Priti Patel has clashed with a group of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) Labour MPs who accused the Home Secretary of using her Indian heritage to cast doubt on black communities’ experience of racism.
She said she “will not be silenced” by the 33 MPs who wrote to Ms Patel, accusing her of having used her own experiences of prejudice to “gaslight” the “very real racism” faced by black people in the UK.
The exchange on Thursday came after the Home Secretary told of the racism she has herself suffered and said she would “not take lectures” on prejudice in the House of Commons earlier in the week.
Sad to have just received this letter.— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) June 11, 2020
I will not be silenced by @UKLabour MPs who continue to dismiss the contributions of those who don't conform to their view of how ethnic minorities should behave. pic.twitter.com/gBhLvtKKwt
But she was accused of having sought to “silence” the black Labour MP Florence Eshalomi, as the Labour MP called for action from the Government to tackle discrimination.
Shadow minister Naz Shah and other Labour MPs, including Ms Eshalomi, Diane Abbott, Tan Dhesi and Rosena Allin-Khan, to question Ms Patel’s attitude towards Black Lives Matter protests.
“We write to you as black, Asian and ethnic minority Labour MPs to highlight our dismay at the way you used your heritage and experiences of racism to gaslight the very real racism faced by black people and communities across the UK,” they said.
“Our shared experiences allow us to feel the pain that communities feel, when they face racism, they allow us to show solidarity towards a common cause; they do not allow us to define, silence or impede on the feelings that other minority groups may face.
“Being a person of colour does not automatically make you an authority on all forms of racism.
“In conclusion, we ask you to reflect on your words and to consider the impact it had towards the black communities in the UK trying to highlight their voices against racism.”
Gaslighting refers to the act of psychologically manipulating someone to doubt their own experiences.
BAME Labour MPs tell Priti Patel to stop disagreeing with them.— James Cleverly (@JamesCleverly) June 11, 2020
They champion diversity of race in politics but not diversity of option. https://t.co/Wm6lU6abqK
Ms Patel published the letter on her Twitter account, saying she was “sad” to have received it.
“I will not be silenced by @UKLabour MPs who continue to dismiss the contributions of those who don’t conform to their view of how ethnic minorities should behave,” she added.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock backed Ms Patel, and hit out at the “identity politics” of her Labour critics at the Downing Street coronavirus briefing.
He said he was proud to serve alongside ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Alok Sharma and “all the rest” of the BAME ministers.
“Of course Priti Patel was not wrong to talk of her personal experiences of racism,” he added.
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said it was “shameful” for Labour “to bully using someone’s race”, adding: “In an attempt to score party political points, they legitimise using race as a weapon to attack others.”
Former chancellor Sajid Javid said the letter was “utterly misguided and irresponsible”.
“Imagine listening to an ethnic-minority woman’s history of suffering racist abuse – and then deciding that you’d rather condemn the victim than her abusers,” he added.
But shadow minister Chi Onwurah, who also signed the letter, denied they were trying to silence Ms Patel, and added: “We all need to give each other space to speak out to our experiences, without dismissing them.”
During the Commons exchange on Monday, Ms Eshalomi called on Ms Patel to “act now” to resolve “structural inequality, discrimination and racism” as thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand change in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Labour MP for Vauxhall asked the Home Secretary if she does “actually understand the anger and frustration” felt, and whether she wants to see action from the Government.
Ms Patel replied: “Well, on that basis, it must have been a very different Home Secretary who as a child was frequently called a P*** in the playground, a very different Home Secretary who was racially abused in the streets or even advised to drop her surname and use her husband’s in order to advance her career.
“So, when it comes to racism, sexism, tolerance for social justice, I will not take lectures from the other side of the House.”