We need to talk about the disgusting Diane Abbott ‘joke’ being shared by Brexiteers

Leave.EU tweet showing charicatures of Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn
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The official pro-Brexit Leave.EU Twitter account has posted a disgusting image mocking Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn. And they’re reaping the whirlwind for it.

The image

In a weak attempt at a Love Island gag, Leave.EU managed to both body shame and sexualise Diane Abbott. The image is both racist and sexist.



There may be those wondering how this is racist. Here’s how.

It falls into the category of misogynoir – a blended racism and sexism aimed at women of colour. Our bodies are simultaneously reviled and hyper-sexualised. To understand better how this works in reality, we can look at the kinds of abuse aimed at high profile women of colour such as Serena Williams and Caster Semenya.

In 2018, Williams told Teen Vogue:

It was hard for me. People would say I was born a guy, all because of my arms, or because I’m strong.

Meanwhile, in athletics, white competitors are attempting to use South African Olympian Caster Semenya’s body to force her out of the sport. This was led by white women athletes who were literally crying because Semenya beat them so easily.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) sided with the white women athletes. And this was the exact opposite of how governing bodies and competitors treated white, male swimmer Michael Phelps. As Monica Hesse explained in the Washington Post:

Phelps possesses a disproportionately vast wingspan, for example. Double-jointed ankles give his kick unusual range. In a quirk that borders on supernatural, Phelps apparently produces just half the lactic acid of a typical athlete — and since lactic acid causes fatigue, he’s simply better equipped at a biological level to excel in his sport.

I’m thinking of those stories, because I’m thinking about the ways Michael Phelps was treated as wondrous marvel. Nobody suggested he should be forced to have corrective surgery on his double-jointed ankles, nobody decided he should take medication to boost his lactic levels.

Diane Abbott is fair game to bigots

To put the tweet in context, a recent study found that Diane Abbott – Britain’s first Black, woman MP – received more abuse than any other MP during the 2017 election. In fact, she received almost half of all abuse aimed at women in Westminster. Speaking during an hour-long debate in July 2017, Abbott detailed the abuse and intimidation she had been subjected to, saying:

I’ve had death threats. I’ve had people tweeting that I should be hung – if, quote, “they can find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight”. There was an EDL-affiliated Twitter account, #BurnDianeAbbott. I’ve had rape threats, described as a “pathetic, useless, fat, black, piece of sh*t”, “ugly fat black bitch”, and “n****r”.

N****r over and over again.

But this abuse doesn’t just come from members of the public. It stems from her conservative opponents in press and politics.

Paul Staines runs conservative blog Guido Fawkes. In June 2017, he was accused of misogynoir for abusing Abbott on social media:

Guido Fawkes tweet

Labour peer Lord Alan Sugar also publicly taunted Abbott with an attempt at sl*t-shaming poetry, tweeting:

Jeremy Corbyn, a stud of a man

A playboy was he with his lover Diane

She’d get into bed wearing only her blusher

And lie back with Jezza just thinking of Russia

When Abbott supported the rights of refugees, UKIP supporters called for her to be raped:

There is a never-ending list of examples I could continue to post here. But the point has been made. No MP is more abused than Diane Abbott. And the fact she is a Black woman has a large role in that.

Call it out

It’s been refreshing to see so many people calling out Leave.EU for posting the image. And not just from Remainers, but from Brexit-backing voters too.

Racism and sexism should have no place in our politics. But right now, it seems like ethnicity has become a bargaining chip. The far right is back in the mainstream of politics. And centrists are too busy weaponising false claims of racism against the left for political advantage to fight it. So the left is having to fight this war on both fronts: standing with victims of racism, and standing against those who use ethnic minorities as human shields. It’s a difficult and thankless task. But so are many of life’s most worthwhile pursuits.

Featured image via Twitter – Leave.EU

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  • Show Comments
    1. In days not so long ago (pre-Blair) this attempt at making ‘fun’ of Abbot and Corbyn would have received short shrift. It would be condemned as going well beyond bounds of decency in the context of political discussion sponsored by a high profile pressure group supporting contentious government policy.

      Criticism would be on grounds of extremely bad taste and unnecessary personal insults in context of supposed political ‘debate’. Someone might point out that the cartoon is in a style befitting the erstwhile unofficial Nazi propaganda sheet ‘Der Stürmer’ published by Julius Streicher; this tabloid-format publication was regarded even by some dedicated senior SS officers as so ‘over the top’ as to be risible.

      Further comment might point out ‘Leave.EU’ having shot itself in the foot and thereby further tarnished, by association, virulent Brexiteers’ reputations. It may be added that ‘people living in glass houses ought not throw stones’. Johnson and a host of other prominent pro-Brexit campaigners, in and outside parliament, sit on a pile of dirt which if slung about would make for genuinely amusing political cartoons of devastating nature. That’s in contrast to Abbot and Corbyn whose friendship is private and cannot impact beyond their social circle.

      Responses mentioned in the article are off the mark in identifying the actual wrong done. Supposed racism (a concept in danger through overuse) and claimed general insult to women are not the key issues. If concerns at all, they are incidental to an attempt at damaging reputations to distract attention from a serious matter worthy of informed discussion.

      We are introduced to the concept of ‘misogynoir’. It is a grand term for dropping within circles of self-proclaimed arbiters of correct thinking. It suggests being coined within an academic tradition worthy of respect. However, it cuts no ice with me, and likely not with many others in and outside the Labour Party who eschew pseudo-intellectual fads.

      Foolish wrongs by others merit condemnation in the simplest of terms and don’t require laborious analysis drawing upon half-baked social theories.

    2. Oh don’t be so po-faced.
      It wasn’t terribly funny but neither was it racist or sexist.
      Try living in the real world and you will happen upon much worse (better?) than this.
      Seriously, no-one with a life gives a flying fig

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