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Opinion: “And what about us? The erasure of Black people in today’s political discourse”

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The disregard towards racism within our political system strikes me as shocking. While racism is at perhaps its most apt today, there seems to be little consideration for anti-black rhetoric.

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For example, Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent insult to the tragedy of Grenfell, the reinstatement of Anne Marie Morris as Tory whip after her brazenly saying “n****r in a woodpile”. To call the Conservatives an alternative to racism and ignore the blatant undercurrent of anti-blackness and Islamophobia framing the party is erroneous. Racism should be treated as a universally bad thing rather than a way of one-upping the opposition.

The fault here is that condemning a whole party in order to then fully endorse Johnson who proudly labelled Muslim women as “letterboxes” and talked of “pickaninny smiles”, as the alternative to racism feels erroneous considering the racist abuse that has been historically faced by black people within British political society. Instead, Johnson’s comments are merely brushed under the carpet and often branded as him just being silly. All racism is bad, and all racism should be given equal treatment and coverage by the media, politicians and our wider society.

Considering that Ian Austin is my local MP, his recent words and disregard for the problems faced by black people are particularly problematic considering that there are 20% of BME residents in Dudley North. Therefore, a conversation around racism cannot be thorough and comprehensive when the voices and experiences of local black people are silenced. You cannot ignore the appalling record and attitude of the Conservative party towards racism while also condemning the Labour party. Both parties must be held to account where they go wrong.

Windrush and Grenfell show that undoubtedly, both of the major parties (along with other smaller parties) have an evident problem with racism and with attitudes towards minorities within the country, but it seems that the political zeitgeist and focus of the media and public has been unevenly skewed to frame one as worse than the other. When in reality, the basics of racism and how it permeates society means we should be talking about it regardless of its source. Observing the political arena today and watching it all play out as a black person and as a black woman is an exhausting exercise. To see the treatment of black MPs, them being highly scrutinised and victimised by both traditional and social media means that there needs to be a dialogue about where black people stand, and what place we are given in the political atmosphere.

With the upcoming election, which seems to be one of the most important in recent times, the tunnel vision focus on Brexit has been effective in ignoring black people and social issues regarding them. The focus and concerns seem to be totally ignoring the harsh reality of what this country can be. With research showing that black people and other ethnic minorities would be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of Johnson’s latest Brexit deal; the side-lining of black people and other ethnic minorities is even more concerning.

The current political field has seen national issues that affect ethnic minorities such as Windrush simply blown aside after little scrutiny. Nationwide research shows that the discrimination faced by black people has risen sharply in the nearly 4 years since the 2016 referendum. This same research suggests that the rise in discrimination is concentrated around black people. With a few weeks until possibly the most important election of our time, and with racism a constant thought in the minds of both the media and politicians, I wonder if there is any chance of meaningful and authentic focus on anti-blackness.

The referendum, regardless of the final outcome, was profound in how it exposed the attitudes and racial dynamics of modern day Britain. To black people, the racial attitudes and intricacies of this country were not new, but a familiar lived experience of subtle and everyday racism. The concentration on exiting the EU has been a necessary element of negotiating an exit. However, the social impact of negotiating Brexit and political instability has often been swept under the carpet. The only hope for a reconciliation is to listen and to understand how crucial this election is for everyone, the need for social cohesion and also an acknowledgement of hardships faced by black people in Britain and the media today.

Rational choice theory tells us that in times of an election, parties and candidates will do whatever is needed to appeal to voters and stand as the more suitable option. But the question of where black people stand within our political system does not seem to be something being considered in the run up to our Christmas election.

Glossary:

  • Zeitgeist – the mood of a certain time or period shown by what people believe and how they act
  • Reinstatement – bringing something back, usually to its original state
  • Undercurrent – underlying, sometimes hidden, force or influence that is different to what is seen
  • Permeates – to get into, soak into or spread throughout
  • Tunnel Vision – extremely narrow point of view, limits what can be seen
  • Disproportionately – not equal, not balanced in amount
  • Reconciliation – bringing things or people together be agree or be civil
  • Social Cohesion – members in a society agree to work and live together to prosper and benefit
  • Tory Whip – the person responsible for making sure MPs in the Conservative party attend and vote in line with the party’s choices.

By Tadiwa Ndlovu

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