COLUMNIST: Black and ethnic minorities threatened with “playing the race card”

Sadacca (Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association)
Sadacca (Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association)
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“Playing the race card” is a phrase that most black and ethnic minorities are threatened with if they ever have the courage to speak out against injustice – I’ve experienced it many times, including sanctioned abuse.

In my view, speaking truth to power is the only route to a fairer society. Today these conversations about fairness are confined to the membership clubs that run our democracy and the number of career politicians that have been in the same post for decades – wouldn’t it be great to set a cap on how long people can remain councillors or MP’s etc so that new blood and talent such as Councillor Lani Mae in Doncaster or the incredibly inspirational Councillor Taiba Yaseen in Rotherham can come through and inspire future generations. Unless this happens, the diversity of issues that affect society will never be properly heard - human rights or civil liberties will remain a footnote, and the impact of never getting a fair hearing on issues associated to poverty and equality will divide communities.

Sadacca treasurer Olivier Tsemo and chairman Rob Cotterell

Sadacca treasurer Olivier Tsemo and chairman Rob Cotterell

To put my argument into context, last year I spoke at a national Northern Powerhouse event at Newcastle University from a charity and minorities perspective. My speech was well received, we had some laughs and I really enjoyed the interaction with the audience. Until I asked this question: So Brexit is the chosen option, we are going to come out of the European Union and we’d like to set up trade agreements with the rest of the world – can anybody in this room tell me what is the value of the black pound in this country, in terms of services, gross domestic product and taxes into the treasury? Not a single person was able to answer that question. I then stated, you all produce strategic economic assessments – surely you must record the economic contributions of the minorities that you claim to represent, so that they are protected from falsehoods and abuse – complete and utter silence. To be fair, there were also a few looks of embarrassment. I finished my speech, thanked the audience, and to my surprise I received as close to a standing ovation that you can get at these events.

You see, that is why the Windrush Scandal is so important to minorities – it has the potential to change the racialised immigrant narrative of the last 50/60 years with regards to the actual contribution of minorities. Windrush can be the catalyst to shift away from the good v’s bad migrant narrative that is designed to fuel hate, suspicion and further the “othering” of minorities – particularly when it is pitted against the “left behind” white working-class communities. Have you ever wondered why the white middle class gated communities are never considered in integration debates, yet the poorest neighbourhoods always are? Why the power imbalance that exists in our communities is the same now, as it was decades ago, or why the states policy discourse about migration is generally couched in deficit terms i.e. undercutting of wages, social cohesion, public sector pressures etc – where is the positive balanced narrative I ask? Why does the state never publish and honour the actual contribution of minorities in real positive terms – such as the black woman / health worker from the Windrush generation that passed away a couple of years ago from a painful curvature in her spine because she was lifting patients from one bed to another during WW2, or the billions of pounds that minorities pay in taxes every year to prop up the public sector and the estimation that the spending power of BME communities is approx. £300b etc.

The point is how can people choose to shut immigration out if A) they don’t know what it’s worth and b) what it contributes in real terms. Of course, I’m relieved Amber Rudd has resigned for the hostile environment that she inherited from the Prime Minister and was then allowed to implement because of populism fuelled by anecdotal nonsense. However, I must ask, why did only 6 Labour MP’s vote against the Immigration Act 2014, why is there such an opposition for an amnesty for so called “illegal immigrants” and given the Brexit mandate can either party even contemplate an Immigration policy that is positive and rooted in human rights that will appeal to the masses?