IN THE latest instalment of the BBC’s award-winning Sista Collective podcast former computer programmer turned MP, Dawn Butler, speaks to Jessie Aru Phillips.
“We’re all given the talk: ‘You’ve got to be twice as good.’ Some people’s parents, especially Nigerian parents, it’s ‘You got to be 10 times better’… But because you’ve had to be twice as good to get recognition, it means that when you walk into the room, you’re already better than anybody else
Butler opens up about her political career as a black female, systemic racism in society, inspiring the next generation of young black people and how she likes to unwind with dancing and karaoke.
Speaking on the recent incident which saw her friend’s car stopped by police when she was a passenger, Butler, who accused the Metropolitan Police of racial profiling, says: “He was a nice guy… I make it clear about that because I think it’s vital that we don’t focus on individuals, that we focus on the system, because it’s the change in the system is what’s going to make a difference.
“If you take individuals out of equations, it just changes that individual and that individual experience.
“But it doesn’t change the systemic or the structural racism or discrimination or bias that exists in the system.
“So it’s vital that we change the system. It’s like when John Lewis, the Congressman, who died, he said having one person in the position of power doesn’t change everything in the main – like having one president doesn’t change America, for instance.”
On becoming the first black female MP minister in this country she enthused: “I became a minister and I was the first black female MP to ever be a minister in this country.
“I was so focused on doing a good job and doing it right I kind of forgot that it was momentous. I also forgot how difficult people will try and make my life just because I’m black and female.
“So every stage has been learning. There are loads more black women now in Parliament. And I feel very proud of that.
“You think to yourself, you’ve been elected like everybody else to enter Parliament. You’re there in your own established right.
“Yet still, somehow people expect you to justify your presence in that space. Now when I look back at it, I kick myself for not preparing for that.
“I was naive to think you could just be elected and do a good job without considering the fact that you are a black woman, and people are going to address you a certain way or distress you in other ways.
“Of course, we should always be ready for that because we do not leave who we are when we leave the home. And people are not bias free… That is the sad reality of the situation.
“The fact that some people don’t believe us in that battle or that struggle is also extremely frustrating.”
The Sista Collective is a BBC England, BBC Radio 5 Live, and BBC Sound’s production offering candid conversation by women of colour, for all to enjoy.
It is executive produced and presented by Jessie Aru Phillips who is joined weekly by co-presenters Simone Riley, Letitia George and Aminata Kamara, together they talk and have fun reflecting the true diversity of the black British experience in the UK.
In response to Dawn Butler MP’s comments about the Metropolitan Police in the podcast the Deputy Commissioner, Sir Steve House, said: “The officers who undertook the stop were from the Violent Crime Task Force and were in the area as part of our proactive work to protect communities from violence.
“Criminals often use vehicles to travel in and to commit crime, therefore officers will often check cars to see if there is anything that requires them to stop it and do further checks. The officers ran a number plate check on the vehicle. At this stage, the officers still didn’t know who the occupants of the car were, including their ethnicity because the car windows were tinted.
“As a result of an officer making a human error as he inputted the car registration, the Police National Computer returned details of a car from another part of the UK.
“The officers were not initially aware of this problem and as a result felt, with good reason, that they should do further checks on the car by stopping it and engaging with the occupants. I expect officers to have professional curiosity and I would have done the same.
“I have viewed all the available video material of that interaction and I have read their statements – the officers acted professionally and politely, explaining why the stop was made and, when realising there was a mistake, explaining this and continuing to answer the occupants’ questions. Ms Butler has said that she has no complaint about ‘how’ the stop was conducted, rather her concerns lie in why the stop was initiated and I have discussed these concerns with her.”
The podcast sees Butler touch on other sbjects such as COVID-19 and her love for singing Madonna tracks.
On inspiring the next generation of young black people she said: “We’re all given the talk: ‘You’ve got to be twice as good.’ Some people’s parents, especially Nigerian parents, it’s ‘You got to be 10 times better’… But because you’ve had to be twice as good to get recognition, it means that when you walk into the room, you’re already better than anybody else.
“Yes! We should hold our heads up. It’s like the saying ‘our crown has already been paid for’.
“So we need to have the confidence to pick that crown up and put it on our head and hold our heads up high with pride, embrace your awesomeness. Go into that room and know that you’re already better than them.”