Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

Diane Abbott and the trouble with the ‘hierarchy of racism’

(Credit: Getty images)

The radical left have a new favourite phrase: ‘hierarchy of racism’. This is when one form of racism is treated more seriously than another. Such racial favouritism infuriates online leftists. It is anathema to the noble cause of anti-racism to elevate one ethnic group’s suffering over another’s, they cry. All racism is bad, they’re forever reminding us.

But here’s the thing: they only ever use that phrase ‘hierarchy of racism’ when it’s anti-Semitism that is being talked about. I guarantee that every time you hear a Corbynista or some other virtual radical bemoan the treatment of certain kinds of racism as more concerning than others, it’s because anti-Jewish hatred is in the news.

It’s like a tic they have. Someone dares to pipe up about anti-Semitism and the Pavlovian cry goes up: ‘Why are you creating a hierarchy of racism?’ Labour takes action against the anti-Semitic scourge that infected the party in the Corbyn years and they instantly rage: ‘What about other forms of racism?’ A Jewish public figure talks about the venomous hate he or she has experienced and swarms of Very Online leftists will bark: ‘And what about Islamophobia? And anti-Palestinian racism? Why are your experiences more important?’

Abbott’s unhinged letter to the Observer has caused a political firestorm

That the accusation of building a ‘hierarchy of racism’ is only ever made against those who speak about anti-Semitism should make us very wary indeed of this fashionable new phrase. It increasingly feels like a left-wing version of the hard right’s feverish belief in the idea of ‘Jewish privilege’. 

Where right-wing racists are convinced that Jews enjoy special advantages in Western society, left-wing identarians are convinced they receive special treatment in the discussion about racism. Both sides promote the toxic theory that Jews sit atop a ‘hierarchy’, whether of wealth and privilege or of political sympathy for their suffering.

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