We need to talk about Priti Patel. Specifically we need to talk about what happened to her last week. In an emotional statement in the House of Commons, Patel talked about some of the racist abuse she has experienced, from being called a 'P**i' in the school playground to being depicted as a cow with a ring through its nose in the Guardian. (Patel is a Hindu, and the cow is a sacred symbol in Hinduism.)
She did so in response to the claim made by Labour MP Florence Eshalomi that the government doesn't understand the problem of racial inequality. After recounting her run-ins with prejudicial hatred, Patel said: 'I will not take lectures [on racism] from the other side of the House.'
How did the supposedly anti-racist left respond to Patel's comments? Did they offer her solidarity as a victim of racism? Did they cheer her for bravely discussing some of the racist bile that has been thrown her way?
No. They mocked her. They insulted her. They accused her of 'gaslighting' black people and essentially told her to shut up about her personal experiences. It was, to my mind, one of the most disturbing, and revealing, things we have seen from the contemporary left in recent times.
Let's consider the seriousness of this: an MP talked openly about the racism and sexism she has suffered and she was told to pipe down, to stop being manipulative, to know her place, essentially. The Labour MP Nadia Whittome was first out of the gate. She accused Patel of using 'her identity as an Asian person to silence Flo Eshalomi as a black person'.
A group of Labour MPs, led by Naz Shah, followed up with a letter chastising Patel. They expressed their 'dismay' at Patel's comments, accusing her of 'using' her 'heritage and experiences of racism' to silence the discussion about racism against black people.
They went so far as to suggest that her words could harm minority groups: '[W]e ask you to reflect on your words and to consider the impact [they] had towards black communities.' So when someone like Patel talks about her experience of racism, she causes distress to certain ethnic groups. There's only one thing for it: shut up, woman.
That letter was shameful. There is no other word for it. Just imagine if Diane Abbott made a statement in the Commons about the disgusting racist abuse she receives (and she receives a lot) and a bunch of Tory MPs wrote to her accusing her of 'using' her identity and warning her not to be so self-centred in future. There would, rightly, be fury and anger for days. And yet this is done to Patel and no one bats an eyelid. Some of those on the left severely reprimand an Asian-heritage woman for talking about her experience of racism and we're expected to think this is normal behaviour.
How can this happen? How can the experiences of a prominent ethnic-minority woman be so publicly and cavalierly pushed aside? I think there are two reasons.
The first is because Patel is from an Indian background. And, tragically, it looks like some on the left want to do with Indians what they have already done with Jews: redefine them as 'privileged' and therefore less deserving of support than other ethnic-minority groups, such as black people and Pakistani Muslims. This is a poisonously divisive agenda, almost a kind of woke communalism, which pits communities against each other — blacks vs Indians, Muslims vs Jews — at a time when we should be trying to unite the country around shared values.
The second reason Patel is so ruthlessly targeted by the left is because she is their worst nightmare: an ethnic-minority woman who refuses to conform to their view on racial issues and who rejects the fatalistic idea that Britain is a systemically racist country in which you have to be white to succeed.
Nothing winds up the woke set more than an ethnic-minority person who refuses to sing from their hymn sheet. It's the same with Munira Mirza, director of the policy unit at No10. People are going mad today about the fact that Mirza is playing a key role in setting up the commission on race and ethnic disparities that Boris Johnson announced on Sunday.
The fury over Mirza's role stems from the fact that she has dared to question the contemporary left's view of racism. She doesn't believe Britain is an institutionally racist country. She is critical of the 'culture of grievance' that encourages ethnic-minority groups to conceive of themselves as permanent victims being held back by unassailable structures of hatred and prejudice.
In the eyes of some, Mirza's questioning of the ideology of victimhood makes her a race traitor. Like Patel, she stands accused of failing to think and behave in the way ethnic minorities should think and behave. That's the dark irony of the rage against dissenting ethnic-minority figures. It is itself motored by a racist belief that all BAME people should share the same worldview, and that if they deviate from this worldview then they must be cast out; they will no longer be 'real' BAME people. This is utterly dehumanising, as racism always is. (For the record, I know Mirza and she has written for my magazine, spiked.)
There are others, too, who fail the PC test of being a good BAME person. There's the brilliant Kemi Badenoch, who frequently commits the speechcrime of saying Britain is a very good place to be a black or brown person. There's Trevor Phillips, of course, cast out of mainstream left circles for questioning whether every problem facing ethnic-minority communities really is caused by racism. All have received flak for breaking away from the racial conformism outrageously demanded by sections of the left.
We are witnessing the rise of a kind of woke racism: a belief among certain political activists that they have ownership over ethnic-minority groups. We should cheer Patel, Mirza, Phillips and others for challenging this deeply patronising idea and for speaking freely and honestly about life in Britain. I have no doubt that a majority of Brits would find these people's stories and beliefs far more inspiring than the dead-end racialism of the increasingly negative left.