If tokenism worked, Diane Abbott would now be an honoured, senior politician: a figurehead, a hero – the first Black female MP to be elected to Westminster. What must it have been like, being the only Black woman in that hidebound, clique-driven institution? Yet she has served her constituency, being confidently re-elected every time, for over 30 years.
And yet her Party has chosen to suspend her for an unfinished letter, published in error – an error which she has explained and apologized for. I don’t need to tell you what was wrong with it, because the fact that it was a mistake has been ignored by hordes of people eager demonstrate their own perfection by loudly pointing out what’s wrong with it, and having a go at one of the most often abused MPs in Westminster.
If Abbott was the honoured, historically revered figure she should be, mistakes like that would be nodded at and smiled over, and the world would carry on. Can there be any doubt then, that tokenism has failed? Leaving one, long-suffering Black woman to carry the torch for all Black women simply leaves her to take all the flak, because we absolutely have not solved the social problems of ageism, sexism and racism.
Entitled to rage?
On my own social media page, I called out a local councillor yesterday, for the bile with which she piled in to condemn Abbott, pointing out that that councillor had previously shown me evidence of ageism in her attitude to others. She was furious. She was sure she’d never put a foot wrong in her life. I have no doubt she had genuinely forgotten the incident I mentioned. Casual ageism, like anti-Black racism, is horribly easy to get away with and forget.
Similarly, when Skwawkbox called out Wes Streeting a few years ago for joining the endless ranks of people abusing Diane Abbott, he was so sure he was perfect that he threatened to sue – to sue for someone mentioning something he had done, and done in front of witnesses. It took some effort to persuade him he was actually on dodgy ground.
Click here to read the Skwawkbox article from 2018
I started trying to think how I could write an article about this endemic lack of empathy and judgementalism we suffer from, then realized I’d already written it, some years ago. I didn’t publish it at the time because I was a Labour Party officer, and the writing of it was largely cathartic – trying to see myself through the pressure of all the things a CLP officer can’t talk easily about. Well I’m not a CLP officer now, and I don’t give a fig about the effect it has on the Labour Party. I can’t possibly do more damage to them than they have done to themselves with their appallingly one-sided attitude to their own membership and MPs.
NB The article I wrote covered all the big issues that were pressing on me back then. At the time, the women’s rights movement was new to me (to most women) and it’s interesting now, to see that the video linked to in the article (by the inimitable Magdalen Burns, RIP) covers the best known figures on the campaign at that time. They have largely gone their separate ways now, and sorted themselves our into women’s groups that suit their various political stances. The catch-line “We need to talk”, and the notion of meeting at Hyde Park Corner, became signatures of Kelly Jay Keen’s group, Standing For Women. Others developed different kinds of groups.
If you’re a Labour Party activist, look for
If you’re a trade unionist, or broadly of the left, look for
If you’re a socialist internationalist and all-round feminist, look for
I could go on – there’s a fairly definitive list on the Sex Matters website, here…
Women’s sex-based rights campaign groups
And here’s the article I didn’t publish in 2017. I offer it up now, with a plea that we all recognize the unrelenting pressure Diane Abbott has worked under all her life, the long service she has given in spite of it, and the fact that she has often been one of the few who had the guts to stand up for people who were bullied or slandered, even when it wasn’t fashionable to do so.
Click here to read my article from 2017
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