There must be no hierarchy of Racism
I was genuinely saddened to see the letter from Diane Abbott MP in last weekend's Observer.
While of course I disagree with a great many of her views, I had a soft spot for Diane Abbott as a person, and you don't have to agree with a word she says to recognise that she has often been the target of an unacceptable amount of disgraceful racist abuse.
So it is incomprehensible to me that Ms Abbott should have put her name, even as a "first draft sent by mistake" to such an atrocious letter.
She has, of course, subsequently apologised, withdrawn her comments and disassociated herself from the letter. The Labour party has still suspended her - and was right to do so.
It is almost incidental that the letter was historically illiterate in the excruciating ignorance it displayed about the victimisation inflicted on Jews, Travellers and Irish people. What is worse is that it appeared to suggest a sort of hierarchy of oppression whereby those with black skin suffer "racism" while those with white skin such as Jews, Irish people, and travellers only suffer "prejudice."
Let's leave aside for the moment the fact that there are Jewish people and travellers who have black skin.
Let's also leave aside the many details which Diana Abbot got wrong in her letter - she was wrong, for example, to suggest that no Irish people were enslaved during the era of the slave trade, in fact thousands of Irish people were shipped over the Atlantic as "indentured servants" who were for all practical purposes slaves. And wrong to suggest that not being allowed to sit in certain areas of buses was an experience that blacks went through but not Jews, when the Nazis didn't allow Jews onto buses at all.
The fundamental problem with the entire thrust of the letter, which is why saying it was an "early draft sent by mistake" just does not work as a defence, is to suggest that the prejudice suffered by white people, and she specifically included Jews, Irish people and Travellers, is, quote "not the same as racism."
To change how you respond to people according to the colour of their skin is the very definition of racism.
As Lord Danny Finkelstein, who is Jewish and whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, has pointed out,
The same is true of things which, to our shame, have happened here in Britain.
Within living memory, Irish members of my family looking for accommodation were turned away by establishments displaying signs which read "No Blacks, No Irish."
I simply do not understand how anyone with more intelligence than a goldfish can suggest that when those who ran those establishments put up on the same sign, the same ban, displaying the same bigotry and imposing the same unfair disadvantage, against two groups of people; that they were applying "racism" against one group identified by the sign but only "prejudice" against the other.
The Transatlantic slave trade was one of the worst examples in history of man's inhumanity to man. No reasonable person should try to defend it. Nor the racism which went with it and followed it.
The Barbary slave trade was also one of the worst examples in history of man's inhumanity to man. No reasonable person should try to defend that one either.
Both had millions of victims who suffered kidnap, enslavement, savage beatings, horrendous mistreatment, and in many cases mutilation and death.
Between these two massive atrocities, the predominant skin colour of the perpetrators and victims were largely reversed. That does not make either slave trade more or less evil. Both were horrendously evil. What it demonstrates that whatever the colour of your skin, in history you might have been powerful or powerless in different times and places and you might have become a perpetrator or you might have been a victim, of slavery and of racism.
Given the particular horror of the Holocaust, the genocide which the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews in particular and millions more people from other races and groups they didn't like, one of which was Roma Travellers, to try to construct a hierarchy of racism and then for two of the victim groups whose suffering you try to downgrade to be Jews and Travellers, is not just wrong, but incomprehensible.
The lesson from all this is that racism is wrong whoever it is directed against - and no hierarchy of racism, persecution or prejudice is helpful. Any such hierarchy will only serve to divide the victims of prejudice and if that helps anyone, it will be the persecutors.