Racism and the ugliness of Britain’s increasingly diverse politics

Suella Braverman's official portrait as home secretary.Photo: Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street. CC BY 2.0

The irony is palpable. It took a British Pakistani female politician to call out a British Indian female politician’s “racist rhetoric”. Conservative Party politician Sayeeda Warsi has denounced Suella Braverman, home secretary in the government run by Ms Warsi’s party.

Ms Warsi, who is Muslim, said Ms Braverman’s allegations about British Pakistani men could embolden racists and incite attacks. As home secretary and a trained lawyer, she said, Ms Braverman should use words more carefully.

She makes a good point. Some weeks ago, Ms Braverman said groups of “vulnerable white English girls” were being “pursued and raped and drugged and harmed by gangs of British Pakistani men who’ve worked in child abuse networks”. There were, as Ms Warsi has noted, no caveats, no care to protect innocent people whose ethnicity may leave them exposed. Ms Warsi, who served as Britain’s first minister of South Asian origin, knows a thing or two about racism, politics and language that either reaches across divides or exacerbates them. She isn’t far wrong when she says Ms Braverman’s attitude to one ethnic group is couched in extreme language, which is deliberately divisive.

In fact, just how divisive can be gauged by the way support or condemnation of Ms Braverman’s comments is stacking up.

Ms Warsi is against them. Presumably, there are many Muslim politicians (especially of Pakistani origin) who are against them. Just days ago, several  Muslim organisations wrote to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Ms Braverman’s boss and head of the most diverse cabinet in British history, to express “deep concern” at his home secretary’s “irresponsible and divisive rhetoric”.

Scores of white British politicians and media outlets have been appalled by Ms Braverman’s remarks. In The New European’s latest issue, which dropped on April 13, Paul Mason’s evocative piece is titled ‘The vindictive ecstasy of Suella Braverman’s theatre of cruelty’. Mr Mason asks a pertinent question: “So how did British politics, which used to pride itself on equanimity, become a spectacle of anger aimed at carefully chosen, powerless targets – from the small boat refugees to, now, the British Pakistani community, who are collectively slandered as hosting paedophiles?”

How indeed?

By playing the same old divide and rule game, except that those who’re doing it aren’t white.

Ms Braverman’s comments have been supported by UK Sikh and Hindu faith groups. A joint statement was issued as a letter, signed by crossbench peer Lord Singh of Wimbledon. It praised Ms Braverman for “courageously speaking out about the over representation of British Pakistani men in sex grooming gangs”. While adding that it is “false to label all Pakistani Muslim men as groomers”, the statement declared that politicians should not “allow political correctness to stifle obtaining justice for victims by addressing the actions of a minority”.

Ms Warsi says it’s not about political correctness but the need for caveats and responsible language from a politician who holds one of the high offices of state. And writing in The Guardian, Ms Warsi  noted the need to not be squeamish about calling out racism, no matter the colour of the person at fault. She says: “Braverman’s own ethnic origin has shielded her from criticism for too long…If we are going to start to have honest conversations, let’s start by saying this – black and brown people can be racist too.”

Well, quite.

It’s hard for white people to tell black and brown people that they are racist. But we know they can be. We’ve heard them. The problem with black and brown racism is that all too often, it can be dressed up as something else.

Also read:

Diversity and Anglosphere: Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman run a familiar show