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The Victoria Derbyshire Show: Dawn Butler, Marsha de Cordova and Bell Ribeiro-Addy call out “racial bias”

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Dawn Butler, Marsha de Cordova and Bell Ribeiro-Addy on The Victoria Derbyshire Show.

Three black female Labour MPs have talked about being “visible” and “recognised” after being mislabelled in various reports last week. Here’s why that’s so important to talk about.

Last week, Labour MPs Dawn Butler and Marsha de Cordova called out the BBC for getting them mixed up during a report. While Battersea MP and shadow minister for disabled people, Cordova, made a speech in the Commons, the BBC displayed the name of MP for Brent Central and Labour deputy leadership candidate, Butler.

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Cordova responded, by tweeting: “@BBCPolitics @BBCParliament this is what happens when the media does not represent the society it reports on. Representation matters. Diversity matters. This cannot continue.”

And Butler wrote: “@BBCNews @BBCPolitics I love my sister @MarshadeCordova but we are two different people. Marsha is amazing and deserves to be called by her own name. Diversity in the workplace matters it also helps to avoid making simple mistakes like this.”

In coverage of the news story, a newspaper then used a photograph of MP for Streatham and shadow immigration minister, Bell Ribeiro-Addy – who had nothing to do with the events.

All three women appeared on The Victoria Derbyshire Show on Monday 10 February to explain why these mistakes were unacceptable. 

Dawn Butler, Marsha de Cordova and Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
Dawn Butler, Marsha de Cordova and Bell Ribeiro-Addy on The Victoria Derbyshire Show.

“It was really disappointing and quite upsetting because obviously I’m a woman in my own right,” Cordova told host Victoria Derbyshire. “I just felt as though, as an individual, I’m visible, I’m here. And labelling me as my colleague and friend Dawn just felt as though they’ve just categorised us all as one grouping – a black female MP with braids, or knots in Dawn’s case.”

Derbyshire pointed out that the mistake was very swiftly correctly, which led Cordova to say: “It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

Butler added: “I first came to Parliament in 2005, and people couldn’t tell myself apart from Dianne Abbott – so I would be called Dianne Abbott all the time. I just think that, over a decade later, when black women like Marsha or Bell and African Caribbean women – they have to work so hard, they deserve to be recognised for who they are.”

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She continued: “It happens quite regularly, and sometimes we laugh about it, but I’ll say this: it’s not about making the mistake, it’s about not putting in the effort. If you haven’t got anybody in your news room who can tell us apart and know that we’re different, you need to get someone who can.”

Ribeiro-Addy then shared her reaction, saying: “It’s actually quite disrespectful, I think. I’m a new MP, if nobody knows who I am, that’s absolutely fine, but Dawn and Marsha have been MPs for some time, and they have portfolios: they’ve had a lot of very important things to say. I would expect people to know exactly who they are.”

She added: “If you can’t distinguish between people just because they are the same race, I think you have to question what that says about how you view us, definitely. Because it happens to Asian MPs as well quite frequently.”

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Asked by Derbyshire if the mistake could be down to “human error” and production staff put under a lot of pressure in the newsroom, Cordova recalled another similar mistake made. The BBC mistakenly played footage of LeBron James in its coverage of the death of his fellow basketball star Kobe Bryant.

“There is a racial bias there,” Cordova concluded. 

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Images: BBC

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…