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Black History Month has arrived in the UK during a period of intense debate and anger about the racism black people still suffer across the globe in the wake of the tragic death of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.
Business Insider spent the past week speaking to black members from across the UK Parliament about their own experience of being a black person in British politics and the difference the Black Lives Matter movement has made.
These MPs spoke frankly about the discrimination and challenges they have suffered in their careers, both inside and outside parliament, and even within their own party.
And yet despite that discrimination, they also all spoke about why the Black Lives Matter movement has made them more optimistic that things can now change for the better.
What was your experience of entering politics as a black person?
Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead): At the time I was running to become a councillor there was only one black councillor out of 63 [on Bexley council] and that year we went from one to six out of 63, which was a bit of a culture shock for some of the councillors there, who apparently couldn’t tell the difference between me and other black councillors, even though we didn’t look alike. That was something I experienced repeatedly.
Florence Eshalomi (Labour MP for Vauxhall): I will always remember my first council advice surgery when this gentleman came in and said he’d like to see one of the councillors and I said ‘Hi, I’m one of the councillors ‘and he said ‘no I’d like to see one of the real councillors…’
I thought to myself ‘how do I deal with this situation now?’ because it is a case of this man probably thought I was too young, he probably thought what is this black girl doing here and he probably thought she probably doesn’t know anything about politics and how the hell did she get elected?…
I didn’t solve the issue for him but I did raise it with the officers and he came back a few months later and said thank you and it’s just things like that where you realised being a black woman involved in politics was not going to be an easy ride. People were always going to question whether you should be there and I thought ‘wow, is this going to be how it is going to be?’ But that never stopped me and that never deterred me.
Was Parliament a welcoming place for you as a black person?
Eshalomi: There was a sense of ‘oh my gosh, little old me from Brixton is now sitting on these green benches’ and you just think wow, what an absolute honour and privilege.
But you do get that sense that it is still a white male club.
Being curious, walking around you get lost still, and come across corridors and doors where it says ‘gentlemen only’ and I’m like ‘What the hell? What do you mean gentleman only? Seriously?’
David Lammy …read more
Source:: Business Insider