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Muslim MP rebuked for accusing Johnson and Patel of ‘stoking the fire of racism’

27th Aug 2021
Muslim MP rebuked for accusing Johnson and Patel of ‘stoking the fire of racism’

(Credit: @ZarahSultana/Twitter)

Hamed Chapman

Labour MP for Coventry South says that she was flabbergasted by the way she was spoken down to by a junior minister in the House of Commons after accusing both the Prime Minister and Home Secretary of ‘stoking the fire of racism’

‘Every person of colour has an experience like this. We raise blatant examples of racism, and some posh white person tells us we’re being aggressive and that we should watch our “tone”. Still shocked that it happened to me in Parliament yesterday,’ Zarah Sultana tweeted the next day on Twitter.

The Muslim MP was speaking in a debate about the prevalence of racist abuse on social media after three English international footballers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, were subjected to virulent vilification after missing deciding penalties in the Euro2020 championship final.

She asked Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Safeguarding at the Home Office, Victoria Atkins on July 14, “What did she think about the Prime Minister when he was describing black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”?

“When he used newspaper columns to mock Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, when he refused to condemn the booing of England players taking the knee, and when his Home Secretary derided that anti-racist message as ‘gesture politics’?”

“Is it not the case, like England star Tyrone Mings has said, that the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister were stoking the fire of racism and giving the green light to racism, and only now when the consequences are clear, are they feigning outrage?” Sultana questioned the Minister speaking for the Government.

Earlier, during Prime Minister’s Questions, Boris Johnson was also challenged by Labour Leader Keir Starmer on his role in refusing to condemn fans for booing footballers taking the knee that stoked the fire of racism. But in response to the Muslim MP, Atkins admonished her for “trying to shout” at her, suggesting that Sultana was making a “truly extraordinary allegation” and suggested that she “lower the tone.”

“I had hoped that we would be able to conduct this debate in a measured and collective way. I do not genuinely think the Hon. Lady is accusing either the Prime Minister of this country or, indeed, the Home Secretary of racism,” the junior Minister said condescendingly.

It is the role of the speaker to maintain order in the House of Commons, but Sir Lindsay Hoyle remained quiet and chose not to intervene despite many people taking to Twitter to call Atkins out for the condescending way she targeted one of only two ethnic minority MPs speaking in a debate about racism.
Many tweeted in support of Sultana.

Rita Chadha wrote, “I am seething. There was nothing at all aggressive in Zarah’s approach. The absence of eye contact and patronising attitude is the epitome of white privilege and racial gaslighting – and this woman is in charge of safeguarding!”

Faye Kamsika tweeted: “Atkins says, ‘Lower the tone’. It means, ‘know your place’. Be submissive. Don’t ask awkward questions. This is in the Commons, a place that rings with boos and jeers of mainly white men. Victoria Atkins patronises women of colour. On the record.”

The Home Office insisted the Minister had not directed the “lower the tone” comment at Sultana, adding, “Ms Sultana has wilfully misrepresented Victoria’s comments for a few Twitter likes.”

Other Government ministers adopted similar tactics including, Matt Hancock, who previously told Labour MP and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan, to “watch her tone” when she criticised the former Health Secretary about the failures with Covid-19 testing and PPE.

No less than 31 Labour ethnic minority MPs also criticised Home Secretary Priti Patel last year for using her heritage and experience of racism to “gaslight other minority communities”. It came after Patel was criticised about the Government’s policy towards Black Lives Matter when Labour’s Florence Eshalomi questioned whether she does “actually understand the anger and frustration felt by so many people.”

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