Solidarity along racial lines has always been an unspoken truth in regards to ethnic minorities. It is seen in many instances, from the smiles of familiarity given to each other on the street to the tendency to group together in schools, university and work. This solidarity stems from a general shared sense of vulnerability as a minority and the seeking of solace amongst each other. This sense of solidarity extends to ethnic minority attitudes towards politics. We find that, beyond having personal political preferences, ethnic minorities also tend to have a bias towards people who are “like us” in race and background. These biases stem from the common societal belief that we are best represented by those similar to us because they are most suitable for articulating our problems and views.

Two instances from the 2012 US elections should be highlighted. On the one hand we had the utter surprise and disgust shown by some African-Americans towards Stacey Dash, a black actress most famous for her role in Clueless, because she campaigned for the white Mitt Romney. She was ridiculed on Twitter with such comments as “You ready to head back to the fields, jigaboo?”, yet she responded by highlighting the racial prejudice through the expectation for her to vote for Obama purely because they are both black. Conversely, the always profound and thoughtful Snoop Dogg, or Snoop Lion at that time, campaigned for Obama and urged all black people to vote for him because “He a black n—-“. Simple. Both these cases depicted how, rather than focusing on policies and the actualities of politics, many members of society look to such cleavages as race. Whilst we can understand why people may be apprehensive to vote for the Old White Men due to a fear of underrepresentation, this is detrimental because this fear is prioritised above a serious consideration of policies.

This is even worse in countries like Nigeria where tribal and religious sectarianism, rather than race, dictate voting. Nigeria is an extremely ethnically diverse country and thus tribal cleavages are a significant factor in politics. This division is based in the difficulty of bringing together such ethnically diverse tribes under one nation, and was exacerbated by the process of colonialism and colonial preference to certain tribes. Since independence the nation has been plagued by tribal allegiance and has suffered crises such as the Biafran War. This has led to a greater use of tribalism in politics due to such deep-seated distrust and so many Nigerians vote along such tribal lines rather than on account of the policies being offered. Similar to America this is from the fear that only a politician “like us” would be able to protect our interests.

Nigeria is an exceptional case because not only does this occur in terms of tribalism but also religious divisions. The animosity between Muslim and Christian leaders is amplified in elections due to the dramatic split between the Muslim North of the country and the Christian South. The 2007 Nigerian presidential elections was a competition between the Christian candidate, Goodluck Jonathon, and his Muslim alternative, Buhari. There were clear incidences of tribal and religious voting over policies in the South West of the country. Buhari’s party at the time, Congress for Progressive Change, had its main power base there, yet those in the South West chose to go with a Southerner and Christian who was “like them” rather than their actual political favourite.

The issue with voting based more on ethnicity than policy is that it can actually be a self-perpetuating issue. By voting politicians in because they are “like us” we incentivise the need for them to focus on specific policies for certain people in society, rather than for the population on the whole. It is through this negative practice that the breakdown of representation occurs, and thus begins the cycle again. This is pertinent to the case of Nigeria. By looking to tribal and religious lines for electoral votes the politicians focus on expenditure in favour of their tribe and policies for their religion which leads to one-sided and poorly developed programmes that are detrimental to many in society. In cases such as these we need to remember that politicians on the whole are not the selfish, narrow-minded and incompetent people we often make them out to be and, when given the chance, they have been shown to provide suitable representation for many in society.

The Race Relations Acts of 1965, 1968 and 1976 which outlawed racial discrimination and prejudice were all passed without a single ethnic minority in British Parliament. This highlights that politicians can and do often represent the interests of minorities as well as the majority in society, and that there does not need to be this fear of those politicians who are not “like us”. In cases like America and Nigeria, by looking beyond these differences of race, tribe and religion and voting for the politicians with the policies that we most support not only will that be more democratic, but our views and issues can still be voiced. It is, however, in need of a joint effort between voters and their leaders. The political giant that was Edmund Burke called for politicians to represent society on the whole and not only their specific demographic or constituency. By following this there can be an assurance of proper representation that instills the confidence of minority voters in all politicians, not just those “like us”.