CultureGeneralPolitics

The ‘Wrong Kind’ of Woman of Colour

On 7th November 2020, the mainstream media reported that Kamala Harris had been made Vice-President elect of the United States of America. She made history by becoming the first woman, first Asian-American and first African-American to hold the role. Yet the same people who praise Kamala Harris for this are the same people who criticise and abuse Priti Patel (also of Asian heritage), for her tough stance on immigration in the UK. This shows that selective racism exists, and we must call out the hypocrisy.

Kamala Harris & Priti Patel: Who Are They?

In November 2020, the Biden administration was elected into power, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were elected as President and vice-President of the United States respectively. Kamala Harris made headlines as she ‘broke the glass ceiling’, becoming the first woman, first Asian-American and first African-American to hold such a position. One could argue that, as Vice-President, she will become the most powerful woman in the world and the second-most powerful politician in the world (after Biden).

At the time of writing, there is major uncertainty as to the legitimacy of the vote, as many suspect that major voting fraud has taken place. Even so, her candidacy was partly based upon her immutable characteristics; mainly her ethnic heritage and sex. Indeed, in a symbolism-heavy victory speech, she said, “While I may be the first woman in the office, I won’t be the last.” Democrats and left-leaning people across the world celebrated this as a victory, including in the UK.

Priti Patel is currentlyserving as Secretary of State for the UK. She is also a person of colour, like Harris, being of a Ugandan-Indian ethnic heritage. Often attracting attention for her socially conservative views, Patel is known for her tough stance on illegal immigration, vowing to make the English Channel “unviable” for migrant boats. A self-described Thatcherite, she served as an MP for Witham in 2010, and was re-elected in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

She was a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign; she said “[we will be] free from the shackles of the E.U. – and an automatic right of entry for their citizens, with or without work – we will be able to give the type of preference to brilliant scientists, academics and highly-skilled workers that we want to see more of.” Importantly, in 2018 Patel said that she did not identify with the commonly-used phrase BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), because she considers herself to be British first and foremost; finding it “patronising and insulting”.

Kamala Harris: ‘While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last’. Video credit: Oneindia News

Every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.

Kamala Harris, in a victory speech

I will not be silenced by [Labour MPs] who continue to dismiss the contributions of those who don’t conform to their view on how ethnic minorities should behave.

Priti Patel, in a response to a letter from Labour MPs

The Core, Fundamental Differences

Andrew Heywood, in his book Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations says that left wing people are characterised “on ideas such as freedom, equality and progress” whilst the right is characterised by “an emphasis on.. authority, hierarchy, order, duty…”. Therefore, it is no wonder that politically and ideologically, the two women could not be more different. Whilst Harris is a Democrat (left-wing), Patel is a Conservative (right-wing). A case could be made that Patel is the ‘anti-Kamala’. They clearly have different perspectives on life, policies, and identity politics.

An example of this was their respective reactions to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Harris said, “nothing that we have achieved in our country that has been about progress… and civil rights, has come without a fight… I’m always going to interpret these protests as an essential component of evolution in our country, and as necessary”. Patel however, urged the UK public to not take part in the BLM protests, criticising demonstrators for toppling the statue of Edward Coulston, calling it “utterly disgraceful“.

Whilst Harris took full advantage of the momentum built from the idea of a black, Asian and female person in a such a position, Patel is the exact opposite. Patel has been quite defiant in her stance against identity politics. An example of this was in June 2020. Patel was accused of ‘gaslighting minority communities’ by Labour MPs and in response, she shared her own experiences with racist abuse.

MP James Cleverly, pointing out Labour’s hypocrisy in a tweet

She mentioned being called a ‘Paki’ as a child and being advised to drop her surname when applying for jobs. Patel is clearly not a person who is in denial and thinks that racism does not exist; rather she simply does not use it as a tool to her advantage. She does not believe in the compartmentalisation of ideas and opinions based upon skin colour.

Harris on the other hand, as part of the Biden administration, is tarred with the same brush as Biden. In an interview with rapper Charlamagne Tha God, Biden said “if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” As upcoming Vice-President, the two share similar politics.

In a similar incident, talk show host Chelsea Handler (an open Democrat), in a conversation with Jimmy Fallon, said that she had to remind ex-boyfriend and rapper 50 Cent that “he was a black person and he can’t vote for Donald Trump”. This compartmentalisation from Democrats and their supporters is entitled and distasteful; and yet, it is a part of Harris’ philosophy as a Democrat. It’s the philosophy of limitation; a passive aggressive statement from the Democrats, ‘we own you’.

Priti Patel savages the Labour Party. Video credit: The Telegraph

The Hypocrisy of Harris Supporters

For many people on the left, Patel is seen as a ‘sellout’, code for a person of colour who does not conform to a monolithic way of thinking. She has been accused of allowing herself to be used as a cover for racist policies. She has been called a ‘coconut’ (an ethnic slur, meaning white on the inside and brown on the outside) on social media. She has been accused of ‘gaslighting’ ethnic minorities, as if she isn’t one herself. Despite this, her passion and determination to succeed made her the Conservative’s first female Asian MP, a remarkable achievement that she can be proud of.

Why, then, do people on the left call her a sellout? She is a politician and is the first Asian female to hold her position, in the same way Harris is the first Asian female to hold hers. What makes Harris’ achievement more praiseworthy than Patel’s? Considering that many people praised Harris for her immutable characteristics, should they not have similar attitudes towards Patel?

Why is it acceptable to praise Harris for her accomplishments, but not praise Patel’s for hers? They both share similar characteristics, yet one is praised because of those characteristics, whilst the other is demonised. This is illogical and unacceptable.

A victim of Harris’ prosecution past. Video credit: VICE

Ironically, the very people who criticise Patel for being a ‘sellout’ conveniently overlook Harris’ past, which has a lasting and visible legacy to this very day. In a joint agreement between Republicans and Democrats, California endured a harsh, no-nonsense attitude towards crime. There was a major crackdown on crime across the country but California stood out as one of the strictest states, starting from the late 60s and lasting as long as three decades.

Harris, who was a prosecutor during this time and in the 90s, helped to send disproportionate numbers of black men to prison, some of whom were innocent. African-Americans make up just 6% of the population of California, yet account for 29% of the inmate population. Harris has also worked to uphold California’s death penalty.

It is understandable that there are nuances to this, and that her past does not necessary define her today, but there is damage to the black community that she has contributed to. This is not to say that her skin colour should and does determine her opinions on these issues, but many on the left have the idea that your opinions are determined by skin colour.

By their own logic, Harris cannot be any more of a ‘person of colour’ than Patel, due to her past actions and therefore apparent refusal to subscribe to a monolithic perspective. Both groups of women have campaigned against criminals, yet one is praised and the other is racially abused.

Joe Biden received significant backlash for his ‘you ain’t black’ comments. Video credit: The Telegraph, The Breakfast Club

Selective Racism is Harmful

Selective racism exists; this is abundantly clear. It shows that being a person of colour is as ideological and political as it is biological. To many on the left, it’s not enough to be a person of colour; you have to actively subscribe to a way certain of thinking, even if that logic is harmful. There is a metaphorical box, and if you step outside it, you’ll be deemed a ‘sellout’. You will be deserving of all the verbal (particularly racist) abuse you get for not ‘falling in line’, so to speak.

Racism is perfectly acceptable as long as it’s directed towards people who look like you but don’t think like you. For a group of people who describe themselves as ‘champions of diversity’, they seem to have a real issue with alternative perspectives to their own. Diversity of skin colour and sexuality is welcomed and praised, but diversity of opinions and beliefs is strictly forbidden. This is race-reductive, and limits people to a certain opinion. Nothing can be more bigoted or judgmental.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt
Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field. Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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