Laurie Penny excludes woman of colour from debate about representation of women of colour

Pic: Anna and Laurie when we were both shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. (Neither of us won.) 

Eurasia? Or Erasure. The misuse of agenda: politics as entertainment and a schtick to beat up the upstarts.

Was it something I said?

In an argument about the exclusion of women of colour from the British left, politics, the media and public debate, [five days after I appealed to her regarding the Trevor McDonald piece on BME exclusion regarding the Lenny Henry-led campaign], Laurie Penny revealed in the following Facebook spat that, after one emotional phone call a year ago, she’d decided to exclude me from the political debate (I believe this is called “no-platforming” and was already under way prior to the phone call). But didn’t bother to tell me.

Hence my omission from her subsequent New Statesman piece, Where are the real outsiders in New Media (sic) specifically dealing with east Asian women in politics and the media.

So: a working-class woman of colour who has been active in raising awareness of progressive British politics is excluded from participation by a white Oxbridge “left-wing” writer purporting to stand up for the oppressed. “So what?” you may ask. However, in the meantime, she enables some of the same white male apparatchiks who helped drive the left into a brick wall, leaving behind little more than tangled wreckage.

Result: a messy but telling collision of race, gender and class interests. Let’s tug on a couple of loose ends and see what unravels.

While Laurie cites one emotional phone call a year previously as a pretext for my persona non grata status, she has declined to address the subject of the conversation or even tackle why I was so distressed. And no wonder. It was a specific response to her New Statesman article on the SWP split a few days after the rape allegations became public when Socialist Unity published the kangaroo court transcript on 7th January 2013.

I’d been challenging the growing culture of abuse in the SWP over years and been given the Scientology “fair game” treatment by these same chaps — her friends — for doing so. I was shocked to read that she was rewriting the role of one of the very hacks who had been a key enabler of that same vicious SWP culture of abuse which had culminated in the SWP’s rape implosion. She’d already validated another hardliner on various platforms and in print, presenting them as heroes of the hour rather than part of the problem, whereas they had themselves been eager protectors of the machine and collaborators in the crushing of dissent until they jumped ship when the transcript was published.

This was no balanced critique of the circumstances leading to the SWP crisis. It was a skewing, in the liberal press, of the narrative through omission, and by filtering in favour of the same power balance: in this case largely white male Oxbridge, privately educated and aspiring elite.

As has been extensively argued, the rapes did not exist in isolation, but were part of a degenerating culture of abuse that had been allowed to fester.

This mindset remains intact.

For any socialist seriously intent on building a better society it is vital to guard against cult behaviour but in the SWP this was a lonely task.

I’d been consistently sounding the alarm on seriously destructive behaviour since 2001 and publicly whistle-blowing since 2003. Who could forget “gay rights are no longer a shibboleth”, or the claims of a 10,000-strong membership which I discovered to be actually only a fraction of that number when I saw the print-outs? Refusing sectarian instructions from the SWP leadership to character assassinate non-SWP members of the Socialist Alliance, I really set them off. Considering that Laurie was aware of some of this abuse — for example, on a direct personal level, the exclusion and exploitation concerning my unpaid work over several years for the UK left (including for her friends’ causes and personally for one in particular) and the subsequent monstering I received from those protecting the machine — I’d say this was as good an illustration of what we’re up against as you’re likely to get. Some might detect a hint of spite rather than solidarity.

While the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the American civil rights movement and Rock Against Racism in Britain show that white people can embrace and fight alongside their oppressed fellow human beings, there’s a whole history of white cultural and political appropriation of the struggles of people of colour, and their concomitent erasure from the resulting narrative. It’s even more gobsmacking when the perps purport to be on your side. The results are astonishing.

This whole episode has raised ugly memories of working full-time for no pay for several years, going into debt (which I’m still paying off), in order to ensure that the left causes Laurie and her friends support had a presence in the media. It took a working-class woman of colour to introduce skills from outside the far-left bubble by establishing and running the STWC press operation to turn it around over the 18 months following 9/11 leading to the big anti-war protest in London in 2003. Then there was the key publicity work I did out of solidarity — again for no pay — for one of Laurie’s fellow white Oxbridge coterie which broke him into the public eye. And its ostracising consequences.

Feminists are supposed to protect their sisters from the forces of patriarchy, not feed them to it.

Culturally sanctioned strategies for defending social advantage based on race.

I am expected to placidly embrace my exclusion and erasure over years. Be docile and submissive; don’t argue, don’t fight back; be part Asian doll, part coolie-labour. That is unhealthy and corrosive. It’s years of “self-deprecation” and “humility” that got me walked over by Laurie’s mates in the first place and it’s one of the devices used to keep you silent and in your place.

This must be challenged.

Women aren’t allowed to be angry or finally get to stand up for themselves after years of exploitation. And that goes double if you’re a woman of colour. Triple if you’re from Hackney. Well, I am angry. Bloody angry. So there. With brass knobs on.

As Laurie herself writes in her New Statesman piece:

First, the media misrepresents, throws out lazy stereotypes that perpetuate oppression. And then it shuts us out, denying us a voice, allowing us to speak only as token demographic representatives rather than as reporters, writers, authors, columnists, critics. The media is an industry that produces culture, and both of those elements need taking apart and ramming back together in a way that works for more of us who actually create and consume it. [Italics mine]

Or as she writes in an end flourish on the subject of pits and pubes, “It’s about how silent you’re prepared to be in the face of social injustice.”


However, words have to mean something. I would urge anyone interested in the political dynamic of how exclusion works to look beyond lip-service, beyond jargon spouted like broken software and into rhetoric versus action.

There’s a section of the left that styles itself as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, but watch what they actually do (and cover up) and you see they’re actually Cato, Glimmer and the other Careers, even down to hunting in packs.

In an interesting BBC World Service debate about the Top Gear racism row, there were some pertinent observations: the target wasn’t “in” on the joke, which was cowardly and bullying. There’s no-one visibly of colour on the show. It was recognised that east Asians are easier to target because we are perceived as quieter and passive and are rendered invisible in British culture. One speaker numbered these jokes as “the arrogance of racial entitlement,” that “racism is not over” and that discrimination continues.

There is a further political dimension to this. In the late 1990s, the SWP had one analysis that I valued. They predicted that Tony Blair would be so right-wing and betray the Labour electorate to such a degree that there would be a mass exodus of Labour supporters, leaving a dangerous vacuum which the right would fill.

It was vital to build a left alternative. Our vehicle for this was the Socialist Alliance (SA) which brought together many of the groups on the left plus assorted independents and refugees from New Labour. As my part in the project, I fought to propel a strong and revitalised left into the media and the public consciousness.

We then saw how the SWP leadership and their hacks destroyed the SA in order to follow various hare-brained get-rich-quick schemes, such as Respect and other assorted splinters which have similarly come to nothing. This situation now leaves us dangerously adrift in the rising tide of reaction. We had over a decade to create a leftwing alternative and now we have nothing, thanks in part to some of the very characters Laurie is promoting.

As with her exhortation to vote Lib Dem in 2010 when we were pointing out “Vote Lib Dem, get Tory”, their political judgement is questionable. Don’t blindly follow Judas goats into disaster.  Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Sharpen up your critical faculties and rebuild.

(Oh, by the way, constantly quoting from writers of colour once you’ve been rumbled just looks like a desperate bid to save the “brand”.)

EDIT October 2018
Laurie Penny — nicer to Nazis than to women of colour.

no-one knows how it “came back”, it just kind of happened

— paul (@ptfen) October 29, 2018

FACEBOOK Friday 4th April 2014

Laurie Penny
about an hour ago
[EDIT: this is Laurie’s latest piece not just about outsiders, but the experience of east Asian women in the media and politics. My experience is a vivid example of what happens to women and women of colour on the left but it transpires that the parties involved are to be protected.]

Anna Chen: Laurie Penny, if only you would acknowledge actual real-life flesh and blood women of colour struggling in the left and bringing progressive issues into the media. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sent you links and asked that you raise awareness of precisely those activities you say you wish for (such as earlier this week) to no avail. Rendering those of us doing this work invisible (and inaudible) while striking heroic poses on our behalf is unattractive and unhelpful. It’s lovely of you to speak on our behalf — it would be even nicer if you helped gain us a platform to speak for ourselves instead of burying us even deeper. Or at least publicly acknowledge the fact that some of us already exist.

Anna Chen: Here’s another one you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge while writing about poor minorities in the abstract:…/why-is-left-failing

LP: Anna, the reason I don’t promote your stuff more is not because you’re a woman of colour, it’s because last year you screamed at me for an hour down the phone and I’m wary of engaging with you.
[EDIT: It should be noted that the phone call LP cites as the excuse for her ostracism was about … her ostracism of me, which was already well under way by then. She’d written a piece about abuse of women in the SWP at the time of the rape allegations and the walk-out, ignored the well-documented account of how it happens written by a woman to whom it happened — unless rape of one’s labour and other creepy behaviour doesn’t count — and then … cited positively one of the white Oxbridge SWP males who’d been party to the perpetuation of that abuse. She legitimised an abuser, also shutting up a woman of colour, a woman of the left, whilst refusing to be challenged on it or even discuss it.]

LP: I promote the work of a great many women of colour, have promoted your work in the past, and I think you’re a great writer.

Anna Chen: It’s a matter of principle, Laurie. It’s if you think the work deserves an airing. I’m so sorry I was upset by the exploiting abusive behaviour of some of your white male pals who you DO promote and was clearly distressed and in tears. Thanks sistah.

Anna Chen: White left woman acting as gatekeeper. So what’s new?

LP: I’m sorry, Anna, and again, I respect your work a great deal. You were clearly upset, but you seemed to think that made it okay to literally yell down the phone for a very long time, late at night, whilst I was also distressed. I listened. I am listening now.

LP: I’m confused – do you or do you not want me to act as a gatekeeper? Is your problem that I’m not promoting YOUR work, or that I’m just promoting the work of the wrong women of colour? That article quotes two women of colour [Ed: both American and America-based] whose work I find definitive on this topic.

Anna Chen: Sorry, I thought you were listening then.

Anna Chen: At thie risk of repeating myself, this:…/why-is-left-failing

LP: I am listening and trying to make sense of this, and I think everyone with a platform in media has a duty to promote the voices of people of colour. What that duty does not involved is allowing particular people to be as vile as they like to you personally and then letting them tell you what you should and should not promote. Sorry.

Anna Chen: I wasn’t “vile” to you, Laurie, although do go ahead and twist it to save face. I thought I was crying on the shoulder of a sistah who was aware of what happened. I was trying to work out why you’ve been promoting people who were oppressing me and this is vile?

LP: I don’t know what piece of that article you’re referring to. But, as I said at the time, I thought this –…/ethnically-cleansing…- was excellent and it had me punching the air.
Ethnically cleansing working class history: my Guardian article | Madam Miaow Says

LP: No, Anna, you weren’t crying on my shoulder, you were haranguing me and accusing me of things I didn’t do.

Anna Chen: Would have been nice if you’d said so about my piece at the time. If one phone call where I was clearly distressed after years of abuse can turn you so fast and so easily then I can only conclude it’s an excuse. Becaue I don;t think you are as frail as you make out.
about an hour ago

LP: Your issue was that I quoted someone with whom you have fraught history, who you’re saying exploited your work and ideas. I appreciate that that was difficult for you, which I didn’t intend, and I listened, but I didn’t deserve the subsequent extended period of yelling. And as for ‘I don’t think you are as frail as you make out’ – you have no idea about my mental health, so please don’t speculate.

LP: Anna – I believe I did say so about your piece at the time – I tweeted it, IIRC. If I didn’t that’s my oversight and I apologise. But this isn’t a deliberate conspiracy on my part to shut you out of this conversation.

LP: I don’t control this conversation, I just write about these issues because they’re important, like you do.

Anna Chen: You made a decision to exclude the only east Asian woman fighting the fight — you just said so above, This is the same old story of a white Oxbridge person deciding who gets seen and heard … and who doesn’t. You are part of the problem, not the solution, Laurie.

LP: Um, what about Julia Carrie Wong, who I refer to and quote extensively in that article, who is East Asian, and definitely fighting that fight?

LP: What about Suey Park, who I also refer to in the piece, or any of the many other East Asian women writing and campaigning wonderfully about race, gender and media?
about an hour ago

LP: Did you actually read the article, or did you just check whether you were mentioned or not?
about an hour ago

Anna Chen: No, I saw those names, including Suey Park who I have already defended on the BEAA page. This, after I’d previously brought your attention to the fact that minorities in the media is a live issue earlier this week at my FB page. But there you go again deciding who exists among women of colour.

LP: Anna, it wasn’t you who brought my attention to that fact – like I say in the piece, I’ve been inspired to write this piece by Julia Carrie Wong, Zeynep Tupfeci, Suey Park and others over the past several weeks. I’m not ‘deciding who exists among women of colour’, I’m deciding, as I decided the first time you screamed at me, that engaging with you is not something I should be doing for the good of my own mental health. I will continue to respect your work and to promote it, but not because I’ve been ordered to on pain of another denouncing, but because I think that despite being personally horrible to me, you are a great writer with important things to say.

Anna Chen: It’s gone from yelling to screaming, Laurie. Make up your mind. G’wan, ratchet up all the excuse you need for your behaviour. And, of course, your mental health is the one that counts. As they say, check your privilege.

LP: You did both, Anna. And I don’t need to excuse my behavior – I haven’t done anything I’m ashamed of, apart from stand up for myself.

Anna Chen: Funny, that’s what I thought I was doing … Standing up for myself. Even funnier: some people seem to be allowed to stand up for themselves … and others aren’t.

LP: I don’t believe you’ve been attacked, Anna. Have you? I thought the issue was that I hadn’t included you in an article you thought you deserved to be included in.

LP: The reasons for that are: your work isn’t what inspired me to write the piece, and I’m hary of engaging with you anyway because of the way you have treated me in the past and the way you continue to treat me.

Anna Chen: One phone call, Laurie, is sparse to put it mildly. But suddenly it becomes an entire campaign. Not attacked? Tell that to ACTUAL people of colour struggling in the media and in the left.

LP: Which is consistently rude, aggressive and invasive – like right now, with these spurious attacks on my private Facebook wall. I’m sorry the white male left treated you like shit, I truly am, but it isn’t my responsibility to stand here and let you take that out on me, when I have not personally done anything to hurt you, and when I try hard all the time to check my privilege and promote women of colour.

Anna Chen: There I go standing up for myself again. BAD ethnic. You cosied up and continue to cosy up to the people who were attacking me, the people who were oppressing me and I’m supposed to say, aw, how cute? I wonder if Julia Carrie Wong and Suey Park know you’re excluding a woman activist of colour in their name?

LP: I’m not excluding you, Anna, I just didn’t mention you.

LP: I don’t believe that writing one article means I’m suddenly setting the entire agenda for this conversation. And no, ‘standing up for yourself’, like ‘being distressed’, are not synonyms or excuses for the horrible way you’ve behaved in the past. You were clearly having a hard time, so I just drew a line under it and decided not to engage any more. I don’t know at this point what you’d have me do differently.

Jack: This exchange, while non of my business, does remind me of when people gang up on Noam Chomsky for supposedly gatekeeping because he failed to give them a shout out or write a thesis on their particular pet subject/person/issue.

Anna Chen: Yas’m! *tugs forelock* LOL, sophistry for what you already said was a deliberate decision to exclude … “the reason I don’t promote your stuff”.

LP: That’s the reason I don’t promote your stuff all the time in general, though I do sometimes. The reason I didn’t promote you this time is I didn’t draw on your work as a primary source, but on several other women writers of colour.

LP: And please stop it. I’m not asking you to tug your forelock. You’re being unbelievably childish.

Anna Chen: Jack, when someone is as vocal about these issues as Laurie and then proceeds to do the same thing she purports to be criticising, then I think that requires a deeper exploration than simply taking it at face value. It’s not about “promoting my stuff”, it’s about being honest about the actual debate and not pretending it isn’t going on with real people.

Anna Chen: I live this stuff, Laurie. You’re just playing with it.

LP: Which I’m doing. Just not with you, because I personally believe, and I think a lot of writers and campaigners would agree with me, that this issue is not all about you, ‪Anna Chen

LP: No, fuck that, Anna, I may have white privilege but I experience sexism in the media every day, I live a great deal of what I’m writing about here whilst acknowledging that others have it worse. Do NOT come on to my private FB and accuse me of just ‘playing’ with an issue that affects my entire life as well as the lives of those many, many people I love.

Anna Chen: And you’re going out of your way to make it not about me in any way, shape or form, even as you are decrying the lack of women of colour in the left and in the media.

LP: …well, it ISN’T all about you.

Anna Chen: Wow, Laurie, queen of “me-me-me”. You made a decision after one distressed phone call to render my work on the left invisible while decrying our invisibility, happily coinciding with your dealings with the same white males on the left who dished it out. And you can’t see that?

Anna Chen: Again: ‪…/why-is-left-failing…

LP: “Laurie, queen of “me-me-me”” – um this is my FB wall.

Charles Shaar Murray: Last time you and Anna met (at The Hovel) you had the grace to be embarrassed. Glad to see you’ve done such a good job of getting over it.

LP: Embarrassed? I was unnerved to see someone who had so recently given me such a pile of grief on the phone in my own house without expecting it.

Charles Shaar Murray: RETCON.

LP: The fuck?

LP: Please don’t gaslight me ‪Charles Shaar Murray.

Anna Chen: Google is your friend.

LP: Right, you two know better than me what I was feeling at a particular moment in the past.

LP: This has officially crossed the line from ridiculous to creepy. Please both of you get off my Facebook wall. Find someone else to scapegoat, or don’t, but either way, do not contact me again.

Anna Chen: The line you have taken here has as much verité as your response to Greg Palast when he told you what he witnessed between me and your friend when he was in the SWP. Imagine my surprise to learn that you pretended not to have known about the events. How sisterly is that?

LP: I did no such thing. I said I didn’t and couldn’t know precisely what went on at the time because I was not there.

LP: I am unfriending you; please don’t contact me again.

MEANWHILE … in another part of the Facebook forest …

LP: 45 mutual friends
I said that after a phonecall A YEAR AGO in which you yelled at me for an hour, I decided not to engage with you anymore. I didn’t decide in advance to ‘exclude’ you from an article I didn’t know I’d be writing. You’re twisting the facts, and you’ll probably delete this comment, but please don’t outright lie.

Anna Chen: People can read the entire thread and make up their own minds. Talking of lying, it wasn’t me who urged people to vote for the LibDems at the last election and then claimed on TV that they hadn’t voted for them … Unless you told people to do what you had no intention of doing yourself. You wouldn’t do that … would you, Laurie?

I told the exact truth. You’re behaving appallingly right now. I’ve asked you not to contact me again, please stop.

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the week …

Anna Chen shared a link 31st March
I may do a great job making occasional radio programmes for the BBC once in a blue moon. I may make a good fist of making stimulating radio series for Resonance FM. I may be have been “the best press officer in the country” according to Paul Foot. I may be different, add diversity and offer an intelligent progressive perspective, but I still can’t get a look-in when it comes to BME representation and a paid job in the media. (Tagged) Paul Mason Owen Jones Laurie Penny

LP: · 45 mutual friends
Am I tagged in this so I can share it?
31 March at 22:52

Anna Chen: Do you think it should be shared?
31 March at 22:52

LP: · 45 mutual friends
Yes, I was just wondering.
31 March at 22:53

Anna Chen: Laurie, you often have things to say about BME and women and solidarity and all that, as do others in the media. I just wondered, too, if you had any thoughts on what I wrote.
31 March at 23:18

Owen Jones: Cheers for this. I spoke at a BAFTA event the other week, and the audience was incandescent at the institutional racism of TV, radio, the media etc. Actors, producers, and so on shared their experiences, and I left far more educated than when I was arrived, but the anger really impressed me – made me think there’s surely a basis for organising this and launching a campaign to challenge it?
1 April at 09:05

Anna Chen: Thanks, Owen. Absolutely. The British East Asian Artists went into battle over the shameful way the RSC continued the archaic practice of yellowface casting. We wrote to Ed Vaizey after he’d pledged to do something about lack of non-white faces, and he’s responded positively. Letter exchange at this page:

LP: · 45 mutual friends
I didn’t write about this, though, this is about New Media and doesn’t mention Trevor McDonald.
3 hours ago

Laurie didn’t have any thoughts. Neither did she share. But she did write the New Statesman piece about the exclusion of people like me … who she just happens to exclude.

Some background to this story.

The fall of the SWP: Edward Platt in New Statesman.

BAME artists take the diversity debate into Parliament.

Sometimes the sisters ain’t sisters.

When a real sister shows principled solidarity: Somi Guha challenges BBC Top Gear’s casual racism by Jeremy Clarkson.

People of colour aren’t supposed to express anger over issues of race and discrimination. “And so, appropriately goaded into a response, like a sleepy bear who has had its belly prodded once too many times with a spitefully sharp stick, here I am.”: Musa Okwonga on Jeremy Clarkson’s use of the N-word.

Harpy Marx writes

Angry Asian Woman Suey Park writing on Colbert: @Suey_Park A founder of Hashtag: #NotYourAsianSidekick

Fascinasians Juliet Shen, another founder of the Hashtag: #NotYourAsianSidekick

Julia Carrie Wong in The Nation: A very serious problem with very serious journalism

Playwright Jingan Young on the docile, submissive Asian woman stereotype.

A clear analysis and a sharp view of the terrain: Twittersecionalists and the commodification of dissent.

Native Species on the new ruling class in the leftish social media and an imagined bourgeois utopia.

British East Asian Artists

There are serious consequences for not humanising minorities through representation.

Laurie Penny’s Twitter response.

Madam Miaow says … visit
Anna’s food blog here:

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