Diane Abbott, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, was suspended from the party after suggesting that Jewish people do not face racism, but instead, she argued, suffer prejudice similar to “redheads”. Her remarks were widely condemned, with the Board of Deputies of British Jews calling her letter “disgraceful” and her apology “entirely unconvincing”. The Jewish Labour Movement “regretfully” supported the decision to suspend her whip. Fellow left-winger Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum, also condemned the remarks, tweeting “A disgraceful comment by Diane Abbott for which she has rightly been suspended from the Labour Party. Racism is not a competition!“. In response to the backlash, Abbott issued a statement saying she wished to “wholly and unreservedly withdraw my remarks and disassociate myself from them”.
The response of the Labour Party in matters of antisemitism has been to accept that its disciplinary practices have fallen short, and that, as the EHRC stated, and the Labour Party accepted, that a culture arose “within the Party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.” The question I am now asking myself, is Labour about to commit the same act of discrimination against women, lesbians, gay Men and bisexuals, given that the party seems to be accepting ‘gender’, as defined by Stonewall, as a driving principle for future equality and social policy?
It is worth working through the complex set of factors that define this issue. This post is a starting point, and I will follow it with updates as I gain a better understanding of the challenges involved. I will, however, undertake my exploration in accordance with the expectations of the Equality Act 2010, and the principles of inclusive discussion, human rights, freedom of expression and self-determination that I advocate in all my work.
Starting off, it’s useful to note that, for example, prejudice and racism are two different concepts, although they are often used interchangeably. These definitions are not fixed, and I am open to considering different manifestations of prejudice and racism based on empirical evidence and logical discussion, rather than assumption, dogmatism or magical thinking. Here are some differences between the two:
- Prejudice is a preconceived opinion or attitude about a person or group of people.
- It is often based on stereotypes and can be positive or negative.
- Prejudice can be directed towards any group of people, not just racial or ethnic groups.
- Prejudice can be held by individuals or groups.
- Racism is a form of prejudice that assumes that the members of racial categories have distinctive characteristics, and that these differences result in some racial groups being inferior to others.
- Racism generally includes negative emotional reactions to members of the group, acceptance of negative stereotypes, and racial discrimination against individuals.
- Racism is often institutionalized, meaning that it is built into the policies and practices of organisations and institutions.
- Racism is often based on power dynamics, with the dominant group using their power to oppress and discriminate against the minority group.
Prejudice, then, can be thought of as a preconceived opinion or attitude about a person or group of people, while racism is a form of prejudice that is specifically directed towards racial or ethnic groups and is often institutionalised and based on power dynamics.
Prejudice can lead to racism when it is institutionalised and accompanied by the power to discriminate against, oppress, or limit the rights of others based on race. Racism is more than just prejudice in thought or action. It occurs when this prejudice, whether individual or institutional, is accompanied by the power to discriminate against, oppress, or limit the rights of others. Racism adapts and changes over time and can impact different communities in different ways, with racism towards different groups intensifying in different historical moments.
Racism includes all the laws, policies, ideologies, and barriers that prevent people from experiencing justice, dignity, and equity because of their racial identity. Discrimination refers to the differential treatment of the members of different ethnic, religious, national, or other groups, and it is usually the behavioural manifestation of prejudice. Therefore, discrimination involves negative, hostile, and injurious treatment of members of rejected groups. Discrimination could determine a group’s living conditions and life chances, affecting such areas as education, employment, and housing, which could lead to adverse changes in health status.
There are many policies and systems that perpetuate racism, including:
- Housing policies: Housing policies that segregate neighbourhoods by race, such as redlining, have led to unequal access to quality housing and have contributed to the racial wealth gap.
- Education policies: Education policies that perpetuate segregation, such as school district boundaries and funding formulas, have led to unequal access to quality education and have contributed to the achievement gap between white students and students of colour.
- Employment policies: Employment policies that perpetuate discrimination, such as hiring practices that favour white applicants or pay disparities based on race, have led to unequal access to quality jobs and have contributed to the racial wealth gap.
- Criminal justice policies: Criminal justice policies that perpetuate discrimination, such as racial profiling and mandatory minimum sentences, have led to unequal treatment of people of colour in the criminal justice system and have contributed to mass incarceration.
- Health policies: Health policies that perpetuate discrimination, such as unequal access to healthcare and environmental racism, have led to unequal health outcomes for people of colour.
- Immigration policies: Immigration policies that perpetuate discrimination, such as the Muslim Ban and family separation policies, have led to unequal treatment of immigrants based on race and religion.
These policies and systems are examples of how racism is institutionalized and perpetuated in society. Addressing these policies and systems is necessary to combat racism and promote equity and justice for all people.
The UK Equality Act 2010 is a piece of legislation that provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advance equality of opportunity for all. The Act has two main purposes: to harmonise discrimination law and to strengthen the law to support progress on equality. It replaced previous anti-discrimination laws with a single Act, making the law easier to understand and strengthening protection in some situations. The Act covers everyone in Britain and protects people from discrimination, harassment, and victimization.
The Act provides protection against direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimization in services and public functions, premises, work, education, associations, and transport. The Act sets out the different ways in which it’s unlawful to treat someone and prohibits conduct and creates duties in relation to ‘protected characteristics’. The nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. The Act also requires public bodies to consider how their decisions and policies affect people with different protected characteristics. The purpose of the UK Equality Act 2010 is to protect individuals from unfair treatment and promote a fair and more equal society.
The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is a legal obligation under the UK Equality Act 2010 that requires public authorities to consider how their policies and decisions affect people who are protected under the Act. The PSED has two main components: the general duty and the specific duties. The general duty requires public authorities to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and victimization; advance equality of opportunity; and foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who do not. The specific duties require public authorities to publish information about their policies and practices, set equality objectives, and report on their progress towards meeting those objectives. The PSED applies to a wide range of public authorities, including government departments, local authorities, the NHS, schools, and the police. The aim of the PSED is to ensure that public authorities consider the needs of all individuals and promote equality of opportunity, while eliminating discrimination, harassment, and victimisation.
With a definition of what prejudice and racism are, and an account of how the Equality Act 2010 frames these issues, I want to look at the phenomena of ‘gender’ politics, though using the terms above I need to be clear that it is my experience that this discussion is not being discussed on the same basis that racial prejudice and racism are being discussed, and that there is a logical conflation taking place between sex-based identity and gender-based identity which is regressive and undermines the rights of women, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.
A false equivalence argument is a type of logical fallacy in which two opposing arguments are presented as logically equivalent when they are not. This fallacy is also known as the “comparing apples and oranges” fallacy because it involves comparing two things that are fundamentally different. False equivalence arguments can be used to mislead people by making it seem like two things are equal when they are not. False equivalence arguments can be found in various contexts, including journalism, politics, and everyday conversations. Examples of false equivalence arguments include comparing the harm caused by a major oil spill to the harm caused by a small oil spill, or comparing the flaws of one politician to the flaws of another politician of a different nature. False equivalence arguments can be countered by pointing out the differences between the two things being compared and explaining why they are not equivalent.
To identify false equivalence arguments in political discourse, one should look for the following signs:
- Comparing two things that are fundamentally different, such as comparing the flaws of one politician to the flaws of another politician of a different nature.
- Treating two arguments of wildly different merits equally.
- Citing two sides of an issue as if they were equal when they are not.
- Claiming that both sides of a dispute are equally guilty of inappropriate behaviour or bad reasoning.
False equivalence arguments can be used to mislead people by making it seem like two things are equal when they are not. Diane Abbott’s comments about Jewish people, therefore, fall under the tenor of negative false equivalence argument because they sought to disconnect ‘prejudice’ and ‘racism’ by arguing that there is a ‘competing’ but ‘different’ frame of reference to both forms of discrimination.
These arguments can be found in the context of sex-based identity, and the expectation that sex-based identities can be conflated with gender-based identities. Unfortunately, many commentators in our news media, academics, politicians are drawing this false equivalence that gender and sex are equivalents when they are not. Organisations like Stonewall have been identified as drivers of this conflation, with this ‘ideological’ view of gender rapidly becoming normalised in many public institutions in relation to sex and sexual identity.
Conflating Sex and Gender
In my view, the problem with this conflation and false equivalence is that whole categories of sex-based identity that have only recently been given adequate protection in UK law will be erased and removed as a determinable and recognisable subset of social policy and law. What is being argued for by Stonewall and its apologists, is a conflation of the identities of women, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, to the extent that it will no longer be possible to recognise or state that there are any distinctions between sex-based identity and gender identity.
To avoid being misled by false equivalence arguments, then, it is important to critically evaluate the arguments being presented and to look for differences between the two things being compared. For example, In the debates about ‘gender’ and ‘sex’ recognition, a false equivalence argument can be articulated by conflating the concepts of gender and sex, treating them as interchangeable or identical when they are distinct and have different meanings. Here’s how this false equivalence argument can be identified:
- Giving undue weight to the social construction of gender: False equivalence arguments may dismiss or downplay the idea that sex is biologically determined rather than being thought of as a social construct, and asserting that sex is solely realised as a form of presentation or performative play.
- Overlooking the distinction between gender identity and sexual orientation: False equivalence arguments may conflate gender identity, sex identity and sexual orientation, treating them as the same thing and assuming that they can interact in a fluid and constantly shifting way. However, gender identity refers to a person’s socially accepted externalisation of their reported internal sense of their own gender identity (whatever that might mean to that person), while sex and sexual orientation identification refers to a person’s empirical function based on an external manifestation of their being as an example of the mammalian human species, who experiences romantic or sexual attraction based on their biologically determined sexual function.
- Failing to recognise the experiences of individuals as defined by their sex and sexual orientation: False equivalence arguments may overlook the experiences and challenges faced by individuals, by presuming that they have an ‘assumed’ or ‘given’ gender identity, and going on to treat them as if their sex is something fluid, dissolvable and something that is solely assigned at birth.
- Neglecting the diversity of sex-identity expression: False equivalence arguments oversimplify or ignore the wide range of sex-identity expressions that exist, if variations of sex-identity expression must align with postmodern notions of non-binary deconstructions of masculinity or femininity. This fails to acknowledge the innate and fundamental character of most (though not all) individuals who are defined by conformity in sex-identity.
To identify false equivalence arguments in these debates, it is important to critically examine the arguments being presented, consider the nuances and complexities of gender and sex, and recognise the experiences and perspectives of diverse individuals.
When gender identity, then, is negatively conflated with sex identity, sex-based identities such as women, lesbians, and gay men can be discriminated against in several ways. First, there is an assumption that sex differences do not fundamentally matter, and that anyone can shift between and interact with people of different sexes with no determination of personal or group preference or distinction. In this conflation, anyone identifying as a woman, for example, should be afforded the freedoms and protections reserved for women, and those who do not share or respond to the interaction with people of the opposite sex are acting in a discriminatory fashion.
This conflation therefore dissolves the ability of individuals or groups to identify for themselves as unique and self-organising, and their reservations are for interaction with people of their non-preferred sexes is a delusional state. We would not apply this logic to race, where self-determination to be recognised as fundamentally as being embodied by a defined form of racial or ethnic identity is fundamental to social cohesion policy.
If we follow the logic of gender fluidity and self-identification, then straight men, for example, would be committing an act of discrimination if they did not engage sexually with another man who identifies as female, but retains the physical and genital characteristics of men. Similarly, women, lesbians and gay men would be permitting an act of discrimination if they do not interact sexually with a person whose sexual identity does not fit with their preferred sex attraction.
To put this simple, when gender identity is negatively conflated with sex identity, sex-based identities such as women, lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, will face discrimination in various aspects of their lives, including employment, healthcare, education, housing, and public accommodations because their rights will be subsumed under a ‘gendered’ assumption that all sexual identity is fluid, interchangeable and dissolvable. We have boundaries between the sexes for good reason. Sexual power and coercion are often exerted against women and children by domineering men. So, until the power-differential between men and women is eradicated (which it never will be), then these long-standing social, cultural and legal distinctions and protections must be maintained. No number of straw arguments by the likes of Stonewall can change this, and the Labour Party would be committing an act of institutional misogyny and homophobia if it sought to institutionalise the precepts of gender fluidity and self-identification.