How the ‘victim card’ backfired on Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black female MP

The UK’s first black female MP, Diane Abbott, has been suspended from her position pending an investigation after comments she made in a letter to the Observer in which she made some rather fruity remarks about who qualifies as a victim of racism. 

Abbott made the comments in response to an article penned by journalist and author Tomi Owolade called Racism in Britain isn’t black and white, it’s much more complicated where 

Owolade argues that travellers, Irish, and Jews were also capable of being victims of racism. 

In the piece, which was published in the Guardian, Owolade references a UK survey which found that 40% of “white Irish people” reported experiencing “some form of racist assault in their lives.”

Abbott took exception to the comments saying that while these groups “undoubtedly experience prejudice” this did not equate to racism saying  that “the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.”

This writer has heard that argument before which claims that any mistreatment aimed at a white person is ‘prejudice’ and not ‘racism’. 

It is difficult to see how a position like this is not equivalent to the belief that it is more or  less wrong to mistreat human beings based on their skin colour or ethnic origins – in other words the assertion just sounds like plain old racism. 

I left South Korea due in no small part to issues related to racism, I regularly saw foreign people (including white folks) being discriminated against. I didn’t like it and knew I couldn’t change it in any meaningful way, so I left. 

This is not to say that South Korea is an awful place, it isn’t. But it’s also not somewhere where I felt welcome or valued – beyond my ability to teach as a native English speaker. 

Walking down the road minding your own business, taxes paid, and law abiding, there’s just something really unsavoury about people calling you ‘wae-gug-in’ (foreigner) or being stared at on public transport. 

Sitting down to a meal after a long day chasing after little kids and suddenly hearing the topic of conversation of the neighbouring table turn to comments about foreigners just gets old.

Some restaurants in South Korea refused service to foreigners during the covid pandemic and randomly erected signs that read, ‘No Japan’, are not something I want to see. 

During the covid lockdowns the Seoul Metropolitan Government demanded that all foreigners, regardless of how long they had been in South Korea, be tested for covid 19 because – as with other maladies – there was a perception that foreigners were the chief spreaders of coronavirus.

‘Little things’ like having to pay admission fees that were free to Koreans and having creepy men frequently ask my female friends and I if we were Russian (see why here) just got annoying and made the struggle to learn Korean and assimilate seem kind of pointless. 

Having seen so many other foreigners mistreated in this way over four years, suggestions that it’s not possible to be racist towards white people seem really ignorant, to put it mildly. 

The UK is perhaps one of the least racist places,  and one of the best to be black as I’m reliably informed by an avid sports fan who pointed me in the direction of horrid examples of racially motivated abuse from France where a black rugby player was offered a banana in a Secret Santa circle. 

While some people are undoubtedly racist, the endless categorisation of human beings as race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and whatever other box those involved in the oppression olympics can manage to pole vault themselves into for social or political gain is also quite frankly exhausting. 

Abbott said that, “It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice” she said, adding “But they are not all their lives subject to racism.” 

I’m no historian, and anyone with a thirst for knowledge on varied aspects of Irish history might defer to the work of my colleague Dr. Matt Treacy, but I don’t really see a comparison to the discrimination experienced by the many Irish who ventured overseas and ‘ginger jokes’. 

In a recent example of mistreatment of Irish folks across the water, former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Niall Ring made headlines after he claimed that his son and he were victims of a racially motivated attack at a hotel in London. 

Abbott’s black people being “all their lives subject to racism” makes it seem as though she believes black people are always and everywhere subjected to abuse. This I find hard to believe. 

If the UK was indeed a racist society that mistreats people of colour -as Abbott and her ilk seem to think – why would a person like her good self find themselves in the position of MP for the Labour Party?

I don’t believe many racist political manifestos would mention allowing people of colour to run for public office. 

Indeed Abbott’s position  seems to be rather strange considering the current political landscape in the UK. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is of Indian racial descent as is Home Secretary Suella Braverman, and the First Minister of Scotland, Humza Yousaf, is Pakistani. 

In 2020, Yousaf seemed to have had a bit of an issue with so many “white” people being in power in Scotland.


Think for a moment of the official reaction if the word ‘white’ was replaced with ‘black’, ‘brown’, or ‘Asian’…. 

According to data from Scotland’s 2011 Census, 5,084,407 of the country’s 5,295,403 population were white. 

49,381 of respondents reported Pakistani origin so in terms of Yousaf’s complaint, it’s probably fair to say it makes sense that the majority of public representatives – in a country where the vast majority of people are white – are white themselves: one would have thought that was obvious enough. 

 Abbott’s claims that Jews are not subjected to racism in the same way or to the same extent as black people are are frankly bizarre. 

 A brief perusal of recent world history would likely point one to the actions of an Austrian man by the name of Adolf Hitler who seems to have held exceptionally racist views towards the Jewish race leading to the extermination of several million of them during the Holocaust.   

These comments came at a time when the Labour party was recovering from a storm of controversy over claims of ‘tolerating antisemitism’ which came about under former leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In this latest scandal, advisor to the UK government on antisemitism, Lord John Mann, has called on Abbott, who has apologised for her remarks, to resign. 

Perhaps it is worth asking why, at a time in history when we are frequently reminded of the wrongs of the past, Abbott and those with similar beliefs feel it is appropriate to try and establish a special category of victimhood? 

Surely wrong is wrong regardless of skin colour as we are all equally human.  

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