In a recent column in the Guardian, Tomiwa Owolade drew on survey data to argue that Britons too often assume that racism is an issue of “black and white,” thus ignoring widespread bigotry against Jews, Travellers (a people similar to the Roma), and the Irish. The Labor parliamentarian Diane Abbott responded with a letter to the editor, criticizing Owolade for conflating “prejudice” and “racism.” Her argument continued thus:
It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil-rights America, Irish people, Jewish people, and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.
Once the letter was published, Abbott quickly disavowed it, and was promptly suspended by her party. But the letter was revealing, as Brendan O’Neill writes:
The idea that a ginger kid being called “carrot top” in the playground is similar to the “prejudice” suffered by other “white people,” including Jews, is one of the worst cases of anti-Semitism minimization I have seen in a very long time. If Diane Abbott cannot tell the difference between a ginger being mocked for his hair color and an entire people being branded an inferior species, like the Jews were, then she has clearly lost the moral plot even more than we thought.
Abbott’s letter, mad as it was, is of a piece with identity politics. This was less the rantings of a woman on the edge than a pretty faithful articulation of what passes for “anti-racism” today. The supposedly radical left has been completely corrupted by the divisive creed of identitarianism, which is less about fighting for genuine racial equality than about sorting human beings into boxes marked “oppressed” and “privileged” and judging their moral worth accordingly.
One of the most perverse consequences of this hyper-racial politics that masquerades as progressive is that Jews have been rebranded as “white,” and thus “privileged,” and thus incapable of experiencing racism. This has led not only to the minimization of anti-Semitism in the present, but also to the minimization of anti-Semitism in the past.