After finding out about Diane Abbot's comments about Finnish nurses from over a decade ago, I became interested because I had not heard of it previously and thought it interesting to see what kinds of reactions it provoked back then.
I found this hilarious article from The Independent, 1996.
Diane Abbott is sorry (For the record Miss Finland is also black)
John Rentoul Political Correspondent
Friday, 29 November 1996
Diane Abbott, the black Labour MP, yesterday backed down over her attack on "blonde, blue-eyed" Finnish nurses taking jobs at her local hospital and said she was "sorry and upset" that her remarks had been interpreted as racist.
Her apology came as Marc Wadsworth, executive member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, who is himself half-Finnish, pointed out that the present Miss Finland, Lola Odusoga, is black, of Nigerian and Finnish descent. "She's a black Finn like me," he said.
One of the Finnish nurses at Homerton hospital in Ms Abbott's constituency, Hackney North and Stoke Newington, London, is also believed to be black.
"There is quite a small black population in Finland, but it is recent and the issue is very much to the fore there at the moment," Mr Wadsworth said.
"The Finns are a race whose origins are in Asia - they understand a sense of exclusion and difference. They have never colonised or enslaved anybody, and have been ruled by the Swedes and Russians for 800 years. The Swedes in Viking days used to call them the blacks. In many senses they are ideal Diane Abbott fodder. These are potential allies, not enemies."
But Ms Abbott was supported by Bernie Grant, a fellow black MP whose constituency, Tottenham, borders hers.
"She is quite right," he said. "Bringing someone here from Finland who has never seen a black person before and expecting them to have some empathy with black people is nonsense. Scandinavian people don't know black people - they probably don't know how to take their temperature."
The North Middlesex hospital in his constituency has also employed between 20 and 30 Finnish and Irish nurses, who do not need work permits because they are European Union citizens. Mr Grant said: "What I find strange about the whole situation is that the Home Office is deporting fully trained nurses to the Caribbean and Africa while the NHS is recruiting people from Scandinavia.
"I have had a number of cases of nurses fighting deportation in my constituency. It's either a case of racism or of incompetence or both."
He pointed out that research by the Runnymede Trust, commissioned by the Department of Health, which was published last year, found that black nurses could expect to reach sister grade five years later than their white colleagues.
Mr Wadsworth said he was "sympathetic" with Ms Abbott's comments, but that they were based on ignorance. "In a borough like Hackney, black people are disproportionately unemployed, and they are discriminated against in the NHS. But to attack people for having blue eyes and blonde hair is nonsense and ill-informed. It is the kind of stereotyping in a way that Diane would strongly oppose if a white person applied it to a black person."
As it emerged that Ms Abbott's article was published in the Hackney Gazette two weeks ago but only noticed by national media on Tuesday, she issued a statement saying: "I very much regret that one sentence of my article for a local paper has led to a widespread misunderstanding of my position."
She said her main priority was to ensure that her constituents received medical treatment from the very best people "irrespective of race".
Herman Ouseley, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: "The CRE consistently condemns any statement or creed that stirs up racial hatred, reinforces negative attitudes and stereotyping of any racial group that feeds racism and xenophobia."
Another interesting observation about identity politics within the frame of multiculturalist discourse, using this incident as an example: http://www.lausti.com/articles/ethnicity/malik.htm