UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has taken a defiant stand and said she will not be “silenced” by the Opposition Labour Party MPs who accused her of using her Indian heritage to “gaslight” the “very real racism” faced by communities in Britain.
The Indian-origin Cabinet minister had referenced her personal experience of racist abuse while growing up as an ethnic minority in the UK during an impassioned statement in the House of Commons earlier this week.
A group of 12 ethnic minority Labour MPs, including Indian-origin MPs Virendra Sharma, Tan Dhesi, Preet Kaur Gill, Valerie Vaz, Seema Malhotra and Nadia Whittome, wrote to her on Thursday to say that “being a person of colour does not automatically make you an authority on all forms of racism”.
“We write to you as Black Asian and Ethnic Minority Labour MPs to highlight our dismay at the way you used your heritage and experiences of racism to gaslight the very real racism faced by Black people and communities across the UK,” the MPs write.
Gaslighting refers to a form of psychological manipulation where seeds of doubt are planted against a particular idea.
Patel responded by making the letter public on Twitter, with the message: “I will not be silenced by @UKLabour MPs who continue to dismiss the contributions of those who don’t conform to their view of how ethnic minorities should behave.”
Addressing the House of Commons on Monday, a day after violent clashes between Black Lives Matter protesters and police officers, Patel had condemned the violence perpetrated by a minority of protesters who would face justice.
Questioned by an Opposition Labour Party MP on whether the minister fully understood the “anger and frustration” felt by anti-racism demonstrators protesting against the brutal killing of African-American George Floyd in police custody in the US, Patel retaliated with references to her own experiences.
The minister, born to Gujarati-origin parents who fled Uganda for the UK when dictator Idi Amin expelled Asians from the African country in the early 1970s, said: “On that basis, it must have been a very different Home Secretary who as a child was frequently called a Paki in the playground; a very different Home Secretary who was racially abused in the streets or even advised to drop her surname and use her husband’s in order to advance her career… so when it comes to racism, sexism, tolerance or social justice, I will not take lectures from the those other side of the House.”
In their complaint letter, the group of 12 Labour MPs demand that Patel “reflect” on her words and the impact it had towards black communities in the UK.
“Structures of racism, hatred and equality have many layers and therefore, whilst it is true, there are some experiences of racism that we all face, there are also some experiences of racism that we all do not face,” reads the letter.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock spoke out in support of his Cabinet colleague when asked about the row during the daily Downing Street briefing on Thursday evening.
“I abhor this divisive identity politics that’s being levelled at Priti Patel. I’m incredibly proud to be part of the most diverse government in history. We don’t think that there’s such a thing as the wrong type of BME [black and minority ethnic]. We think that people are equal,” he said.
Fellow Indian-origin Cabinet colleague Alok Sharma also extended his support via Twitter, to say: “I stand with Priti”.
Pakistani-origin Conservative Party colleague and former UK Chancellor and Home Secretary Sajid Javid also spoke out in her favour as he branded the Labour Party’s letter “utterly misguided and irresponsible”.
“Imagine listening to an ethnic-minority woman’s history of suffering racist abuse – and then deciding that you’d rather condemn the victim than her abusers. All because she doesn’t fit your stereotype,” he said.
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