It was some time in the early 1990s when a friend, steeped in the occult law of progressive politics, explained to me that most on the "left" didn't mean what I thought they meant when they talked about racism.
You see, along with most of the populace, I'd laboured under the misunderstanding that racism was prejudice based on a persons race. So a decision, for example, to exclude someone, not employ someone or stereotype someone based on their race is pretty much all there is to racism. It seems I was wrong - or rather that there's a different meaning of racism that derives from society's structure, history and other stuff that Marxist sociologists speak about.
Under this different meaning of the word 'racism', I (as a white person) do not have to say or do anything at all that regular folk consider racist for the progressive left to consider that I am a racist. My very existence is a monument to racism - white people are racists because they are white people. And, of course, the victims of that racism - people of colour - cannot be racist even if they use language or act in a way that most folk would consider racist. Understand that you don't have to agree with this definition of racism (and I don't) for it to be significant in the way a discourse about racism is conducted.
There is, for some white people, an escape clause. You become an 'ally' of people of colour. This doesn't actually stop you being a racist because you are white but it does provide some protection as your heart is in the right place - especially if you've acknowledges the deep structural causes of racism within society (having learnt about this from listening to those Marxist sociologists).
Which brings me to Emma Dent-Coad MP and Nasreen Khan (or Naz Kahn as she was until recently).
Taking Naz Kahn first. It is clear that Naz is a person of colour (being, in this case, a Muslim of South Asian heritage) which means that, in progressive mythology, she cannot be a racist even if she says something that is racist. Moreover, Naz's crime was to be anti-Jew and there's a problem with the Jews in that progressive myth . Everyone recognises that Jews are a minority and that they were (and are) persecuted but they are mostly outside that people of colour definition because that would put them in the same category as the Palestinians who are, of course, oppressed (by Zionists who are mostly Jewish).
Ms Kahn may have overstepped the boundaries of what the progressive left will accept in terms of antisemitism - mostly by suggesting Hitler wasn't all that bad, which means the Labour Party will eventually get round to sacking her - but her opinions are simply slightly more extreme versions of those held by a significant proportion of Labour members. Anti-Zionism is acceptable (because the Palestinians are oppressed) even though opposing Zionism means opposing the existence of Israel, something central to the identity of most Jews.
Meanwhile, Emma Dent-Coad, the MP for Kensington is reported to have called a black Tory activist, Shaun Bailey, a "token ghetto boy". Normal progressive left reaction to this (and indeed that of most regular folk) would be to say "racism" because referencing the ghetto and calling a black man 'boy' definitely fits everyone's idea of racism and Ms Dent-Coad is white so, in that progressive mythology, presumed guilty of racism. Yet a black progressive left MP, Clive Lewis, chose to defend her:
I see some brothers getting upset at @emmadentcoad recent comments. Where were your howls of outrage at the Tory ‘nigger in a woodpile’ comments? Pathetic.She’s done more for black people in her constituency with #grenfell in 6months than most tories will do in their entire lives.What you see here is that Ms Dent-Coad is being defined as an 'ally' to people of colour thereby provided cover for a deeply racist (in regular folks' understanding of what that word means) remark. You see, Ms Dent-Coad is on our (people of colour) side so therefore we can excuse her offensiveness to a black person. And this get out clause is reinforced by the victim is this case being a Conservative activist and politician. Here's Mr Lewis again:
If you think you can fight racism and be in the Tory party then I guess this conversation isn’t going to go very far I’m afraid. If anyone has any understanding of the structural reality of modern racism, you’d not come within a country mile of a Tory membership card.In Mr Lewis's mind, Tory equates to white. What he's saying is that any black person (and the comment was in response to someone who is a person of colour) who joins the Conservative Party has given up on racism, is a sort of traitor to the cause - an Uncle Tom or a 'coconut'. And, within Mr Lewis's mindset, adhering as it does to those progressive myths about racism, this must be the case - the Tories are the party of the establishment and the establishment is white and racist.
If one thing comes of this sorry situation - with a senior Labour MP insinuating that thousands of black and minority Tory activists, including hundreds of councillors and MPs are somehow unconcerned about racism - I hope it is to confine the stupid progressive definition of racism to the dustbin of silly ideas where it belongs. We've made huge progress over the past few decades in dealing with the endemic racism within our society and, as the words of Naz Kahn and Emma Dent-Coad show, we've still a long way to go. But to say that "structural reality of modern racism" (whatever that actually means) says that Conservatives don't care about racism is to wear a set of ideological blinkers. Racism is, in the end, always about people prejudging others, often harmfully, on the basis of their race. Yes it's ingrained and embedded in society but can we not try and turn it into some sort of 'groupthink' where only those subscribing to a narrowly-defined ideological position can be called anti-racist?