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Civil rights movement

We're still fighting for Black civil rights

By Dawn Butler MP

This article was first published by the House Magazine to mark the launch of the Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. 

The US Civil Rights Movement happened before I was born, or should I say, the ‘official’ Civil Rights Movement happened before I was born. 

I am still fighting for the civil rights of black people, and indeed many others, who are discriminated against in society. I suppose what the Civil Rights Movement means to me is a template, slice of history that reminds us everyday what happens if we do not fight for equality and the rights of others. 

Why do you think people are so moved by the words of Martin Luther King Jr: “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character”. 

Or Sojourner Truth when she said “ain’t I a woman?”. 

Or Nelson Mandela when he said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

All of these people are an inspiration to me and I look back on their actions and achievements with pride. 

However if their wise words are still relevant now, it means that we still have the same problem. And anyone denying that is either in a very privileged bubble, blind to the discrimination around them or is desperately trying to hold on to their privilege.  

For those people wanting only to have conversations with right wing, white supremacist racists , I say it is better to focus on truth and justice. There is a saying my Mum often uses, tell the truth and shame the devil. It is time we told the uncomfortable ugly truth.  We must challenge and defeat these groups, not just attempt to understand them.

I don’t like using words like white supremacy, it feels scary but when you look up the definition you realise that it exists and it is important to use correct terms. I hate racism, I hate the word, actions and how it feels, but I have to highlight the implications of it otherwise it will not change.  

So in 2021 I think it will be a hard but rewarding year, we will move the dial on racism and the debate. I am working on a learning and development programme and a Ted Talk, because what I have realised is, many people have said that if they were around during the Civil Rights Movement, they would have sat and protected Rosa Parks, or they would have ensured that Nelson Mandela was never imprisoned or they would have marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. 

They say it with such conviction that you are almost convinced, until you ask them: where were you during Black Lives Matter in 2020, and where are you now? 

Dawn Butler is the Labour MP for Brent Central.