The House of Commons, held up as a beacon of democracy, has a ‘dirty little secret’, according to black MPs – its racism.
Dawn Butler, only the third black woman ever to have become an MP, said she faced such frequent racism from politicians of all parties that she had to ‘pick her battles’ to avoid being constantly in conflict with her colleagues. Disillusioned by what she has found, she is calling for a dedicated complaints department with the power to suspend politicians and send them on awareness training courses.
‘I thought people in Parliament would be progressive. It is still a shock that they are not,’ she said. ‘Over the past 400-plus years, the only black people – and black women in particular – in Parliament have been there to cook and clean. For some politicians, it’s still a shock to come face to face with a black women with any real power. Racism and sexism is Parliament’s dirty little secret.’
She is backed by Diane Abbott, the only other black woman in the Commons, who said that she had suffered 20 years of prejudice. ‘In the beginning, some of it was sheer ignorance. I remember being shocked when a Labour MP asked me once whether we celebrated Christmas in Jamaica,’ said Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
‘It has not helped that the Labour party powers-that-be have always seen me as “uppity” but I have dealt with the racism and misogyny by reaching out to other black women.’
Butler, who won the Brent South seat in 2005 when she was 35, described how shocked she was by the attitude of a senior Conservative who challenged her right to have a drink on the Commons’ Thameside terrace, a privilege reserved for MPs.
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Published April 23, 2008 Britain , Misogyny , Parliament , Politics , Racism Leave a Comment