U.K. Health Minister’s "White People" Comments Highlight Black Identity Issues

Some say the U.K. media should do more research before using the term "Black community."

Posted: 01/05/2012 11:37 AM EST
Diane Abbott

The U.K.’s Black health minister, Diane Abbott, ruffled feathers across the pond recently when she made a generalized statement about whites via Twitter, but although she has since apologized for the remarks, she stopped short of backing down on the larger issue that actually had nothing to do with white people, but the multicultural communities of Blacks that live in the country.

Abbott drew the ire of her fellow politicians and party members yesterday when she tweeted, “White people love playing 'divide & rule. #tacticsasoldascolonialism.”

Instantly following the tweet, Abbott, the first Black woman to be elected to Britain’s House of Commons, was bombarded with charges of racism and even calls for her removal from office from angry ruling party members of parliament and others. Abbott has since made apologies for offending anyone who may have “interpreted my comments as making generalizations about white people,” but she didn’t say that she regrets making the statement or attempt to retract it.

Twitter slip-ups from politicians and public figures are a dime a dozen these says, but Abbott’s was not just an isolated crack on white people, but rather part of a conversation she was having with a journalist about representations of Black people in the U.K. media, sparked by recent coverage of the Stephen Lawrence case involving the murder of a young Black man. Abbott’s ironically divisive "divide and rule" comment was in response to journalist Bim Adewumi’s series of tweets that began with, “I do wish everyone would stop saying ‘the Black community.’ WHICH ONE?"

Adewumi went on to clarify that she was referring to her opinion that U.K. reporters’ lax use of the term “Black community” was a lazy way of covering the many Black communities they simply don’t take the time to try and understand.

“Here's how it goes,” Adewumi wrote in an article published in The Guardian, “a) something deemed to be a 'Black issue' is on the news agenda; b) Without fail, 'community leaders' and the now standard 'ex-gang member' are wheeled out to be interviewed.”

Abbott agreed that she understood the point Adewumi was attempting to make, but retorted on Twitter, "Ethnic communities that show more public solidarity & unity than Black people do much better #dontwashdirtylineninpublic."

Abbott has since deleted the offending tweet and Adewumi has said her peace, but Black Britons are likely to continue debating who truly represents their many different communities.

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(Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

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