By Adefela Olowoselu
Instead of accepting that racism is a fact, white people often take offence when minority groups call them out for racism. This is wrong.
The episode of Politics Live that was aired by BBC2 on March 5th was titled, “How can labour recover lost voters?”. During the episode, Jo Coburn hosted MP Laura Trott (Conservative), MP Dawn Butler (Labour) and other guests discussed the question.
By the end of the episode, I had a bad taste in my mouth due to how the conversation developed, and how the panel dealt with one of Butler’s points in particular.
Coburn had quoted Ian Murray’s claim that for Labour to be electable to Tory voters, ‘Conservative narratives need to be played to Conservative voters to win the voters over.’ In Butler’s rebuttal to this, she claimed that Labour will campaign and recruit to build trust on a local level with non-voters. She then stated, ‘We don’t have to go on the Conservative narrative which is often racist…we don’t need to go on the divisive policies in order to win our votes back.’
Butler was interrupted by a sigh of disagreement from LBC broadcaster Nick Ferrari and a claim from Trott who just found it ‘…extremely offensive that you call the Conservative narrative racist. I just think that’s rude and offensive.’ When asked what Conservative narratives are racist, Butler replied, ‘Your Prime Minister.’ Once again, Ferrari sighed and Trott claimed, ‘That is outrageous… It undermines political discourse in general if you’re coming on here and calling the Prime Minister racist.’
The issue with this scenario is the panel’s (excluding Butler) failure to recognise that identifying something as racist is far less offensive than being called racist, as this should never be classified as outrageous and awful; unless of course, the claim is genuinely inaccurate.
Yet this isn’t the case here. The panel’s refusal to understand Butler’s point is extremely insensitive to the genuine experiences of minorities in the UK, as it exemplifies how privileged groups exercise the right that they do not have to dictate what racism is to those experiencing such discrimination, especially in a manner as overt as Johnson’s.
Despite Butler’s reminders of the racist and offensive words that PM Boris Johnson has said about Muslim women in Burqas and black people, the panel failed to understand her point as Ferrari classified the PM’s word choice as ‘Unfortunate,’ and Trott simply continued saying, ‘It’s absolutely awful.’ Despite Butler asking three times, ‘Has your Prime Minister not been racist?’ Trott and Ferrari completely insisted that he has not.
The desire to focus on Butler’s statement rather than the direct quotes and proof of racism from Johnson is worrying, as it demonstrates a lack of care exercised by Parliament for the treatment of unjustly targeted demographics in the UK. During the discussion, Butler implored, ‘When there are divisive terminologies used by the person at the top, in Number 10, that is bad for our country.’ And this stands as true. Failure to accept the racism that Johnson has spewed from his position of power demonstrates a lack of racial accountability on behalf of the Conservatives.
We must be watchful in our society, here on campus, when it comes to the effort that we put into hearing people’s perspectives and experiences. Do not allow a subconscious bias to control how much you listen to others, and the extent to which someone can plea to your reasonable side. Being called racist is nothing compared to experiencing racism. It is not an outrageous offence – it is a fact, and the last thing than one should do is deny this fact rather than employ honesty and accept their shortcomings.