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Why Clive Lewis is right to talk about race

PUBLISHED: 09:14 13 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:26 13 January 2020

MP Clive Lewis believes his race could be an issue in why he has not yet got the required backing in the Labour leadership race. Picture: Kate Wolstenholme

MP Clive Lewis believes his race could be an issue in why he has not yet got the required backing in the Labour leadership race. Picture: Kate Wolstenholme

Kate Wolstenholme

Whenever we do a story on race, I have to brace myself for the comments it will receive online.

So when a story on structural racism was posted on social media, my eyes almost rolled out of my head when I looked at the responses.

Labour leadership hopeful Clive Lewis said he thought his race could be a reason why he has only four nominations from his party so far.

At a campaign launch in Brixton, London, he said: "Structural racism is a reality of our society, as is structural sexism. And that's the kind of society that we have."

Rather unsurprisingly, his comments were met with a barrage of complaints from people online haranguing him for 'pulling the race card'.

I think some people naturally put their defences up and overlooked what Mr Lewis meant by structural racism.

The author Reni Eddo-Lodge describes the word 'structural' in her book Why I No Longer Talk to White People About Race as "dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of people with the same biases joining together to make up one organisation, and acting accordingly".

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And it exists in politics, where the vast majority of our government is made up of older, white men.

MPs should of course be judged on merit, but if you think the old, white men who dominate positions of power got there through hard work alone then you are living in wilful ignorance.

The lack of representation for people of colour, and even for women, means the shared struggles of marginalised groups hardly ever get addressed.

Representation is important for the very reasons Mr Lewis pointed out - to understand prejudice, identify it and challenge and tackle it.

MORE: Clive Lewis calls for referendum on future of Royal Family

And to use demographics as a justification for the lack of representation - that white people are the majority in this country and therefore should make up most of the workforce - is disingenuous, because those representors will work for all, not just for those who they represent. They're not there as a token.

To be shot down for pointing out structural racism and being accused of pulling the race card not only diminishes our struggles but we're made to feel we have to be quiet on issues of race and pretend we're 'colour-blind'.

Racism can be covert - it's the interrogating questions like 'where are you REALLY from?', it's the way politicians use immigration as a scapegoat to blame our country's woes, it's the likening of a black baby to a chimpanzee.

It seems people of colour cannot argue they are being discriminated against racially unless they are spat at in the street. Only then can they pull out the race card to scrape off the phlegm.

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