I know, you’re bored of the election.
But here’s the thing. If black and minority ethnic (BAME) people don’t get involved with the election, there could be serious consequences.
If we don’t stand up for the issues that affect us , those issues will become marginalised and eventually ignored. What’s more, the anti-immigrant, generally negative language towards ethnic minorities that UKIP is stirring up could get more dominant.
The fact is, not enough of us are involved. Research has shown that in the last general election, in 2010, a significant number of black and minority ethnic people were not even registered to vote. Lack of citizenship was one reason given; perhaps the language barrier might be another in some cases. But what about the rest of us: second and third generation Asians and Black people who were born and educated here- what’s our excuse for not voting or not even registering to vote?
Perhaps it’s because many of us feel ignored by our politicians and by Government. Our concerns are talked about very little in the political arena- other than when issues like immigration and terrorism are raised, where we get tarred with stereotypes. We simply don’t feel clear enough on how most of the parties will deal with racial inequality. And with only 27 Asian and black MPs at the moment, most of us don’t see ourselves reflected in Parliament. In the current election campaign so far, only Labour and the LibDems have launched BAME manifestos. I think that’s really significant. How is it the Conservatives have no detailed plans as to how they will serve minority communities and deal with our issues?
I want to know what each of the main political parties will do about issues such the BAME pay gap and stop and search. What about ensuring proper racial representation in senior executive positions or dealing with racism in institutions such as the police force? Our politicians are simply not talking enough about these issues.
An all-white discussion
I was at a Women and Politics panel discussion last month at the Women of the World festival in London. The all-white panel of some high profile MPs spent the hour discussing a variety of women’s issues.
Not once did they talk about race- related issues; not once did they take a question (which were pre-fielded) on issues relating to minority ethnic communities. This was despite the chair of the discussion being Asian! And at a “Women of the World” festival- how is this is even possible?
The media want to talk about how disenfranchised British Asians are. That we’re disillusioned with Britain and packing our bags to go to Syria. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is not representative of our community- there are many of us that are really concerned. In fact, research also shows that of those registered to vote in the 2010 General Election, the turnout was very similar to that of white British voters. It found that concerns about the commitment of ethnic minorities to British norms and values were displaced and in fact that we are ‘highly supportive of British democracy’.
Put that in your pipe Mr Farage.
Stop blaming us by saying not politically engaged enough and instead look at how the political race is run, and how the issues are addressed- whether they are addressed at all. Engage us! Include us in the conversation!
Let’s silence Farage
And as for our part as voters, let’s not let the side down. It is imperative that we get involved in this election. It’s vital that we silence the likes of Farage with our vote. Take a look at what parties are saying they will do for minority communities and other issues that are important to you. Perhaps there’s no candidate that gets your full support; in that case, consider voting tactically- voting for someone who is likely to win your in local constituency to block another party from getting into power.
I know many of us look at the political landscape today and say “they all say the same thing- I simply don’t know who to vote for.” It makes you feel powerless. But the truth is that your vote is powerful. Our Asian/Black/minority vote is needed to level out all the white voices that drown out ours. You can help decide who makes it into Downing Street for the next five years. Sounds really simplistic doesn’t it? Well, it is that simple.
And if you still need convincing, consider the words of activist Reverend Al Shapton, speaking in January at the launch of Operation Black Vote’s national campaign:
“People went to their graves so you could vote.”
“You may never lead a march but you can strike a blow for freedom in May and help change the destiny of this country. Your strength will not come from Downing Street down but from your street up.”
“You can be the balance of power.”