Upon scrolling through the barrage of messages left on the myriad of political tweets you can easily find on the internet, you are most likely to note a furious battle between liberal and conservative politics, harsh battle lines drawn between left and right, and, far too often, a belittling of any political opinion that does not correspond to the original author.
Yet, despite the unexpected British election dredging up the same worn-out issues between left and right with no true way of reaching compromise, something far more sinister and shocking evolved from this year’s political campaigning. And it went further than attack ads. Instead, we were all witness to a vitriolic attack on a black woman’s character.
Diane Abbott exceeded all expectations by gaining a coveted place at Cambridge in the 1970s, she broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first black female MP, and she recently stated that she joined politics to “make things better for people like me” – strongly advocating diversity in our political system.
When Theresa May stepped up to the lectern strategically placed outside of 10 Downing Street on the 18th April, I do not believe anyone could have predicted the chaos that would ensue. But in all the bickering, campaigning and promises of strong and stable leadership, racial and gender-based hatred proved the winner in an election with no true outcome. Despite not being naïve to the levels of abuse women of colour face daily, I could not have fully understood the level of hatred spewed out towards one woman who misquoted her numbers.
With a numerous amount of racial slurs and gender attacks hurled at her on Twitter and historically being subjected to ridicule by fellow MPs – David Davies the Brexit Sec. texted a Conservative MP to say he ‘would not hug’ Abbott as he is ‘not blind’ and Jess Phillips told her to ‘f*ck off’ after Abbott raised the issue of a lack of female representation in politics – Abbott was eventually forced to temporarily step down from her position due to illness, a move that has not been seen in British politics for a long time.
We can all probably agree that in the case of the ill-fated LBC ‘car-crash’ interview, Abbott deserved to be critiqued. And if critique falls upon others in equal measure, I will not take issue. But the truth is, it doesn’t. In fact, Boris Johnson, often lampooned as an idiot or buffoon, is praised, and could well find himself as the next leader of the country. This is evidence in itself – as long as you are a white, upper-middle class man – mistakes are just mistakes and nothing more. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, the relentless virulence Abbott was subjected to was out of proportion, and appears to speak to the attitude the general public appear to possess towards women of colour in authoritative positions.
Attacks on Abbott have reinforced facts the community of women of colour across this country have known for years. Echoes of familial words of wisdom instilled in me from childhood often came to the forefront of my mind when reading the latest attack ad, or noting the latest unflattering picture splashed across a tabloid front page: ‘You have to work twice as hard to achieve just as much.’ And as a dark-skinned, proud, strong black woman, the cards were stacked against Diane Abbott. She continued to show strength in the face of adversity. However, as she later announced at the #AbbottAppreciation event held in her honour by a group of well-meaning Twitter supporters, “Even strong black women cry, even strong black women feel alone…”.
Although the negative side of this election has proven to British women of colour that gaining a seat at the table is a battle hard-won, the victories made by ethnic minorities in mostly Labour constituencies significantly pave the way for young women of colour who seek to advocate.
Nevertheless, misogynoir and racism was highlighted as deep-rooted within our political system this election cycle.
It’s time to weed it out before it affects us all.
Rebekah Evans is a student at King’s College London, studying English.