Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she “will not be silenced” after Labour MPs accused her of using her heritage and experience of racism to “gaslight other minority communities”.
In an escalation of a bitter race row that began in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests over the weekend, several opposition MPs from BAME backgrounds have warned Ms Patel that her response to the demonstrations risks undermining the concerns that have been raised by black communities.
Their message to the home secretary came via a letter sent by shadow minister for community cohesion Naz Shah, co-signed by a number of Labour colleagues from ethnic minority groups.
Ms Patel shared the correspondence on Twitter, saying she was “sad” to have received it and “will not be silenced” by those who have criticised her.
She tweeted: “Sad to have just received this letter. 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 also criticised the toppling of a statue of slaver Edward Colston in Bristol, saying it undermined the protests.
When challenged by Labour’s Florence Eshalomi earlier this week as to whether she does “actually understand the anger and frustration felt by so many people” in the UK, Ms Patel recounted her own experience of racism.
Ms Patel rejected claims the government does not understand racial inequality and recalled being called a “P**i” as a child in the playground.
She told the Commons of other experiences she has had of racism in the UK, and warned that she would “not take lectures” from opposition MPs over the issue.
In response to Ms Patel’s comments, the Labour MPs said in their letter: “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.”
The MPs called on the home secretary to “reflect on your words and to consider the impact it had towards black communities in the UK trying to highlight their voices against racism”.
Ms Shah also posted on Twitter: “Shared feelings allow us to show solidarity not gaslight other minority communities.”
“The only silence we don’t need is inaction,” she added, as she called on the government to implement the recommendations of recent reports into the justice system and Windrush scandal.
“If #Blacklivesmatter then don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk,” she continued.
Responding to the Labour MPs’ letter to his fellow cabinet minister, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Of course Priti Patel was not wrong to talk of her personal experiences of racism.
“I’ve seen this letter and I abhor this divisive identity politics that’s being levelled at Priti Patel.
“I’m incredibly proud to be part of the most diverse government in history.”
He added: “We don’t think there’s such a thing as the wrong type of BAME, we think that people are equal.
“And that’s what we need to see as a society.”
During Monday’s exchange between Ms Patel and Ms Eshalomi in the Commons, the home secretary was told that “black lives matter and we need to see this government doing something about that”.
Ms Patel said the Labour MP had “effectively said that this government doesn’t understand racial inequality”.
She continued: “Well, on that basis, it must have been a very different home secretary who as a child was frequently called a P**i 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.
“A different home secretary recently characterised in The Guardian newspaper as a fat cow with a ring through its nose – something that was not only racist but offensive, both culturally and religiously.”
Ms Patel continued: “This is hardly an example of respect, equality, tolerance or fairness.
“So, when it comes to racism, sexism, tolerance for social justice, I will not take lectures from the other side of the House.
“I have already said repeatedly there is no place for racism in our country or in society.
“And, sadly, too many people are too willing, too casual, to dismiss the contributions of those who don’t necessarily conform to preconceived views or ideologies about how ethnic minorities should behave or think.
“This, in my view, is racist in itself.”
Race and Revolution: Is Change Going to Come?
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