This guest piece was written by Diane Abbott MP and appears in the Campaign's Black History Month Guide 2012.
Diane Abbott MP will also be speaking at the official NUS BSC Black History Month event on Monday 22nd October - Facebook event.
"Twenty five years ago I was elected along with Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz as one of Britain’s first four Black MPs. Strictly speaking although Bernie, Paul and I were definitely the first MPs of African descent, Keith was following in the footsteps of earlier Asian MPs. But, at the height of 1980s Black activism African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean communities had come to realise the importance of unity in our common struggle against racism and under-representation. We campaigned under the political term ‘Black’ - a term that I am pleased to see that many trade unions and organisations like the NUS Black Students Campaign proudly maintain. Back then we were told we wouldn’t win but 23 years later Britain celebrated the record election of 27 Black MP’s.
My family came to this country from the Caribbean, my mother was a nurse and my father worked in a factory. I went to Cambridge and was really struck by the huge gulf between my background and most of the people I was at university with. Also by the opportunities available to people like my parents, friends and relatives at school, and those I was meeting at Cambridge. It seemed I was living in a very divided society and I wanted to do something about it.
Looking at my photographs at the time of my election, I seemed to be incredibly youthful and naive. Nothing prepared me for the experiences that lay ahead of me over the next quarter century. Paul and Keith had fought elections before. Bernie had run a big local authority. I was flung in at the deep end with no mentor, no template and nothing to model myself on. If we all experienced racism, I experienced both racism and coruscating sexism.
This ‘double whammy’ that Black women face makes it that much harder for them. But I think there are many able and dynamic Black women around and they have a lot of things to offer, so I hope to encourage them to get active in politics. Outside of politics, there are many more Black women in professions like teaching and on TV.
Over the last 20 years progress has been made in Westminster. There are now 144 women, a notable improvement from when I was first elected. There are also many younger MPs, I remember Parliament initially seemed a very elderly place.
So much has changed in the past 25 years and I am proud of the contribution I have made. Back then I was constantly asked how could I, a Black woman, represent white people? No one can ask a Black MP that today. Although I had expected there to be many more Black MPs in Parliament by now, I am proud of the ones that have emerged. There is still a lot of work to do to achieve racial equality, but I believe that increased Black representation in Parliament is making a difference.”