Why don't our Black MP's speak out about race inequality?

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Now more than ever we need our Black elected politicians to speak out about race inequality. As always, during an economic downturn the challenges that Black people face become more acute. Challenges include; a worsening relationship between Black communities and the Police, much higher levels of unemployment, and a potential mental health time bomb which is already blighting many Black families.

The question is "Why aren't more of our Black politicians, - elected or otherwise - speaking out about race inequality in any forceful way?" Not only are too many keeping silent, but some such as Shaun Bailey and Chuka Umunna, are almost allowing themselves to be misquoted, because they themselves seem to suggest that class, not race, is the real barrier for most people. In that infamous David Goodhart Radio 4 programme Shaun Bailey stated:

Being seen as an angry poor criminal sat in the corner, is the problem of Black people ... I think we are a community that has been raised on a dependency culture. We are the chosen victims, and I will change that.

More recently in an interview with The Times, Umunna argued that his own middle-class upbringing ensured he had fewer barriers than someone from a Black working-class background, adding that he felt the 'elephant in the room' was class. The problem with Chuka's articulation is that he ignores the fact that many middle-class Black people still face barriers of race inequality. Furthermore, he fails to mention that he has been a beneficiary of campaigners fighting for greater race equality in Parliament and beyond. In his interview with The Times, he could have much more forcibly stated, for example, that being Black and poor is a double whammy because you are still affected by racial prejudice and class barriers too.

Without careful and explicit acknowledgement of persistent racial barriers, the media and our politicians tend to believe that the real progress made on race equality somehow means that, 'we have just about done with race now, so lets move on'.

But all of this still doesn't fully answer why our politicians almost refuse to talk about race inequality. The simple truth is if they do, the 'dogs of hell' are let loose on them and what too much of society see as a 'bleating, 'chip on the shoulder' Black community. For any ambitious politician therefore, raising these issues is tantamount to political suicide.

Take Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, for example. She spent the most part of her career towing the party line, and at times to the disdain of many Muslim individuals. She often argued that 'we must listen to the concerns of the BNP voters', and that Muslims should be more British. After demonstrating that she was a loyal political servant, Warsi felt she had earned the right to be listened to if she raised the issue of rising Islamaphobia. 'In polite society' she argued, 'it seems fine to rubbish Muslims'. All hell let loose. Party grandees called for her to resign. Her Cabinet colleagues, including the Prime Minster distanced themselves from her comments. She kept her job, just, but the flack that she received will ensure she won't be raising the issue anytime soon.

The vast majority of Black politicians today know if they want to get on in that Westminster bubble, they'd better not talk about race inequality. Black writers and activists know too, that if they dare to raise these issues, they will unleash a response that only the courageous and brave will endure.

I don't always agree with the Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, but she is without doubt the most racially abused woman in Britain today. Her crime? Well, this week she stated that Britain had become a moral leader when it came to race equality and that's why FIFA chief Sepp Blatter had been forced to apologise.

Although clearly, a compliment to what our nation has achieved, it still brought out the most wretched racial abuse towards her. Abuse which, sadly occurs on a weekly basis. Others who have dared to speak out, such as footballers Anton Ferdinand, Stan Collymore, and the Nottingham Black villager who spoke out about the Far Right connotations with the Union Flag, all received death threats. It's easy, therefore, to understand why our politicians are cautious, but if they become afraid of their own shadows and simply cannot defend us, what's the point of having greater Black representation?

During the summer's civil disturbances it felt like it was open season to abuse Black people. And whilst we all condemned the criminality, particularly those who endangered lives, most Black people wanted our Black politicians to say, 'Yes but, can we stop demonising all Black people.' In Salford whre riots took place in by majority White youths it was seen as a social issue not racial'.  Out there many Black people just didn't feel protected by the media excess and the savagery of David Starkey, and Paul Ross, who characterised the disturbances as primarily a 'Black problem'.

My guess is that socially and economically the situation for Black communities is going to get worse before it gets better. Therefore, we are going to need our politicians more than ever to raise those uncomfortable truths of persistent and growing race inequality.

Tottenham activist Stafford Scott recently lamented that we have 'too many politicians who see themselves as politicians who just happen to be Black'. He may be right.

Wouldn't it be great if we had a significant number of Black politicians who exuded a Black consciousness with the reverse refrain - that they are Black, but just happen to be a politician?

Simon Woolley

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Spot on

Simon. I really love this piece and I agree wholeheartedly. But you are right. Raising the issue of race, or talking about race, being a barrier to advancement in education or employment, is career suicide. It would take a very brave person indeed to speak out about race in the current economic climate, knowing that they will effectively be sabotaging their career by doing so. They will also be mocked, vilified, abused and hated. Who in their right mind is going to bring all that down on their heads?!

Black, but just happen to be a politician?

It's easy, therefore, to understand why our politicians are cautious, but if they become afraid of their own shadows and simply cannot defend us, what's the point of having greater Black representation?

A critical analysis of "black" politicians and organisations like OBV who seek to increase "Black" representation in Parliament.

MP's that happen to be black, not Black. (there is a difference)

MP's who happen to be black, are not elected into their position by people who are Black, and they therefore do not represent that dynamic when in the Westminster Club. If Black people elected someone to represent them, that person would be treated like a Nick Griffin character, and vilified mercilessly in the white dominated Westminster Village. This is why (in my opinion) President Obama in the US switched his agenda to a more mixed one, once in office. In the 21st Century it seems it is not PC to have a Black person represent the views of Black people.

It's not just politicians who do this though... I notice whenever I've worked anywhere on the "plantation", the black people there in general, do not stand up and represent the views of Black people when surrounded by whites. We tend to fear the backlash, which means; being ridiculed, ostracised and passed over for promotion. Too many of us do the same thing that we blame the politicians for methinks.

I think we need to relearn what it means to stand up and represent ourselves as a people. We need to form our own parliament or congress from our own self interest groups which need to unite under one banner. From this new supergroup, we can then have a representative that we can send to Westminster with a proper list of what we require, if we so choose.

Nice work Mr Woolley

Nice work Mr Woolley.

Great article.

anthony

In 15 years this the first critical article that I've ever written about our Black MP's. There isn't a Black MP that OBV has not supported and vocally celebrated their achievements, and it's precisely because of that relationship organisations such as ours should ask for more when we feel it necessary. We will continue to support them and nurture the next generation of Black politicians, hopefully, such as Clive Lewis, an OBV alumni who was recently selected to fight the Norwich South seat.

Why don't we lead race equality in politics

It's of great coincidence that I discussed this vexed subject with Eric Lynch owner of Liverpool Slavery History Tours. Like most of the well thought out and made articulations above our conversation talked about the issue, problems and reasons it was present. We discussed and agreed with most of the subjects areas and conclusions here. There is one thing I believe we as a Black community are less good at and formed our final thoughts. Why don't we be the solution to the challenges, if it is lack of influence in politics, set up a party where we can influence, if it's fear find a way to turn fear into fearlessness, if it's lack of accountability from our black politicians hold them to account. Remind ourselves of what we lost to get here and how much we can loose in gains if we unashamedly hide behind procrastination and inaction. Until we realise our power to lead and influence political life sadly we will be talking our way into a modern day slavery trade era crippled by structures, policy and practice that we helped to build. Simon the bold and the brave I believe will follow OBV and others and we have never been better prepared to do this, have we?

The problem is nothing to do

The problem is nothing to do with dark-skinned MPs.

The problem is that you seem to think that people with dark skin are 'our people', that people with dark skin belong to the same community, that you blame everything on 'racism' and so on. You are wrong about all these things, and you are so utterly racist yourselves that you make other people not trust you.
Once you get over having dark skin and blaming light-skinned people for everything then you might begin to enjoy life.

Race inequality

Simom has made some interesting points. I was just reasoning with a brother the other night and he asked,' where are the people to speak up for our rights? years ago we had Angela Davis , Malcolm X, etc.'
If the fortunes of these people are to be used as an eample we see that one was murdered and the other imprisoned. These may seem like extream examples but i do believe the way forward is to take a more general view of equality to get more people on board to fight the good fight, after all justic is justice regardless of your race right? I was however disturbed to hear that Obama was unable to step into the argument of the recent black man murdered in Texas, America by the state suggesting that he couldn't intervene because the man was black!
I am concerned by the number of black youth dying at the hands of guns or going to prison for gun crime so are you telling me that this is something that only black people care about because if this is the case we really do need God to help us.

Lonely Are The Brave.

Gloria,

Thanks for this wonderful and very positive post on this very important subject. I agree with all your points, but, I am a bit worried with the following:

1. " set up a party where we can influence"

The dangers here is we will be easily marginalized. It is tough enough that the Minority Ethnic citizens are struggling to gain recognition within the mainstream political parties.

2. "if it's lack of accountability from our black politicians hold them to account"

This is also a difficult one as the Black Politicians have a significant lesser influence than their White colleagues.

Unfortunately, racism is in the DNA of British Politics.

Shaun Bailey

Shaun Bailey is not an elected Black MP, but otherwise this is very good Simon. Shaun did very well in the elections as a Conservative candidate, am sure he would have won with a little more support from the ethnic minority. If we want the MPs to support us, the we should also support them and vote for them in respect political pereference.

"White" and "Black"

It may be a fairly minor point, but why has Mr. Woolley chosen to use capital B and capital W for "white" and "black"? These are not 'proper nouns' - they denote social constructions, not scientific categories. Indeed, in scientific terms, 'race' is entirely irrelevant. If we were dogs we'd all be the same breed, genetically speaking. Furthermore, I am not "white", I'm pink, mostly. And nor are "black" people actually black, they are brown (politely, "people of colour").

As I say, maybe it's not the most important issue, but we should bear in mind that black and white are not the same types of category as English or Jamaican or Asian, etc.

Content Of Character.

Black British,

"Shaun did very well in the elections as a Conservative candidate, am sure he would have won with a little more support from the ethnic minority."

Shaun should be voted in for the content of his character and what he can do for his constituency regardless of the ethnic make-up of it. He cannot - and should not in any democratic society - be expecting only Minority Ethnic votes to help his progress in politics.

Minority Ethnic citizens are much more broader - than you have suggested - in their outlook to life as a whole. If he didn't win, it is simply because the majority in that constituency did not want him as their MP; nothing to do with a lack of support from Minority Ethnic citizens.

Why don't our Black MP's speak out about race inequality?

Simon, you could have mentioned that some of us have done much proactive work inside political parties to address such issues and some of us have been very bold in telling it as it is in the hope that it will stir others to make changes for the better and will benefit the greater good.

Not so sure.....

I'd prefer to have more Black activists putting pressure on White politicians to raise issues of race equality, rather critiquing Black politicians who don't....the fact alone that a Black person has made it into an MP role alone should be celebrated - it goes against the odds...to then critique them for not speaking enough about race seems unhelpful. OBV runs the risk, I fear, of feeding the very culture it wants to change, putting people into tiny boxes....and, in fact, what we need is more diversity of Black leadership involved in a wide set of debates - just because a policy-maker doesn't use the word 'race' doesn't mean they aren't fighting passionately for (race) equality....Then there is the point that if the politician puts everything under the umbrella of race they are likely to lose credibility and the point that often the message is likely to have a greater impact if it doesn't come from a 'usual suspect'. Finally, you don't know what influence Black politicians might have had on Nick Klegg saying what he said - influence that takes place behind closed doors, in informal settings. It isn't always about being bold versus being meek, sometimes it is also about being tactical.

playing down one's blackness

I believe the trouble with black (and Asian) politicians is that they spend their time ‘compensating’ for their colour. They want to tell people: “I may look different but actually I am safe and I am not going to rock the boat in any way and raise uncomfortable issues”. Many also feel exposed given there are so few of them. So when they do anything or say anything which is challenging the system in anyway then they are conscious of their colour or are made conscious of their colour. So best to keep out of trouble. It is far easier for a white politician to speak up about racism (or for a non-Muslim politician to speak up about Islamophobia).

I believe as well as our black politicians having the courage to speak up about racism, their party leaders should allow them the space to do so.

In The Heat Of The Night.

Black MPs don't have the same rights as their White colleagues; that's a harsh fact; plus the issue of Equal Opportunities not being practised at all and sadly rears its ugly head. As this country hasn't had a proper (not great) leader for a very long time, the direction in which politics is heading in this country is down the sewer. These so called leaders and liberal policy makers within successive governments either haven't got a clue or are just extreme racists.

Black MPs are trying very hard to fit into this clique. They are simply not free in the United Kingdom today; and I don't see any change coming there in the very future.

Having witnessed the spate of racism that is continuously being exerted by the main political parties - all who fool themselves by pretending to be different to the BNP - to either win elections or stay in power, I wrote a letter dated 16 September 2011 under the title 'Putting Things Right' to the Cabinet Office highlighting a number of concerns to how politics is practised in this country. The requests I made are as follows:

1. A lack of diversity in successive governments.

2. The deliberate bypassing of qualified and experienced senior British Minority Ethnic MPs.

3. The negative portrayal of high caliber and well qualified non - White politicians by political parties which is very reflective in the way Non - Whites are treated in their dailey lives.

4. A clear reminder that the riots, lootings and arsons in August of 2011 is as a direct result of racist policies by the various governments.

5. The Employment Tribunals Service which is not operating an equal opportunities policy which is reflective in boardrooms in companies accross the country; with a grotesque example being set down by the main political parties in the country.

I sent a copy of this letter to all twenty seven Minority Ethnic MPs, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Archbishop of Canterbury asking for their support in this matter. I received a response from the Archbishop's office, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and from seven Minority Ethnic MPs out of twenty seven. Sadiq Khan, my local MP has not yet responded.

The lack of action by those who have chosen to ignore my letter has left me wondering about the ambitions of some of the Minority Ethnic MPs.

In any free democratic society, all grievances must be dealt with in a reasonable and fair manner. This sadly is not the case in present day British Politics where the subject of racism is classed as a taboo.

I for one am looking forward to a response from the Cabinet Office. In light of the government's refusal to deal with matters of racism positively, I am not holding my breath for one.

Diane Abbott Twitter Reaction

Loved this article. Sums it up nicely. Just see the reaction against Dianne Abbott today!! I hope one day we will be free from the need to have this kind of discussion.

Don't Look No Further.

Diane spoke against racism and she was badly maligned for doing it; even the press ganged up on her and called her a racist. The timing of the main article was impeccable; ample enough time for some of us to post our views and be finally vindicated by Diane's treatment when she ventured into the subject of racism.

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