The challenges faced by BAME communities remains an issue we must not ignore.
Conference season is on and Shout Out UK travelled to Brighton to attend the Labour Party Conference on Sunday, 22nd of September (without any accreditation problems :)).
This was the first time I attended a major UK party conference, so you can imagine my excitement! We attended several events, toured the conference halls and learned plenty about the current atmosphere in the Labour Party and their supporters. But today I wanted to share with you my thoughts on a small event towards the end of Conference Day 2 — the BAME Panel Discussion.
As a white woman, I cannot even begin to comprehend the issues facing the BAME communities, because I’ve never experienced discrimination and institutional racism on such a high level. But I’m always open to listening and learning, because I want to know what part I can take in fighting against injustice and inequality, if needed!
Here’s What I learned at this Labour Conference
Since the 1970s, politicians and the press have been grouping Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities under the same umbrella term: BAME. The abbreviation is used to refer to common discrimination issues faced by these communities. And yet, the term’s widespread usage has been labelled as ‘patronising and insulting’, not to mention unhelpful when it comes to identifying and effectively solving issues within individual communities.
This was one of the main concerns that panel speakers at the event emphasised. The representatives, coming from a variety of backgrounds, all expressed their anger with the fact that British politicians (both from the Labour and the Conservative camps), have not paid enough attention to their communities’ unique problems and their root causes. Instead, they have simply been labelled as ‘BAME’ issues, suggesting one and the same origin. The speakers argued that effective intervention and overcoming discrimination are only possible if we acknowledge that similar skin colour does not equate to having the same problems.
In my view, the overarching and overused term BAME appears to be a symptom of politicians’ and influential figures’ laziness to properly recognise and support the range of vibrant and individual community identities out there. Because once recognised, we can no longer deny their existence or the unimaginable obstacles they face. And these problems and obstacles, more often than not, are rooted in grave historical injustices which have been neatly abbreviated to the casual ‘BAME’ acronym.
I cannot say that current attempts to tackle discrimination or address local issues are completely fruitless; but the speakers’ and audience’s growing dissatisfaction during the event, alongside their heartbreaking stories and statistics about their communities, left a mark on me.
What can we do change the status quo?
For starters, our political representatives, regardless of their party affiliation, need to listen to individual communities. One of the suggestions that came up during the panel discussion is to have meetings and discussions with as many individual communities as possible, in order to grasp the problems they currently face. However, I do wonder how we can transform these discussions into practical action plans. And, even if these plans are, indeed, agreed upon, what’s the guarantee that they will be effectively executed top-down?
All this points to one thing. There is a fundamental problem with our system of representation. After the 2017 General Election, the numbers of ethnic minority MPs increased from 41 in 2015 to 52. Having a rise in ethnic representation arguably means we’re moving in the right direction. But, when we put this into perspective, non-white politicians in the House of Commons comprise a mere 8 per cent of all MPs.
We find an answer to why this is problematic for fostering effective change in Rosabeth Kanter and Drude Dahlerup’s ‘Critical Mass Theory‘.
Kanter and Dahlerup’s work was initially rooted in female democratic representation. Its insights, though, can safely be applied to non-white representation as well. According to the theory, in order for political institutions to pass legislation beneficial to a minority group, the group needs to hold approximately 30 per cent of all seats in the relevant legislative body. This is because, once there are enough representatives from that group, they start challenging the long-established political culture within the representative body, which in turn increases the likelihood of introducing long-lasting change.
But it’s not as simple as this. The materialisation of this 30 per cent starting point requires constant engagement with the system, both through voting and through staying informed about the political developments in the House of Commons. To empower isolated communities to challenge the system, they first need to understand how politics works and how much power there is behind their collective participation in elections. This is where civil society organisations step in.
All of the panel speakers at the Labour Conference event are currently working in this direction. Here are just a few of the individuals seeking to shift the imbalance:
Labour Councillor for Tower Hamlets, Amina Ali, encourages young people to partake in local politics. She also raises awareness of the unique discrimination faced by the Somali community — both because of skin colour and religion. John Lehal, founder of UpRising has developed brilliant youth leadership programmes, aiming to recognise the talents of all young people, regardless of their backgrounds. Tamils for Labour fights to gain support for the 400,000 Tamils in the UK and aims to include their voices in the party’s internal working and policies. Chelsea McDonagh’s mission is to have Irish Travellers’ voices heard in Parliament. And Gurinder Josan, businessman and Labour Party member, campaigns for better rights for Sikhs in the UK.
Raising awareness of these truly inspirational members of our society, their communities and the work they do, is the first step forward. Change happens incrementally. As long as we don’t give up, we stand a chance at ensuring a better future for ourselves and for those whose voices remain on the sidelines.