Recent press coverage about Kate Osamor choosing to stay in her council home has caused a social media storm, but as Ava Vidal writes, it’s not just the right being critical, and that presents a double standard and potential danger
The furore surrounding the revelation that Kate Osamor lives in social housing is another reminder of how this world likes to control black people. Unfortunately the institutional racism that pervades society can not only be seen on the right, but also the left on this issue. We all know how it manifests itself on the right, but many are not so familiar with how it manifests itself on the left. Let me explain.
I am much less engaged with politics these days for this very reason. I used to be involved in performing at Stand Up 4 Labour and JC4PM shows, appeared on Newsnight and other political television shows and wrote articles for various newspapers. I noticed the insidious racism in these circles straightaway, but what was more disturbing was the fragility on display anytime I dared to mention it.
“We’re the ones on your side. If we’re so bad then go and hang out with the EDL then. This is so divisive. What the left needs right now is unity”
It appears the white left’s unity is mainly for the white, cisgender, heterosexual members of their community and no one else. When Bob Crow (RIP) was being crucified by the right for choosing to remain in a council house despite earning £145,000 a year, the white left elevated him to superhero status. He said he had no intention of uprooting his family from their friends they’d had for thirty years, he was born in a council house and would die in one. He also said to move would mean others would accuse him of abandoning his working class roots.
In fact, at the time I never personally saw any criticism of him from the left on this issue. What a hero! Proud of his humble upbringing, stayed true to his roots and defended working class communities. I am sure some of them printed out his words and sang them to the tune of My Old Man’s A Dustman. And I agreed with every word he said. However when Kate Osamor tweeted:
“On Christmas eve, I will always remember that nearly 30yrs ago I was a homeless single mum who secured a tenancy to my home. Everyone deserves a home for life. I remain proud, not ashamed, to be in social housing.”
I could not help but notice that the reaction from many of those same people was somewhat different. They don’t go all out and attack her by calling her names but instead they dress their prejudices up as concern such as:
“Kate has done so well for herself, I respect her greatly but she simply must hand her keys back into the council. She’s depriving someone else who may desperately need a home.”
Some were even kind enough to dig out the statistics detailing the amount of homelessness in Kate’s constituency.
“Troublingly, the people that defended Crow are not there in the same numbers for Kate Osamor and there is an uncomfortable reason for the difference in the two stances. And that is that many, including those on the left, don’t view black people as a part of the working class even though the overwhelming majority of us are”
Unless you’re out in Edmonton every week feeding the homeless and handing out blankets then I am guessing you’re not as pressed about the issue as you’re making yourself out to be.
Troublingly, the people that defended Crow are not there in the same numbers for Kate Osamor and there is an uncomfortable reason for the difference in the two stances. And that is that many, including those on the left, don’t view black people as a part of the working class even though the overwhelming majority of us are. We are separate; we are ‘other.’ Kate’s not sticking to her working class roots because for many they are not her roots. She is a black woman that was handed a favour.
And now that they have allowed her to do well for herself, she must show gratitude to those that believed they’re partly responsible for her success by obeying them. They’re acting as though she was given a mobility scooter after an injury and despite being fully recovered she insists on still whizzing up and down Fore Street in it knocking the poor and vulnerable out of her way. They’re not calling her racist names but they are ‘shocked’ and ‘disappointed’ in her.
In 2015 Maya Goodfellow then talking about Diane Abbott but just as applicable here, said:
“Ultimately the treatment of Diane Abbott – of which this is a mere snapshot – tells us what we need to know about race, gender and radical politics in the UK. A black woman who challenges the status quo and won’t apologise for doing so will always be judged unfairly. Because too many subconsciously feel it’s not up to people “like her” to be the voice of opposition.”
But it’s not just at this end of the scale that black people are punished. We are punished for having both too much and too little. Left wing racial enforcers won’t be happy until we are living our lives just right. Kate is living in a council flat, how dare she? Diane Abbott sent her son to private school, how dare she?
They will wring their hands about how Diane chose to educate her only child but refuse to listen to us recount how difficult life can be for black children in mainstream education. How many of them are put into the lower tiered classes, unfairly labelled and disproportionately suspended and expelled? Yet privately educated Tony Benn who put his children into private school (prep school is still private school) is still seen as a left wing hero.
“Diane knows more about working class struggle than Tony Benn ever could because she lived it. But this is dismissed. The white left would rather hear platitudes from a privileged white man”
Compare Tony Benn’s upbringing to that of Diane’s – the former was privately educated and attended Oxford University, the latter is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants who went to state school and still managed to get a place at Cambridge University against all odds. Her teacher who didn’t believe a black girl could produce work of such a high standard on her own once accused her of cheating on an assignment. They don’t call her racist names but wring their hands and ask with furrowed brow “Can you really be considered working class after attending Oxbridge?”
Diane knows more about working class struggle than Tony Benn ever could because she lived it. But this is dismissed. The white left would rather hear platitudes from a privileged white man – such as Owen Jones, also a middle-class Oxford alumni (If he calls council estates ghettos one more time…) – than listen and learn from a black woman’s real lived experiences because what could you possibly learn from her?
Tony Benn was allowed to privately educate his children without the left withdrawing the whip and if he hadn’t he’d been even more of a hero. See also Jeremy Corbyn – a long time ally of Diane’s who has a voting record almost identical to hers. But because Diane who we learned from a recent study gets the most online abuse of any British woman, chose to educate her son the way she saw fit without consulting those who believe she was handed her opportunities, she has been consistently demonised. But there’s no racism to see here.
“This is not just limited to politicians. In another uncomfortable example, Lewis Hamilton referred to the area he grew up in, Stevenage, as a “slum”. People were outraged. How can he refer to that predominately white area as a slum?”
We even see it on the other side of the pond. Obama was heavily criticised for accepting money for speeches despite every single ex-President doing exactly the same thing. Some are even calling for his presidential pension to be withdrawn. The attitude is ‘we allowed this black man to serve as President for two terms and instead of shining shoes on a Chicago street corner for the rest of his life, he acts as though he’s equal to all the other white men that have been in The White House. How dare he?’
This is not just limited to politicians. In another uncomfortable example, Lewis Hamilton referred to the area he grew up in, Stevenage, as a “slum”. People were outraged. How can he refer to that predominately white area as a slum? It is hardly Hackney or Brixton pre-gentrification. How dare he speak about that area in that way? They even went to find his former babysitter to prove that he had not had it so rough after all
I am not going to get into a discussion about whether Stevenage is a slum or not. But have you ever seen journalists call anyone else out so hard for making a comment about their own upbringing? Compare and contrast this to the myriad of black stars that have grown up in poor black areas. Does anyone ever get offended when black stars are said to have “risen from the ghetto?”
Look at the reaction to John Boyega coming from Peckham. If he had referred to it as a slum would there be this amount of fuss and people demanding he apologise? Nope. Photographers would descend on Peckham, taking photos of black boys outside chicken shops and tower blocks to show how far he had come.
The crux of it is this: Black People are supposed to be grateful for being allowed into white spaces, but must not become a voice for that space, be it the Labour Party or Stevenage. When we achieve success, our expenditure is to be monitored and controlled, from Meghan Markle to Raheem Sterling, to the people on Facebook who make snide comments about how much your holiday or new car cost.
And this brings us back to Kate Osamor. The amount of high profile people attacking her is terrifying, including those that consider themselves “left-wing”. “Immoral”? Really? These people have thousands of followers on Twitter and have been whipping up a lot of anger towards her by accusing her of” taking a home from a poor person that needs it”. Her home has been photographed and her address revealed.
We live in a time when female MP Jo Cox was murdered on the streets of Britain. If you’re on the left and about to write to me to tell me that I am wrong, don’t. Use that energy to support Kate. If not, just say you hate black people and go.
Editor’s note: Following publication of this article, it quickly became one of our most read articles of the 2018 and the author received an overwhelming number of comments, which she has responded to in a follow up article.
Ava Vidal is a stand-up comedian, journalist and author. She has appeared on TV and radio including shows such as Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, BBC Radio 4′ s News Quiz and BBC Two’s Mock the Week.Follow @thetwerkinggirl