Diane Abbott and the case of the N-Word
“Diane Abbott shocks viewers by using the N-word on GMB”- The Sun
“Kids are watching”. Diane Abbott says ‘n****** b**** live- Daily Mail. (shouldn’t these kids be at school in the morning anyway?).
These are just some of the headlines over the past few days the “outraged” media has published over Diane Abbott detailing her abuse on live TV. Growing up in the midst of the social media phenomenon it is no secret that online abuse, bullying and ‘trolling’ exists. This kind of abuse is able to thrive because of the alleged security the attackers feel from behind a screen. As Diane Abbott mentioned in a parliamentary debate in June of this year, the rise of social media “turbo-charged” the abuse of MPs that had always taken place, she herself was sadly all too familiar with online abuse over social media.
In case you didn’t know, Diane Abbott was elected to Westminster City Council in 1982 as MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington in 1987. She was the first woman from an African Caribbean background to become an MP. She is an intelligent, educated, seasoned politician, and she has much to show for her thirty years in politics. I have personally been inspired by the work of Diane Abbott and her ability as a black woman to successfully time and time again manoeuvre the white and male-dominated halls of Westminster. However, along with those such as myself who are empowered by the work of Diane Abbott, there are those who seek to belittle her achievements through disgusting racist and misogynistic abuse. Diane detailed the horrific nature of it when addressing parliament, “I’ve had death threats, I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung if ‘they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight’… I’ve had rape threats…and nigger, over and over and over again.” It is sickening and completely undeserved.
I have seen more outrage over Diane Abbott and her use of the word nigger on live morning television (broadcasting regulations aside) than I had during the election when she received the abuse. Where was the outrage when a shocking report was released by Amnesty that put the online abuse of female politicians into figures?
The Amnesty report was published by Human Rights researcher Azmina Dhrodia. It unveiled the stark torrents of abuse received by female politicians, particularly Black and Asian MPs. It found that Black and Asian female MPs were sent 35% more abusive messages than their white counterparts. The report analysed a sample of data from January 1st to June the 8th. This sample did not even include the tweets that had been deleted nor were there any from accounts that had been to be suspended or disabled. Just imagine how many more tweets there were bound to be. When you look at these figures the true reality of the levels of abuse directed at these women of colour who work so hard to improve the lives of their constituents becomes clear.
The abuse itself did not have anything to do with her competency as a politician, she went on to win 75% of the total count in her constituency during the election an increase of her majority. Yet, Diane Abbott received almost 50% of the total Twitter abuse directed at female MPs during the election and almost one-third of all abusive tweets. 10 times more than any other individual MP in the six weeks before June 8 vote. That is an incredible proportion of online abuse to receive. The fact that a majority of it was racist, misogynistic and derogatory exposes far deeper issues amongst those in Britain that many still side-step and continue to passively and impassively ignore. When this is fuelled by disgusting and (unfortunately) popular twitter trolls such as Katie Hopkins who continue to unleash a torrent of abuse on Diane Abbott and coupled with the fact that the mainstream media was more concerned with Diane’s use of the word nigger on live TV than they were of the actual abuse itself, the racist nature of this online abuse will never be properly addressed and tackled. The reaction highlights a significant problem. One with the sheer amounts of disproportionate online abuse along racial lines to female MP’s and two with the reaction of mainstream media to the abuse.
Munroe Bergdorf was right. Her comments about systemic racism and her call for white people to be aware of their unconscious racism were blown out of context by certain mainstream media papers, which led to L’Oréal Paris UK dropping her from their “diversity” campaign. Munroe has now been hired as the new face of Illamasqua (I know where I will be buying my mascara from now) but this exposed another layer of the racist machine that still exists in this country that many in Britain simply did not want to acknowledge. Racism is inherited consciously and unconsciously through white privilege.
When it is deemed more important that the word nigger be protected from the ears of listeners than it is when it is hurled online at a politician, that is privilege. Many stayed silent when the abuse was at its height and now many are shocked to hear it directly from the victim’s mouth. The forefront of the topic now is that Diane used “nigger” on live TV, sidestepping the issue of the racist abuse itself. But many in Britain seem to be very good at sidestepping racist issues focusing more often than not on the protection of white feelings. As if it is to be forgotten that British history is drenched in racist chapters and continues to seep through today and ignored when people of colour bring this to light.
Diane Abbott is an incredible woman and her bravery and astute dedication in the face of racist and misogynistic abuse is only to be admired. I hope that a significant inquiry and change is made as the months go on, not only concerning the online abuse but also concerning the reactions of mainstream media and their focus when it comes to racism. It is not acceptable, and racism should not be sidestepped and overshadowed by white guilt, white complicity and white feelings anymore.