Following her article on Kate Osamor and the furore over her council home, Ava Vidal responds to the overwhelming number of comments she has received on social media, and asks if the outrage is proportionate.
Since writing my article “Kate Osamor and the insidious and dangerous racism from the left” my Twitter mentions have been on fire. I have written for various publications on a broad range of topics for over fifteen years now and only once before have I had to write a response to my own article. Today is the second time.
For those that do not know the story I will give a brief outline of the background of this case. Kate Osamor became the Labour Member of Parliament for Edmonton in 2015. She was appointed Shadow of Secretary of State for International Development in June 2016. She is a working class woman that overcame her struggle with dyslexia to graduate with a degree in Third World Studies. She did this whilst raising her son Ishmael whom she gave birth to at the age of 21.
After graduating she remained politically active and was involved with the trade union Unite whilst working for the NHS. Her mother Baroness Martha Osamor is a Labour peer in the House of Lords as well as a popular political activist and civil rights campaigner. Kate’s story is an inspirational one. Perhaps I am biased as someone that was a young mother myself but I appreciate what she has achieved because I know the struggle. This woman beat all the odds and made a success of her life.
In October 2018 it was revealed her son Ishmael who had been employed to run his mother’s office reportedly on a salary of £50,000 a year had been caught trying to smuggle drugs into Bestival in Dorset. The haul that included ketamine, cocaine, MDMA and cannabis was said to have a street value of £2,500. After he was established that he had no intention of selling the drugs but had been going to share them with his friends he was spared jail and instead given community service and told to pay a fine.
“There is not a parent alive that doesn’t dread the idea of one of our children being embroiled in a scandal that would cause us major embarrassment. Our kids are our hearts with legs and arms attached and we send them out into the world with bated breath and hope to God some of the wisdom we tried to instil in them has been taken on board.”
Labour leadership and Kate initially denied knowing about the case but it was later revealed that she had written to the judge beforehand asking for leniency. For this she and her son have been constantly hounded. Reporters have been camped outside their home for hours and when it was recently reported that the property was in fact social housing owned by Haringey Council there were many demonising her for “taking a property that could be used to house a homeless family” whilst earning a £77,000 a year MP’s salary. When I wrote that she was under no obligation to hand back the keys to the property as being an MP is not a stable occupation and London house prices mean she wouldn’t be able to afford to remain living in the same area, there was outrage from some who insisted on conflating issues. What about her son? Ok, we’ll talk about her son.
There is not a parent alive that doesn’t dread the idea of one of our children being embroiled in a scandal that would cause us major embarrassment. Our kids are our hearts with legs and arms attached and we send them out into the world with bated breath and hope to God some of the wisdom we tried to instil in them has been taken on board. And when they mess up, we do our best to clean up after them. Supporting them publicly doesn’t mean you don’t have to fight the urge to drop kick them across the room the minute the front door is closed.
Kate is in the unenviable position of being angry with her son and also having to protect him from the merciless press and public. And we won’t get into how many of these ‘outraged’ people have used (or still use) drugs themselves. This nation of alcoholics needs to have an honest, adult conversation about drugs but that is for another time.
Kate Osamor and Jeremy Corbyn
There are many people out there that are refusing to acknowledge that racism has played a role in the treatment of these people. For a start it is worrying just how many of these commentators can’t seem to tell black people apart. “Stop playing the race card!” is their universal cry. She’s a criminal that was recently convicted for perverting the course of justice. Except she’s not. That was a different black woman. A story about Kate was accompanied by a photograph of Fiona Onasanya, yet another black female MP. And many online sources have reported that Kate was Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. She wasn’t. That was Dawn Butler, another black woman entirely.
“Imagine if it was a Tory!” they cry in indignation. Yes ok let’s do that. But we don’t have to, because Gary Younge pointed out the difference in the way that black women are treated in comparison to their white male counterparts.
“She threatened to beat up a journalist!” Except that’s not the whole story. Can you imagine the fear of having men pound on your door at all hours of the day and night that don’t even identify themselves? But many don’t see black women as being vulnerable. I wonder how many of those criticising Kate for eventually lashing out still speak about the horrific treatment Princess Diana received at the hands of the press?
“It seems to me that people are outraged that the system that has benefitted white people for years has actually been used to benefit a young black man and this has destabilised many. What does this mean? If the system starts to benefit black people then what will happen to white people? When you are accustomed to privilege then equality seems like oppression”
I was “papped” after the death of my eldest child last April and I know from experience these people don’t behave honourably. They will swear and call you names in hope of producing a picture of you reacting angrily or in tears. The death of Princess Di and The Leveson Inquiry seemed to make them behave for no more than a few weeks then it was back to business as usual.
Assata Shakur once described the level of fury directed towards her was due to the fact she was a “20th Century Runaway Slave” and this came to my mind when I look at the treatment of Ishmael and Kate. The incandescent rage of those commenting on this story is barely contained. If you do a quick search on Twitter and you’ll see he has been described as her “convicted drug dealer son, criminal, druggie” and much more including racist names. It’s not unusual for the celebrities, politicians and their families to receive more lenient treatment than that of a layperson. Does it always garner such anger and sustained harassment? No. What is the reason for this disparity?
It seems to me that people are outraged that the system that has benefitted white people for years has actually been used to benefit a young black man and this has destabilised many. What does this mean? If the system starts to benefit black people then what will happen to white people? When you are accustomed to privilege then equality seems like oppression is the old saying. The fear and hate for this young man and his mother is not rational.
If you hold a black person to a higher standard of behaviour than you do a white person, then that is racism. Plain and simple. But this is more complex as many black people are angry with Ishmael too. That is because many of us know that this double standard exists. Many of us are furious that this great black woman was brought down because of the actions of her son. I understand the anger towards him. But I would encourage us not to participate in this because by doing so we are inadvertently supporting the institutionalised racist structure that holds so many of us back. This young man is not a criminal. He made a mistake. And the courts recognised this.
Even so, it was made sure that he wouldn’t walk away from this unscathed. His face has been splashed across the Internet and newspapers for weeks and it will follow him for the rest of his life no matter what career he decides to have. Unlike children of white politicians that were caught out in similar scandals such as Will Straw and Euan Blair who have both been left alone to carve out successful careers. How many people could recognise either of these men if you tripped over them in the street? I couldn’t, but I could spot Ishmael from 50 paces away. So many young black men are not afforded a second chance and are the recipients of harsher sentences and punishments so I am not upset that common sense prevailed here.
Make no mistake; I am not here to beg for either Kate or Ishmael’s humanity here. I learnt a long, long time ago that to try and beg for mercy from people that desire to oppress you is futile. I’m merely here to shine a light on the hypocrisy of their critics. Kate and Ishmael will get through this. I hope this doesn’t damage what was obviously a close relationship. And I also hope she will be back on the shadow front bench and eventually a government minister. Because that is where she is needed.
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