Amber Rudd, when talking about the abuses women in politics face, described Diane Abbott as ‘coloured’. Moments later, she tweeted ‘Mortified at my clumsy language’, as though her rapid apology would be enough to sweep away a word that has not been in common vernacular for a long time. What is unclear to me, is how Rudd can describe this as ‘clumsy’, as opposed to offensive, terrible, inexcusable, or in fact anything other than a kooky slip-up.
‘Clumsy’ suggests that this is a word she would use in other circumstances, that it is a word in her vocabulary, to be used somewhere that is, perhaps, less public. The word ‘coloured’ has been offensive for a very long time, and if those from generations back, from areas with less diversity, in situations and careers far less public, can recognise that this word is backwards, that it doesn’t, really, make any sense at all, then why can’t the Secretary of State?
This ‘slip-up’ speaks to the culture of subtle racism that is rife in the government at present. The body we have elected to speak for us, a diverse population, should be held accountable for racism, anti-Semitism, and presuming that a tweet is an acceptable apology for using a word that has fuelled hate-crimes here for decades. It appears that, the more wrapped up the nation, and our government, becomes with Brexit negotiations, the more casual racism is being allowed to slip through the net, un-repented, not least of all Labour’s unresolved anti-Semitism.
Perhaps it’s having so much distraction that is allowing people to get away with such things, or perhaps people have just stopped caring about the implications of their language. Or maybe it speaks to the discussions being had in parliament surrounding Brexit, regarding people who have lived in Britain for a very long time, but who it seems are going to have to pay to have their status in their long-term-home reviewed. Though I could be spiralling, it is a cause for concern that the Secretary of State would accidentally use a word so heavily loaded with racism – a word that wouldn’t even come to the minds of most people in the first place.
MPs are people too, they make mistakes, but the kinds of mistakes that are normal-people mistakes are forgetting to iron your shirt, dropping a cup of tea over an important document. The ‘mistakes’ that have been passed off as MPs being ordinary people in recent years, have involved this use of the word ‘coloured’, and Boris Johnson’s ‘clumsy’ affirmation that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing journalism in Iran, leading to her further imprisonment. If the people we have elected to represent us, to make decisions for us that we aren’t educated to make, are making ‘mistakes’ this damaging, then how are we supposed to be comfortable with allowing them to make the enormous Brexit-deal decisions surrounding the homes and jobs of hundreds of thousands of people who call the UK their home?