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'Racism, sexism exist in UK's House of Commons'

Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott, the only two black women in Commons, claim they have dealt with misogyny and racism in the House which is considered mother of all parliaments and a beacon of democracy.
PTI | By HS Rao, London
UPDATED ON APR 14, 2008 04:33 PM IST

Racism still exists in Britain's House of Commons, considered mother of all parliaments and a beacon of democracy, the only two black women members of the House have claimed.

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.

"I thought that people in parliament would be progressive. It is still a shock to me that they are not. 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 is still very much 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 told the Observer, UK's oldest Sunday newspaper.

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.

Dawn Butler 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."

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