Rene Eddo-Lodge: Bridging the Black generational political divide


In the planning meeting for the 2017 General Election, Operation Black Vote sat down with our advertising agency partners, Saatchi and Saatchi to plan a campaign that would ensure the Black vote- Black and minority ethnic vote- would be a central player that the main stream political parties could not ignore.

After the deluge of ideas that came through we plumbed for the simplebut powerful line: ‘Black people don’t vote… but if we did… ‘ .? Then of course I and others would go on to say; 'we could  change our world; employment, education, policing, you name it we’d change it'.

We managed to get  two young celebrities to front the campaign; blogger sensation Jamal Edwards, and Hollywood superstar Riz Ahmed.

Both were incredibly passionate about being part of a campaign that would give voice, hope and power to our communities. Ahmed was juggling his Hollywood commitments but said to me on many occasions, ‘Brother, I’m with you on this, Hollywood can wait’.

He kept his promise and filming his line he stated ‘Black people don’t vote, and what I mean by Black is African, Asian, and Caribbean communities, but if we did.... we’d change our world’.

The video went viral and was covered in just about every newspaper. But none of us expected the small but vociferous backlash that came from within our own communities, not least Riz himself.

A young fearless, empowered and active African/Caribbean generation pushed back hard against Riz: ‘How dare this Asian guy call himself Black, he’s not Black never will be Black, and has no right call himself Black. The abuse came thick and fast. The ‘Black’, they were referring to was of course political Black –none white- a term that was born out of the 70’s and 80’s  struggle that enabled people of colour from all over the commonwealth, to come together to fight racism. But his new generation was having none of it. Riz was truly devastated: first, he never wanted to cause any offence,  on the contrary, he was a working class Bangladeshi we wanted to give back to all people of colour to fight racism.

It was a stark lesson for us all. We had assumed that political Black was understood. For us the term never undermined our individual cultures, struggles and differences, actually we argued it strengthened them.

Now Rene Eddo Lodge in her most brilliant podcast about political Blackness has laid the debate bare by interviewing those on the generational divide to uncover where both sides are coming from and what it means for the struggle going forward.

It is the first time I can remember that this debate has been so well handled with prominent voices such as Diane Abbott MP,  the writer and broadcaster  Farrukh Dhondy and poet and activist  Alaka. All where prepared to talk honesty about an issue they cared about feared if it wasn't handled well could tear the unity of our communities apart.

In this 30 minute podcast you not only get a brief, but insightful history of the 70’s 80’s Black struggle, but also a snap shot of a new generation of activist who rightly demand to be listened to. It is a brilliant programme in which Rene ultimately is able to weave a gold thread through the generational divide help it pull together  going forward.

As for Riz, he needn’t have worried unduly. His contribution along with Jamal and Saatchi and Saatchi during that election campaign ensured the biggest turnout ever of the BME vote the largest number of BME MPs’ elected to parliament, and an acknowledgement by the Conservatives that the reason they lost their majority was because they did not attract enough BME voters.

During the 2017 election the Black Vote truly arrived.

Rene podcast is here:

Simon Woolley