After hearing Anne Marie Morris's racist comment, I didn't even feel angry. It's happened too many times before
The Tories have a deep and painful history with racism. Lord Dixon-Smith, a well-respected peer, in 2008 used the N-word in the House of Lords. Tory Councillor Peter Edwards used the phrase on BBC Radio Bristol’s drive time show. And Councillor Gerry Forsbrey used it in 2012
Given its history, and repeated promises to learn from past mistakes, might it have been too much to hope that the modern MP would be able to refrain from using racist language? To judge from Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris’ "slip up" in Parliament yesterday, it appears so.
But I’m no longer angry about racism. I’m tired. I’m tired of having to explain relentlessly that the vocabulary people are using is offensive. Whenever I feel we are taking 10 steps forward, fools take us 10 steps back again.
After realising her error, Morris retreated: “The comment was totally unintentional. I apologise unreservedly for any offence caused” – but only after an audio recording was published that proved she’d actually said it. Did she really expect everybody to say, “Oh, silly Anne Marie. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Everyone makes mistakes”?
People do make mistakes. Time and time again. Privately educated Oxbridge-types like Morris is not the first and I doubt she will be the last. Racism has a long and painful history in the Conservative party, and it continues nowadays in forms that are usually more subtle than Morris’s “accidental” outburst. The harsh effects of Tory austerity have been felt the most by black and ethnic minority families in the UK, including cuts to wages, vital services, and attacks on workers' rights.
Ethnic minorities are far less likely to be hired for a job than their white counterparts.
Theresa May doesn't even have a single black MP in her cabinet and nor did David Cameron when he was in power. Tory rule is, and always has been, bleak for ethnic minorities.
Racial slurs are something the Tories don't seem to learn from, either. Lord Dixon-Smith, a well-respected peer, in 2008 used “n*****r in the woodpile” in the House of Lords chamber and apologised, saying he had “left my brains behind” and said that the phrased had “slipped out without thinking”.
Tory Councillor Peter Edwards used the phrase on BBC Radio Bristol’s drive time show while talking about the Horseworld centre. The politician said it was “not his intention to cause anyone any offence”.
Councillor Gerry Forsbrey in 2012 said: “I don’t want to be the n***** in the woodpile”, and you guessed it, he claimed the phrase was an “old-fashioned phrase and that people may well take offence at the language.” Which people, I wonder?
These individuals should know better than to act with such complacency. People who have the privilege of power should be at the forefront of trying to change negative perceptions, not adding to them.
At a time where change is almost within reach, they knock us down. At a time where integration and inclusion has never been so important, they knock us down. At a time where we need those in power to represent the interests of the people, they knock us down. Using that phrase and then dismissing it as merely an “old-fashioned term” while waving it away with a non-apology like “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” tells black people that we will always be the subjects of your parliamentary in-joke.
I've seen a lot of people jump to defend Anne Marie Morris’s comment in the last 24 hours, with one Twitter user saying: "It's an old expression. It wasn't used in a racist context, therefore it isn't racist." How can someone who is not the subject of the joke decide whether or not it's offensive? You do not have the right to speak for us.
"N****r in the woodpile" was a commonly-used term in mid-19th century America, to describe fugitive slaves who hid in piles of firewood as they fled North to Canada. The term became popular throughout the 20th Century and was used as a metaphor to describe something that is wrong or suspicious.
To excuse such behaviour by claiming it's a generational issue is wrong and quite frankly, disrespectful. The term n****r has been around for decades and still holds the same negative, derogatory meaning it was first used for. So since when has this term or remark become acceptable? If these individuals are happy to openly and nonchalantly express themselves in this way, what on Earth are they saying at home behind closed doors?
This casual show of prejudice cannot and will not be excused. Morris knew what she was saying. She knew what she meant. Is she really sorry before she knew it was wrong? Or is she just sorry because she got caught?