Response to Stephen Kinnock MP

Dear Mr Kinnock,

Following your Tweet to me, I wanted to respond but 140 characters was not enough and I doubt we frequent the same curry houses to have this conversation face to face.

As a ‘BAME’ member of the Labour party from a family who have voted Labour for over five decades, I find the recent dangerous race-based rhetoric from you (and some others in Labour) deeply offensive.

Since you made the statements (which I have also listened to so was not based upon a tweet), you wrote an article which you invited me to read. Unfortunately, in this article, whilst you acknowledged your comments caused a reaction, you failed to understand why and made the assumption people misunderstood you, only to confirm the reason many were so frustrated and vexed by your comments to begin with were right to be so. It even at one stage had the ‘I’m not a racist, I have Black friends’ insinuation, where you spoke of your school days.

I truly believe the reaction you got has surprised you, I even believe it has upset you. But it has upset me too and yet again, as a BAME member of this party I have to feel undervalued and have to defend my right to have the needs and issues faced by people from my background heard. BAME members of the Labour party are not here to make our leaflets look colourful, we are here because Labour is a social mobility movement based upon the values of equality and we are facing inequality. We are here because via Parliamentary power, we can make steps towards equality. Our progress as a party in achieving steps towards equality is not our weakness, it is our strength and should not be halted to stop further damage.

There is so much wrong with what you have said and continue to state it is hard to pick just one. So I’ll narrow it to six points;

Firstly, your comments confirmed for me no matter how loyal ethnic minorities in the UK are to Labour, they’ll always be given up for a public flogging to falsely reassure some sections in society they are being protected when really they are being deceived by the creation of a faux social construct of an imaginary sub-class which enable those at the bottom to believe there is another group of people below them are after what they have.

Immigrants as scapegoats has long been the shield of choice of failing politicians who wish to hide their inability to solve many of the issues facing society and to divert attention that those failures have been intentionally or incompetently created by them.

Ethnic minorities in the UK clean our streets, nurse in our hospitals, drive our buses and look after our elderly. Ethnic minorities in the UK teach in our schools, are Doctors in our NHS, are Solicitors in our criminal justice system, are Journalists on our news channels. Ethnic minorities are even MP in our Parliament, sit on our front bench and are in the Lords. We contribute, we earn our keep, we pay our taxes and still we can never be equal but you call for ‘assimilation’.

Secondly, it unclear about who it is you are talking about when you speak of ‘immigrants’, it covers such a broad category of people. Do you mean people like me, born here but the daughter of immigrants? Do you mean refugees and asylum seekers? Do you mean people here who from the EU? Do you mean those who come here to study? Do you mean the hundreds of thousands here from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand? Do you mean the non-EU immigrants predominately (according to Home Office stats) from India, Nigeria and Pakistan?

Who do you mean?

Despite the hundreds of thousands of American, New Zealander, Canadian immigrants in the UK, the culture with people from these countries (due to colonisation) are already assimilated in ‘western culture’ – so there is a calculated assumption you are referring specifically to immigrants with cultural differences or your calls for assimilation would make little sense.

This highlights that your concerns about immigration stem further than just economic, but also encompasses cultural fears that is the basis of Xenophobia.

Sadly it makes no difference who you meant – because as the comments in response to your Labour List article demonstrate; when my brother gets bottled in the back of his head for being an immigrant – they thought you meant him. When my aunt is spat on the street for being an immigrant – the thought you meant her. When my neighbour has her hijab ripped off her head – they thought you meant her. When my local Mosque gets sent white powder through the post as a death threat – they thought you meant them. When young men like Ricky Reel, Stephen Lawrence and Arkadiusz Jóźwik get killed on our streets – they thought you meant them.

The comments in response to your Labour List article are vile – but that is the door you opened.

I am deeply sorry that you lost your dear friend Jo Cox – she sounded like an amazing woman. This is probably what has angered me the most, that you lost someone close to you after they were killed by a neo-Nazi fascist, and the danger of anti-immigrant sentiment did not make think twice about the impact you could have. Discussing immigration, race and identity should not be a no-go area, but it should be done with some degree of capability.

The threat of neo-Nazi, far right and fascist attacks is something most Black and Asian people have to think about every-day, it’s a natural instinct built in our sub-conscious so deep, it has become a normal part of our psychology. When I go to a new place, I recognise straight away if I am the only non-White person. When I walk into a pub and see the England or Union Jack flag, I have search the room for any other person of colour to confirm I am in a safe space – once seeing a picture of Bob Marley on the wall gave me a sense of security. I’ve never been racially attacked – but I am aware I could be, because it happens daily to people of my skin tone.

What you do, as an MP when you position immigrants as the cause of the socio-economic problems many people are facing is you channel their hate and anger toward people like me, they go into a fight mode for survival as you have confirmed or reaffirmed immigrants are the threat. You legitimise and add creditability to the myth that immigrants are to blame, and you mainstream such views making them acceptable views to hold in our society.

Thirdly, in your speech, responses and article you offered no solution, and this makes your rhetoric even more dangerous and reckless. Simply stating you understand their perception that ‘we’re ignoring them [the majority]’ and that we need to be ‘patriotic’ is not a solution.

Calling UKIP “Isolationists” and “Nationalists” is not going to resonate with people who are facing deep socio-economic challenges – UKIP are blaming the same people you are, but they are giving solid solutions, the problem with those solutions are they are, like Trump’s solutions, drastic, discriminatory and fascist.

When you deceive people into believing they are hungry, they want food. When all you can offer is words (even on a mug) and others are offering burgers, you cannot compete until you are prepared to feed the hunger. Trump seems prepared to feed the hunger he deceived people into believing they had – in fact most fascist dictators have been prepared to.

Fourthly, in your Progress speech you spoke about not being listened to on the doorstep when you speak about the benefits of immigration and this confused me. The benefits of immigration to the UK economy are proven fact – it feels like you’re suggesting that we must be complicit in the deception that this is not the case, so we can be listened to?

It reminded me greatly of the 1980s when section 28 came into force, but my local education authority defied it, and not only continued to teach the existence of homosexuality but went further to promote it. At my school we had protests outside with people leafleting that homosexuals were ‘perverts’. This was not true. This has never been true. It was a perception that a lot of people believed in and we, as a Labour council fought for what was right. That is what Labour does. That is why we are a progressive movement. We do not indulge in injustice just because it is popular. We are prepared to put in the hard work to create the fair and equal society we believe is best for our country.

Your role as a Labour MP is not to echo misinformation and scapegoatism developed to distract the failure of politics. Your role is not to mislead desperate and vulnerable people that ‘clampdowns’ on immigration will improve their homes, job possibilities, income and public services. Your role is not to stir racial tensions in areas that require solutions not additional burdens of social disorder. Your role is promote our vision of an equal, productive and cohesive society where we aspire to eradicate inequality and achieve social mobility.

Fifthly, in your article you spoke of your travelling around various countries and how you assimilated into the cultures of the countries you were in (you did not state which). As a White male, your acceptance and presence in most countries is welcomed, people of my skin tone are not as easily accepted and are not often as welcomed. You can travel anywhere in the world you wish, I have to Google to see if the country has a far-right government, to check what the experiences of other Asian people has been, read the security codes on my boarding pass, shave my legs just before I get on a plane just in-case I am strip searched at the airport.

You cannot have assimilation without ensuring that people of my skin tone are treated with the privileges people of your skin tone have. This is not ‘ignoring the majority’ – this is how you ensure people from whatever background feel part of our society and how you get cohesion and integration.

You have ‘White privilege’ and it enables you to have a different definition to migration and immigration. There are many different types of immigrants, I seriously doubt you went to work and live abroad because you were being persecuted in the UK and had to leave, or that the UK’s economic situation meant you could not find a job or feed your family.

Informing us of your ability to assimilate without acknowledging your privilege cannot be the basis of a truthful debate and only when we agree that there are fundamental differences in experiences of immigrants based on race and country of origin, can we even begin to have the honest debate.

My final point is around this ‘honest debate’ that you [and many other politicians] want to keep having on immigration. There are many Black and Asian people like me awaiting this ‘honest debate’ – we have been waiting for a very long time.

If you want an ‘honest debate’ about immigration, then the debate needs to feature truths about immigration. This is where your speech, subsequent article and entire argument fell short, so short it almost removed the ability to call it a debate on immigration.

I do not expect you do not have to experience immigration from the viewpoint of someone who is Black or Asian to understand it, I do not expect you should be omitted from the ‘debate’ because you have not experienced prejudice from the economic or immigration system – but what makes us Labour is our ability to empathise and fight for the inequality and injustices other are facing.

When I hear Labour MPs talking about ‘controls on immigration’, ‘having a clampdown on immigration’ or ‘tougher on immigration’ – I wonder where the Labour ability to empathise and fight for inequality has gone.

When Asian women came to Britain in the 1970s, they were subjected to virginity testing. Their vaginas were entered to ascertain whether their hymens were still intact, sometimes by male doctors. Did your Dane wife have men insert into her vagina when you married her so she could enter this country? I guess you find this question offensive.

In 1993, when I was 14, Joy Gardner was killed in my hometown, during an immigration raid that saw officers restrain her with cuffs and leather belts, and then gagged her with 13 feet of tape around her head. She died of brain damage after suffocating. This happened in front of her 3 year old son. This sent a clear message that immigration controls for non-White people is similar to pest control.

Amir Siman-Tov; Thomas Kirungi; Pinakin Patel; Rubel Ahmed; Christine Case; Tahir Mehmood; Khalid Shahzad; Prince Kwabena Fosu; Ianos Dragutan; Brian Dalrymple; Muhammed Shuket;  Eliud Nguli Nyenze;  Bereket Yohannes;  Manuel Bravo;  Ramazan Kumluca; Kenny Peter; Tran Quang Tung;  Sergey Barnuyck; Kabeya Dimuka-Bijoux;  Elmas Ozmico;  Olga Blaskevica; Mikhail Bognarchuk; Robertas Grabys; Kimpua Nsimba and Siho Iyiguveni are amongst the names of the 43 [predominately Black and Asian] people who have died in Immigration Removal & Detention Centres (IRCs/IDCs) or deaths of immigration detainees in prisons (England and Wales) from 2004 (Inquest Feb 2016) – less people have been reported to have died in Guantanamo bay in the same period.

In Aug 2015, Nick Hardwick, the Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that Yarl’s Wood detention centre was a ‘place of national concern’, in April 2014 the government refused to let the UN in Yarl’s Wood to investigate violence against women and in June this year the Government refused to disclose how many women had been sexually assaulted or raped inside Yarl’s Wood as “disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests”. Currently there are 3 men on trial for alleged rape of a detainee in Yarl’s Wood. Your MP colleague Kate Osamor visited Yarl’s Wood in Dec 2015 and spoke in detail about what she had witnessed. Your colleague Catherine West MP was denied entry into Yarl’s Wood in Feb 2016.

Sadly nowhere in the ‘honest debates’ about immigration have you acknowledged these facts. Pretending the immigration experiences of Black and Asian people  do not exist is never, ever an ‘honest debate’.

The Labour party cannot continue to take the votes of BAME voters for granted and also ignore the discrimination they face and refuse to stand up for them. Some of us are not just voters, we are also members and we are here to stay – that means trivialising the immigration debate to be about people being unable to speak English, when people are dying in state run facilities will never go unchallenged in our Labour movement. It means when Labour MPs know people are losing their lives both due to immigration in this country and in wider EU still calling for ‘tougher’, ‘tighter’ and ‘stricter’ controls also will never go unchallenged in our Labour movement.

I watched as many people challenged your comments, including people who I would say I don’t agree with normally in Labour politics. I was approached by some people within Progress [albeit privately] who wished for me to know that they disagreed with you and that Progress as an organisation distances itself from your comments – you were only a panelist and not representative of their views. I witnessed people of all classes, backgrounds and from across the UK react to you with a mix of discomfort and anger.

What it told me was, you have misunderstood the very Britishness you suggested we had lost understanding of. British people are tolerant, compassionate and good people – they won’t be manipulated, they will vote for a Black Mayor in Bristol despite the slavery history of their city. They’ll vote for a Muslim Mayor when Islamophobia is at its highest. These are British values and what makes us a nation and a party we can all be proud of.

There is nothing Labour about dumping our values to be more like UKIP. There is nothing ‘patriotic’ about representing British people as Xenophobes.

Maybe it is you that needs assimilating into British culture and values.

Best wishes,

Seema

Ps: Do I need to translate this into Welsh too…?

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10 thoughts on “Response to Stephen Kinnock MP

  1. Martyn Wood-Bevan says:

    Excellent article, thank you. My apologies for having to respond to a rather naive fellow Welshman who has travelled widely but only developed narrowly. We all have much to learn, some of us more than others!

  2. Phil Jones says:

    Thank you Seema
    As a white man, this made me squirm. But, this needed to be said and said again and again. I feel shamed by the party I have voted for all my adult life. I desperately want Labour to stop pandering to the worst in our society in an abject and pitiful scramble for votes at any cost. London and Bristol show that decent, inclusive rhetoric and a platform of seeking to end inequality can win.
    Politics today feels more like a battleground than it has in a very long time. Labour must make a choice as to which side it is on. I will only support a party that defends the rights and freedoms of all (and this must include all immigrants by any definition). I will withdraw my support from Labour until they stand up and speak up for these rights and freedoms.

  3. Mr H (@singinghedgehog) says:

    As a white, middle aged, middle class, minor public school educated man, we are just about as polar as it gets yet I share your anger at Mr Kinnock and indeed the PLP. With the most right wing government in a generation in power I find my views seemingly moving further and further left without actually changing my opinions at all. I want a strong opposition to hold the Tories to account; their policies are not what I voted for and will not vote for next time. Yet, as you so eloquently detail, he, and his colleagues, totally fail not only to represent the views and interests of their voters but also of the wider community of concerned electors. The Government, egged on by Brexit cheerleaders, are trying to hide their petty little Englander mentality beneath a cloak of Britishness. Stephen’s father, in his prime, would have torn into this shallow deception from the despatch box, the soap box and on the box. That the current leadership fails to do so is a betrayal of the values and history of the PLP and of the needs of the country as a whole.

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