Black female MPs condemn racist abuse and death threats they have received for supporting George Floyd protests

Attacks a ‘reminder of why demonstrations had to happen in the first place’, says Bell Ribeiro-Addy

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Wednesday 10 June 2020 18:11 BST
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Vitriol directed at black female MPs illustrates the necessity of protests, they say
Vitriol directed at black female MPs illustrates the necessity of protests, they say

Black women MPs have condemned a deluge of racist abuse and death threats they have suffered after voicing support for Black Lives Matter protests.

Thousands of protesters have gathered across the UK to challenge police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in US police custody.

Politicians and campaigners say the vitriol directed at the MPs for backing the demonstrations illustrates why the protests are necessary. One MP, Dawn Butler, said she had received emails wishing her physical harm.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who was elected as Labour MP for Streatham in December, told The Independent: “The backlash against Black Lives Matter demonstrators and black MPs who’ve come out in support of direct action is another reminder of why these protests had to happen in the first place.”

Ms Ribeiro-Addy added that she believed the abuse was emblematic of the UK’s systemic racism, and that “for all the hand-wringing and rhetoric from the government, racism is still sanctioned from the top with those who highlight racism punished more often than those who perpetuate it”.

Earlier this week, Boris Johnson said protests about racist discrimination were “founded on a cold reality” and that while the UK had made good progress in tackling racism there was “so much more to do”.

Playwright Bonnie Greer said this week the PM must first apologise for his previous use of “racist” terms before his support for Black Lives Matter can be taken seriously. Mr Johnson has previously used the terms “picaninnies” and “watermelon smiles” in a 2002 Daily Telegraph column, for which he apologised, and compared Muslim women who wear burqas to “letter boxes” and bank robbers in a 2018 column for the same paper.

The government has been contacted for further comment.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP for Battersea and shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, told The Independent: “Thursday marks the 33rd anniversary of the first black MPs elected to parliament. But still, we face intolerable threats and abuse for standing up for a fairer and more equal Britain.

“Labour is clear that it is time for fundamental change, and an end to the structural racism faced by black women in politics and across society.”

Dawn Butler, Labour MP for Brent, who went to the police after she was bombarded with abuse for supporting the protests, told The Independent: “I will not be silenced when it comes to speaking out on racism. It is the oldest trick in the book, trying to scare people into silence. Nothing will ever change if we stay silent.

“I have said to many people, just imagine if someone had said to you, you will witness a real-life lynching of a black man. What would you expect your answer or response to be? And now think about how you’ve responded.

“I am comforted by the solidarity of those taking action. Its everyone’s fight, we can’t keep explaining racism away. We witnessed a lynching with our own eyes. It’s time for systemic long-lasting change because we can’t pass on this generational trauma to the next generation.”

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, urged people on Friday not to attend the weekend protests, warning at the daily coronavirus briefing that they were “undoubtedly a risk” for spreading Covid-19.

Ms Butler, former shadow women and equalities minister, said she received dozens of threatening and abusive emails after writing in Metro that anti-racism demonstrators should not be blamed for another spike of in infections. She wrote: “This, in my view, is a cynical attempt to not only discourage people from using their right to protest but an attempt to shift the blame away from this government’s incompetence if there is a second wave.”

She added in the column: “Where was their anger when we saw people flock to the beaches in Devon, Cornwall, Brighton? Or even their indignation when people were forced to cram on to the tube and buses to get to work?”

Diane Abbott, the former shadow home secretary, replied to Ms Butler on Twitter, saying: “A couple of years ago my staff stopped me opening my own mail in order to hide from me most of the racist and abusive stuff. But I know they have been reduced to tears by some of the stuff they have seen.”

Azmina Dhrodia, who conducted a major Amnesty International report into Twitter abuse of women politicians and journalists, told The Independent that the “onslaught of violent threats and racist abuse directed” at Ms Butler over her support for Black Lives Matter was “yet another example of the disproportionate levels” of online abuse black women MPs are forced to endure.

She added: “The same discrimination and anti-black racism that Dawn Butler experiences offline, like when she was mistaken for a cleaner in parliament, also manifests online and aims to suppress black women’s participation in public life.”

Ms Dhrodia, whose 2018 report discovered black women were 84 per cent more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets, said black women faced a “particular denigration of online abuse” that simultaneously targets both their gender and their race which is commonly referred to as misogynoir.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, condemned reports of “huge levels of online abuse” against black women MPs for expressing support for Black Lives Matter protests.

She said: “Reports of horrifying levels of online abuse against black women MPs are deeply concerning. Our research has revealed the shocking levels of abusive tweets hurled against women of colour in politics and public life, especially black women. The content of this abuse can be extremely disturbing – including death and rape threats – and have a chilling effect on people’s willingness to speak out.

“These vicious attempts to silence black MPs must be met with action. Racist online abuse must be called out and properly tackled, and social media companies like Twitter must do far more to combat this extremely worrying trend so that women can feel safe to participate in public debate and politics.”

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