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Badenoch’s trivialising of racism may make her Tory leader. But at what cost?

The Tories’ response to Frank Hester’s racist comments must signal a turning point for the country

It’s time for Kemi Badenoch to stand up for Black women. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/WPA Pool/Getty

Dear Kemi Badenoch,

Last weekend, I wrote a fairly measured piece for the New European about your response to the racist comments and violent speech by a major donor (and still donating) to your party against Diane Abbott.

I ended it this way:

 “When I was a kid, we played a game called ‘Live in the Other Person’s Shoes’. It was meant to be an empathy creator and what you did was spend some time looking at the world through another person’s eyes.

“So imagine this world. You do not drive, so you walk everywhere and/or take public transport. But you’re scared to do that, afraid that some stranger might say something nasty to you; throw something at you; hurt you. Or worse.

“You get text messages from people you don’t know, get these messages on a daily basis, day and night, deriding your clothing; your voice; your opinions and thoughts. Your very person. And your right to exist.

“That, minister, is the world of Diane Abbott MP. And she has told us this time and time again. So I ask you: is living like this OK by “the only Black person in the cabinet” (your words)?

“Come on Kemi, state the obvious: that your major party donor is a racist and what some call a purveyor of “misogynoir – hatred of Black women. And as a big star in your party, make sure that he’s gone.

“Not just for Diane Abbott’s sake. But for your own. And those coming after you. 

“The Commons Speaker ignored Diane Abbott 40 times when she tried to stand up to speak about her ordeal, her very world; what she’s going through. The price of it. Why didn’t he let her speak?

“Ask him, Kemi. For all of us. For you.”

That was the crux of the original piece. But before I turned it in, I saw you making the rounds on TV regarding the remarks of this major donor to your party.

I suppose you had to do this. Go out there.

As minister for women and equalities, it would have looked rather odd, to say the least, if you had not been visible, there to speak about a matter that you agreed earlier was racist. But one you now deem to be “trivial”.

Bored already? That “trade deal” with Texas occupying your mind?

BTW, having been born and raised in America (and I flipped burgers in my day while getting through university, like you did), you don’t make a trade deal with an individual state. Only the House makes trade deals with foreign countries. But I digress.

Kemi, I thought I would write to you because my Nigerian “brother-from-another-mother” calls me “Egbon”. And your Nigerian origins tell you where I am speaking from.

You need speaking to. In public.

My mother was a Black woman. And so is yours. What you have done, in not issuing a full-throated condemnation of this man (can’t bring myself to write his name) from both a personal and ministerial position: is to render it OK to make a violently racist comment.

You have made it OK to say these things about any Black woman. Even. You.

By the way: yes, I am a Labour voter and yes, I will be voting Labour at the next election.

And no, I don’t always agree with what Diane Abbott says or her political stances. But she is the doyenne of Black women MPs, of MPs who are women of colour (even of you). She’s in the history books. Now.

Two MPs, one from your own party, have been murdered in broad daylight, in front of people, and someone says an MP “should be shot” – I don’t care when it was said – and you say that is something we should “move on” from?

You have an obligation. It says so on the tin: “Minister for Women.”

Be there for us Black women. Let your party know that this guy’s statements are not acceptable, not on your watch.

If you do not, you have made a mockery of your job title.

You have rendered it into some Trumpian quagmire, some MAGA UK cesspool. Your reaction may end up helping to make you leader of the Conservative Party in the fullness of time, maybe even the first woman PM of African descent. But at what price?

You’ve been called something like a “racial gatekeeper” by some, but I don’t buy that. I think that you believe that what you said about Hester’s remarks being “trivial” and “we have to move on” – or words to the effect – to be true.

In doing so, you have put a target on the back of all of us Black women in public life; and those smart enough not to be in public life.

Smart because they do not have to deal with the contradiction of you.

You, who are on paper, somebody to celebrate; somebody to listen to.

Instead, with your cavalier attitude; your “tra-la-la” stance on the matter: you actually shame all of us who stand in front of mics; who write for papers; who comment. Who are in public.

Believe it or not, most Black women – and I think that I can say this – would be automatically protective of you in your position; with your profile. Even if we don’t all think alike; are alike.

That’s because we have a shared history; a shared experience. You have it, too.

It is living within the inheritance of a majority culture that believes that we suffer very little to no pain – physical, mental, emotional. That we’re tough, and hard. That we don’t cry.

You know better.

So be a leader. Stand up. Tell your party to oust Frank Hester and all like him.

You have the power. Now take the glory.


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