Diane Abbott MP on her time at Cambridge University | #WeAreCambridge

Diane Abbott MP on her time at Cambridge University | #WeAreCambridge


My name is Diane Abbott. I’m the Member of
Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. I’ve been an for 31 years and I read
History at Newnham College. Nobody in my family had gone to school past the age
of 14 but I was an omnivorous reader of novels and in those novels the people
seemed to go to Oxford and Cambridge, so I thought well maybe I should go there.
I was also taken on a school trip to Cambridge. I think I was in the lower sixth
and I thought it was just amazing and I thought all these young men and women
with their striped Cambridge scarves, to me they looked like princes and princesses
and so it became aspiration of mine to go there. but it had no basis in any of my own
experience or my family’s experience. I did 3 A-levels at school, you were only supposed to do 3 and that’s because I felt very
passionately about all the subjects. So I did Art, which I loved, I did RE, which I
also loved, I did English and I did History. So I was passionate about History, it was
a great course. I was able to do as a dissertation on reconstruction in the United
States, the post-civil war reconstruction but apart from that there was no
possibility of learning anything about black history or the black contribution to
British society. I mean I always say that I had one of the best educations you could hope for.
I went to grammar school, I did A-level History, I went to Cambridge
got a History degree but all throughout I never learned anything about black
history and I think it would be better and maybe it’s true nowadays
if the course of acknowledged more of the black contribution to British
society and British politics. I think there were three girls of colour at Newnham
when I was there. One was from South Asia, one was mixed race and
adopted by white family and I think in the History faculty I don’t remember
seeing any other black people as undergraduates in the History faculty. But
the other aspect of it for me was class because my family were working class West
Indians and this was a whole new world. I mean at home you used to read the Daily
Mirror and the Daily Mirror in those days made the society out to be much
more egalitarian than it really was, so it was all a shock for, people
having cocktail parties, people talking about their country cottages. It was a huge
shock. I’ve had young people tell me, young Hackney people,
who’ve come to me for advice who’ve said: ‘I don’t really think I want to go to Oxford or
Cambridge.’ I would say definitely go there, I would say hold on to your values. People react in different ways to the whole Oxford or Cambridge thing. Some people just got completely swept up
and forget where they’ve come from but with others of us it just reinforces our
sense of who we are and what we believe in. Do come along to the Black Cantab exhibition at the University Library. It features 14 photographs of black Cambridge history makers and it’s
a great honour to be included in it.

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