by Huma Munshi
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘Inspiring Change’. Doreen Lawrence has been a force for change. Challenging the institutional racism within the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has invoked a cultural change within British society. And her fight for justice provides an important message for the feminist movement for liberation.
Doreen Lawrence was asked on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs about how she dealt with the murder of her son, Stephen Lawrence, in the days that followed. She explained that her children had to go back to school but she was filled with anxiety at the prospect of being away from them as Stephen had been murdered only the day before. But, she said, what could she do? She couldn’t frighten them or disrupt them any further. And, as Kirsty Young wept, it was Doreen Lawrence that comforted her.
It is Doreen Lawrence’s dignity and tireless campaigning that is an inspiration. Perhaps someone else would have been broken and who would have blamed her? She channelled her grief and anger. What she has done, and continues to show is that an institution as bureaucratic and outdated as the Metropolitan Police Service can be challenged. She has done more to tackle its institutional racism than any other individual.
There is no victory. So I don’t write this to indicate some fairy tale ending. Far from it. The fact that she had to challenge
the very institution that should have supported her tells us what she was up against. Even now, years after the Macpherson Report, there are more tales of corruption. Evidence now indicates that undercover police befriended the Lawrence family while they grieved for their son only to spy on them.
A son murdered because of the colour of his skin. A grieving family infiltrated and investigated because of the colour of their skin. The Macpherson Report was the tip of the iceberg. Whilst it revealed a modicum of the institutional racism within the MPS, it did not fully highlight the corruption at the highest level.
It beggars belief. It is this white supremacy that Doreen Lawrence has fought tirelessly against. Indeed, only a few weeks ago on Radio Four’s Today programme she described being followed by sales staff whilst shopping. She keeps her bag fully in sight to dispel their suspicions.
Some have said that taking on the peerage and taking up a seat in the House of Lords will dilute her activism. I dare anyone to show a fraction of the fire and commitment that Doreen Lawrence has demonstrated. At every opportunity she has fought for the murderers of her son to be brought to justice. And it was ten years before two of them were finally convicted.
It is this fire, this commitment, this campaigning that we have so much to be inspired by. If IWD means anything to me, it is about fighting: fighting the institutions that are against you; the cultural hegemony that conspires against you; when those that should protect you, betray you and let you down. In the face of this, somehow, you remain steadfast.
I wish Doreen Lawrence was not the subject of this article. I wish racist murderers and an institutionally racist MPS had not forced her into this position. But she has been. I salute you, Doreen Lawrence, for all that you have done in the UK to highlight institutional racism and thank you for challenging the racist hegemony within the UK.
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here
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