Is it deeply offensive to lambast a black or an Asian person for not being “black” or “Asian” enough? Yes. Is it offensive to assume that someone black or Asian criticising the politics of another black or Asian person is motivated by such sentiment? Yes.
Last week, the Conservative MP Neil O’Brien blundered into the latter under the guise of defending his black colleague, equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, from the former. Badenoch had tweeted screenshots of two private right-of-reply emails the black journalist Nadine White had sent her, accusing her of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour for putting to her claims made by a source.
This triggered a torrent of abuse directed at White. There is no question that Badenoch has faced unpleasant racism, but that does not excuse her behaviour towards White, a journalist doing her job, nor her undermining the confidential right-of-reply process that is critical to accurate journalism.
That did not stop O’Brien weighing in to try to justify Badenoch’s behaviour. In order to do so, he misrepresented White’s work and conflated her journalism with some of the abuse Badenoch has received on Twitter that has accused her of being a “race traitor”, which has nothing to do with White. All this tends to depict White’s journalism as being motivated by a belief that Badenoch, as a Conservative, isn’t truly black.
He didn’t stop there: he also accused the Labour MP Naz Shah of “straight up racism” for claiming that the home secretary, Priti Patel, was gaslighting ethnic minorities by talking about her own experiences of racism. Again, O’Brien misrepresents what happened to give the impression that Shah’s critique of Patel is motivated by a belief that her politics make her less Asian. What actually happened was that the black MP Flo Eshalomi asked Patel a question that referenced her experiences of anti-black racism and the structural racism of policies such as those behind the Windrush scandal.