Diane Abbott debate: Why is 'coloured' offensive?

Diane Abbott calls Amber Rudd’s ‘coloured woman’ comment ‘offensive’

Friday, March 8, 2019

Diane Abbott has said it was “offensive” for Amber Rudd to call her a “coloured woman”, after the work and pensions secretary used the phrase during an interview on Thursday.

Ms Rudd apologised after she made the comment in during an interview about online abuse suffered by women, saying she was "mortified" by her "clumsy" use of language.



Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary, took to Twitter to respond to Amber Rudd's choice of phrase, calling the term "outdated" and "offensive".

Labour MP David Lammy also condemned the language saying the word “coloured” insinuated that being white is “the default”.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “You might forgive your grandma for saying it, but cabinet Ministers in 2019 should know better than this.

“Using the term "coloured" to describe anyone who is not white is offensive because it assumes being white is somehow normal or the default.”

Many suggest that the term “coloured” was also unacceptable due to the use of the phrase during the Apartheid in South Africa and segregation in America, and encouraged people to instead say “people of colour”.


'A lot of historial baggage' 

Others have defended the work and pensions secretary saying she had simply “misspoke” and that previous generations had been taught “coloured” was the “polite” word to use.

One Twitter user responded to Ms Abbott’s tweet, saying: “I’m in no way condoning any of this, but just to say I’m 37 and even I remember a time when it was an acceptable word.

“I’ve always been confused as to what is and isn’t acceptable and why.”



Answering users questions about the phrase, chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said the term “coloured” came with “a lot of historical baggage”.

Satbir Singh said: “'Coloured’ comes with a lot of historical baggage (see: apartheid).

“It also assumes that ‘whiteness’ is a baseline, i.e. there is a binary by which you are ‘white’ or just ‘one of the 6.7billion other people’. A deviation from whiteness.”

Other Twitter users added that they did not feel it was a “generational” difference.

One Twitter user, who claimed to be aged 73, said the word was used in the 1950s but many "socialist adults" still refused to use it.

Another added that it was not a "generation" thing, but a "white upper-class Tory toff thing". 

Attempting to explain why the term "coloured" was offensive and "people of colour" was not, Twitter user Nakul Pande said: "Coloured puts the person's skin tone and otherness first. Person of colour puts their personhood, or if you prefer, humanity, first.

"And person of colour is a descriptive term determined by people of colour themselves, rather than a slur determined by white colonials."