and all opportunity to disseminate information to their supporters about how “unfit” Diane Abbott is.
The function of the deliberate and concerted effort to focus the brunt of negative media on Diane Abbott is to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign by alternative means. Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity has surged in the last two weeks because the Prime Minister’s “I’m too good to debate my opponents” stance has backfired spectacularly. Tresemmé thought the General Election would be a cake walk in the wake of the Labour Party’s vote of no confidence in Corbyn post Brexit. Unfortunately for wannabe Iron Lady, he has been able to connect with the British people and galvanise youth voter registration. At the very least people are sympathetic to Corbyn’s necessary role as the opposition leader so to avoid alienating those who admire his defiance, the focus shifted to Abbott- a target who would fulfil the need in every election to have a villain. “Diane Abbott is putting people off voting Labour” reads the headline of an article that claims the very “thought of Dianne Abbott becoming a government minister” is to blame for those who will not vote for the Britain’s left wing party because of mistakes she made in one interview about the cost of putting more police on the streets.
The problem is the construction of Diane Abbott as a villain relies on British animosity towards her identities as both a black person and a woman. Her poor performance in interviews would be eventually forgiven and explained away were she a white man but the subtly of British aversion to blackness and womanhood have been too tempting to leave the tf alone for those who’d simply burst into flames without the ability to share (and be praised for sharing) their racism, sexism and misogynoir so we are forced to watch as Abbott is lambasted for things white politicians do and get away with.
Dusty face Julie Burchill couldn’t get a paragraph into her unseasoned, tasteless article “Did Jeremy Corbyn forget to unlock Diane Abbott’s talent” before her “dirty mind was irresistibly drawn to the story told in the recent biography of the Glorious Leader of how he ‘showed off’ a naked Diane Abbott to the rest of Chess Club…” Burchill is referring to claims made in Rosa Prince’s Corbyn biography “Comrade Corbyn” which The Guardian referred to as a “spiteful analysis with no grasp of left wing politics.” The reports of the decades old relationship worked to feed into the common, historical black jezebel stereotype which dirty dish rags like The Daily Fail felt they could now freely apply to Abbott. Burchill will swear up and down she isn’t a racist but the glee, which all but falls from the page when recounting details of a relationship she was never a part of or affected by, speaks to the sexualisation of black women used as a weapon against Abbott who has served in public office for the last thirty years. The protection whiteness affords white women means journalists like Burchill wouldn't dare dream using the historic sexual history of a white woman MP to frame an article criticising policy that had nothing to do with the candidate's potential department.
Most recently, statements Diane Abbott made that Britain was “fundamentally one of the most racist nations” in 1988 incited fury in “journalists” at The Daily Mail’s illiterate cousin The Sun. Dredged up by permanent Sunken Place resident MP James Cleverly (his surname is merely a question), the Tory Token claimed her comments proved Abbott “doesn’t really like Britain or British people.” Stephen Bush for The New Statesman makes quick work of identifying the possible reasons why Diane Abbott would make the statement and identified Britain’s inability to come to terms with its role in the perpetuation of the racism here and abroad. The cognitive dissonance affecting those desperate to prove how inclusive and post-racial Britain is has taken hold so strongly they print stories and post tweets motivated by racism so transparent even white people can see it and call it out. Britain and its empire were not established by spreading peace and love; the conquering of nations was achieved through the use of terror and violent colonialisation and this country needs to come to terms with its blood soaked history and stop pretending Abbott pulled this truth out of the sky.
While the right wing blow their dog whistle and incite those fearful of how the Home Office would be run by a black woman, they wilfully neglect to inform and remind the electorate it was their beloved leader who, in her role as Home Secretary for six years, hobbled the police with deep cuts to funding rendering them incapable of doing their important work uncovering terror suspects. Cuts which in March before the terrorist attacks on Manchester and London were used to warn the government of the perilous state police forces were left in. Their unrelenting propagation of misogynoir works to deflect attention away from the disastrous Tory Manifesto which will leave the rich richer and the poor more vulnerable. You cannot walk ten minutes in Central London without seeing homeless people, let down by draconian austerity measures enacted by the current government and yet they attempt to harass Diane Abbott into silence and invisibility when it is now more than ever we need human beings in the forefront of British Politics not robots like tresemmé so heartless she sent Amber Rudd to take Ls for party two days after her father died. Toni Morrison said “the function of racism is distraction” and the purpose of the constant ridiculing of Diane Abbott, the aggressive dedication to the sullying of her character by which Nick Ferrari called into question her “mental faculties” is to cement the Conservative hold on power. The degradation and humiliation of Diane Abbott is not because she’s a “bad politician” because there are plenty of those, it is because she is a black woman and the use of misogynoir is no more than a game to these people. One they’re happy to play as long as they win.
I’ll be part of a panel for #VOTEINNIT tonight. It would be great to see you there.