It was only recently that Labour MP Diane Abbott became a vindicated woman after decades of relentless vitriol being swung her way from all, in every direction. However the dregs of humankind in the Right-wing press are at it again, stirring up the anti-Abbott sentiment we’re so used to in order to counter our recently (and short-lived) mainstreaming of #AbbottAppreciation . This week she’s being hounded for her use of the ‘N-word’ on Good Morning Britain – whilst recounting the horrific extent of the ongoing abuse she receives as a Black woman in the spotlight. Yet again, such is the way with British cognitive dissonance, people are far more upset about her repeating what was said to her ‘before watershed’ rather than being outraged that she was routinely being called such hateful terms for being Black, female, and vocal. A recent survey of abusive tweets, conducted by Amnesty International, found that Ms Abbott had been the victim of 10 times as much abuse as any other MP, with 45 per cent of all abusive tweets directed at her in the six weeks before election day. For even the most robust among us, that has to take its toll. With such truths coming to light, many of us are interrogating our own personal politics and attitudes towards people like Diane Abbott. In our latest post, Kate Holland pens a letter of apology, solidarity, and gratitude to aunty Di.
This is first and foremost a letter of apology. I misjudged you and have been misjudging you for a long time past. When I was ten years old I told my mother I wanted to be in politics. But I, a mixed-race girl growing up in the countryside attending the local state school could not see how I would ever get there. Surely you needed, like Tony Blair and all the others, a private education and an Oxbridge degree. My mum pointed to you and Oona King as role models. But I didn’t want you as role models. I wanted slim, “pretty” black women – “pretty” being society’s current standard of beauty. I did not want to hear that you had to work ten times as hard to be accepted, to fight for every concession.
It is seventeen years later and I have that Oxbridge degree under my belt, years of hard work after dropping out of school aged sixteen to make my claim academically. I almost didn’t go. Sometimes the misogyny and racism I experienced there made me want to leave but I carried on. Now I’ve done incredible things, moved abroad, started my masters, which took me across three continents to study at some of the best universities of the world. But not politics… yet.
I flew back from India a few weeks ago for the general election. I was loath to watch another vote from abroad where the result was not what I had hoped for. I went to canvas in Hampstead with a friend. This time the result was everything I could have asked for. A new politics has been ushered in. But you are still being abused.
It is so pervasive this media narrative, this social discourse that it made me turn away from having a black, female politician for a role model to having no politician for a role model. How strong that it sucks us in too so we turn against one another? We compete amongst ourselves, which is precisely how they want it. Easier to control. But you, you were bigger and braver and smarter than that and you rose above it, and you’ve been rising above it since.
Me, and others I have spoken to since noted that though we claimed we are not racist we still used the media narrative of racism to frame our dislike of you. We said it was not because you were a woman but you were incompetent. It is in Ian Hislop’s comments on Have I got New For You that you’re mad – so often we women are branded crazy, what a way to disempower us, undermine us, there is no reasoning with crazy is there?
Is it incompetence to be the first black female MP, in the election where there were the first ever black MPs? Are you a bit “gone-in-the-head” turning your constituency majority into one of the biggest this election? Graduating Cambridge University in the seventies? Being a single mother in the nineties when there was nothing but grief for single mothers? Heck there is still nothing but grief for being a single mother.
I judged you for sending your son to private school, I have since heard you offered the decision to him and responded to his choice. Can’t say fairer than that. I declined the offer of private school, funded through scholarship money and the generosity of my mother’s friend, on the grounds that if I then did get into politics I would not be the ideal of the ordinary person role model. These are the same reasons I almost didn’t go to Cambridge.
I have lived my life at times in the shadow of my ambitions to get into politics. Being wary, never crossing the boundaries too much. But I realise you can do everything and still get judged anyway. Still be subject to a torrent of vile racist and sexist abuse. You said that the attacks on you were putting women off getting into politics, black women in particular. My ambitions remain the same but my hesitation is now assured. Nonetheless I am writing this now to say I want to get involved. I do not know what or how to do that. But it is only through the presence of more like us, those who see themselves as marginalised and different, that we can make a change. You have worked for longer than my lifetime to make politics a better place for us. That is why this letter is not only an apology but also a thank you.
Kate Holland is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, currently completing her Masters in Global Studies at the University of Humboldt in Berlin.