Monday, February 12, 2007

Ming's BME reception..........."Chips or Pips?".........on diversity cont.

I was pleased to be able to send five local members/potential members to Ming's BME reception a couple of weeks ago, one of the non members,Tony Lindsay, shares his reflections on the evening - thanks Tony!:

What a wonderful time I had at the Houses of Parliament with Menzies and everyone else. The purpose was to encourage members of the BME community to get involved in politics from the grass roots to the great house itself.

It was nice to see so many people there, the audience was split about fifty/fifty, and you would expect them all to be the "converted" but when black people have a point of view, are passionate, argue their point intellectually and are assertive you then start to hear the usual comments of being aggressive, obnoxious or shouting and the favourite one that you hear over and over again " You have a chip on your shoulder" raised it's ugly little head.

A colleague of mine, a black Liberal Democrat councillor from Bedfordshire was talking to one of the "converted" and asked a question, the gentleman he was talking to did not understand the point of the question and did not know the answer, the gentleman got quite frustrated, red faced and then reverted to type and used that famous phrase "You have a chip on your shoulder" my stunned colleague remained calm and stated that he had "pips on his shoulders not chips" and calmly walked away after excusing himself from the gentleman. The gentleman made a quick exit and I did not see him again, although I looked for him because I wanted to know what did he mean exactly? Is this how you react to black people? Why are you here if that is your belief?

As an advocate for racial equality I was stunned to hear those words in the grand surrounding. Is this really the welcome that Menzies had expected for the very members he is trying to promote and encourage? I wonder; I asked the question to Simon from Operation Black Vote - Do they really mean it? Simon responds with that is exactly the very question to ask. The official welcome and the inspirational speakers were great, I actually realised that we were not the only ones on this journey, but afterwards some of the people there looked away from you when you tried to catch their eye, just so that you could start a conversation with them and ask who? where? why? what? and how? and I thought that we all believed in the same cause, perhaps some of them thought that they were better than us mere mortals, but I may be mistaken.

There needs to be an honest approach from the Party itself; ignorance is bliss as long as your not being affected by it! If the party is really interested in the black community reaching its potential the question we must ask and answer is.........

What is wrong with white men? - This is in respect to the fact that most of the decision makers in this country are white men - if they really wanted to change the future, really remove the obstacles and glass ceilings for the black community, really wanted to enable us to reach our real potential, really wanted to accept that we are just as capable as the next person in whatever field we want to specialise in, stop the educational genocide, then they are in the position to do that.

Only from a position of honesty, only from a position of knowledge, only from a position of caring for one another will we banish the immortal words of " You have a chip on your shoulder" when really who was the ignorant fool?

Tony Lindsay


Anonymous said...

Linda - your letter in LDN echoes the sentiment behind this. Unfortunately the party is institutionally racist and sexist, albeit with some really fantastic people doing great work.

The chip on shoulder mentality is applied to anyone who has experienced some kind of discrimination. Yes there are some with chips. But there are many with valid points, and hiding heads in the sand, and playing lip service to equal opportunities doesn't make the problem better.

Keep up the campaign. There are many who support your efforts.

Linda Jack said...

Anonymous, thank you for the feedback, I do worry about being a bit of a pain in the backside about this, but frankly I think it is the number one issue we have to address if our party is to be truly inclusive, truly reflect Britain and truly live up to our declared liberal values. The head in the sand mentality is just the same as someone with a malignant cancer hoping it will go away without treatment. We have to address this from bottom to top (tho top may be a good place to start!)if we are to keep the members we say we want to attract.

Colin Ross said...

Anonymous you say the "the party is institutionally racist and sexist". I am white and Male and maybe I just spot it (though look for it) I do not disagree that party has to improve but I am not sure it is institutionally racist or sexist.

Could you provide solid example?

Linda will vouch for me to say, I hope, that I am not stirring but actually really interest and want to help break down any barriers to equal and fair representation.


Linda Jack said...

Yes of course I will vouch for Colin, who I know is a champion for equality and diversity in the party and personally a great support to me. In terms of being institutionally racist and sexist I am not sure, but the fact that anonymous observes us as such should concern us all. If I, or anyone else on encountering our party, feel like that, then there is a lot of work for us to do. At the moment it is something I have to admit to being a bit sore about having felt badly treated yesterday. But one immediate thing the party could do to mitigate against any impression of institutional racism and sexism is to review its appointments procedures........when people are appointed under apparent patrionage (and it is patrionage not matrionage!) lets say to run the Diversity Fund, it certainly reinforces that impression.

Anthony said...

Hi there,
As one of "the converted" (I hope) at the reception, I share Tony's disappointment with the individual who hid behind the chip on the shoulder comment.

Tony is right to point out that we're all on a journey, and the challenge I've set myself as the white, middle class, hetrosexual male chair of my local party is to make sure that I'm well on that journey and I take as many of my colleagues in the party along with me. What I hope to achieve during my time as chair is to encourage more of our BME members to become active, and more of the wider BME community where I live to join the party and get involved. But I'd be lying if I pretended that we didn't need help to do this - to help me and others understand the barriers to involvement and what I can do to make things better.

Ps I too suffered at the reception from people not wanting to catch my eye!!!

Colin Ross said...

I would certainly agree with you Linda my logic was with examples we could try and tackle it head-on - you know I am not one to back away from a good argument!


Anonymous said...

I was involved in a selection panel in my own constituency where a woman candidate was challenged about how her husband and kids would cope if she was the candidate. A male candidate with children was not asked the same question. From grass roots up there is an issue with this kind of questioning, and I would certainly echo the patronage comments made by Linda. And I'll never get over being asked if I could be Branch secretary and deliver focus leaflet and perhaps my male partner would like to be a council candidate?!

I think tackling it head on means we need to look at the make-up of the party and how people are 'appointed' from top down, and as Linda has been suggesting, get ourselves into a mindset of working out whether or not we are just replacing like with like.

I'm surprised the initial comment met with controversy - I think the first step in moving forward is to acknowledge that even those who are wanting to change like Anthony (and I truly believe there are some who don't - who like their comfy cliques) need to be aware of all of the issues and need to be aware that we all need to pull a more diverse team together.

I could give more concrete examples from further up in the party, but I think we can probably all think of them. And Colin - you need no vouching for - you're on the side of the converted!!! Which is why this blog is sooooooo heartening - challenging constructively, in what feels like a safe atmosphere of like minded people!

Anonymous said...

PS Don't worry about being a pain in the backside please! Believe me there are plenty who support you, and plenty who've just got tired of pushing themselves. It's refreshing to find that people still care and new people want to keep the momentum going!

Colin Ross said...

Hi Anonymous,

I have heard horror stories from many selection committees. For Parliamentary Selections there is 'Selection Committee' training which looks at stopping this behaviour.

The bigger problem I suspect is at local council selection level. There is NO set rules on local selections which is bonkers, we are trying to build best practice in the West Midlands to avoid these issues in the future. Our regional Local Parties Committee (which I Chair) has just intervened in a local party that questioned a woman about her childcare arrangments but not her (male) partner who was interviewed by the same panel.

I hope that one of things we will come up with (certainly in my region) are a set of rules for local selections not too disimilar to those for Parliamentary selections.

Its a cultural change that is needed and I believe (or prehaps I just hope) that is minority of local parties.

One of the problems is the national party is more concerned with Westminster elections more than anything else and will focus its attention there when one of the soultions is to take a bottom up approach starting local as many of our Parliamentarians were Councillors first, sorting out local selections an increasing the diversity of our Councillors would be a major step.

Hope thats not too over the place, I distracted myself whislt writing it!


ps - if you have any examples please feel free to contact me and I'll try and take them up.

Linda Jack said...

Yes Colin

You are so right, we need to get procedures in place and soon. I am horrified at some of the horror stories but we will never change anything if we don't bring it all into the open and confront it head on.

Pauline S said...

Hi Linda,
I am always on the look out for more knowledge and trying to learn more about equality, diversity, community cohesion and all the other trendy words which surround discrimination, inequality, prejudice etc from specific training, reading and the what I see as the greatest source, other people. I constantly try to ascertain what people are thinking. What do they hear when I mention discrimination or racism? What do they hear when I believe I am safely challenging?
It was great to see the efforts made when I attended the BME event at the House of Commons. The inspirational speeches that have enabled me to continue in my line of work within the equality strands but not necessarily to seek a career in politics.
I was approached by a prominent member of the party who kindly informed me about how I would be trained, how I would learn about the party, what it stood for. It's a great thing to know that all of this would be made available to me. My questions to her was simply 'Thank you for that information but what are you going to do to learn about me?' What training do you require to learn about my community? (Don't think I got an answer, but I was given her card).
Events such as this one are all well and good. I am open to participation and inclusion, but is the party?
Participation goes both ways. Breaking down barriers can be achieved on a much more effective scale if both sides are attempting to learn, this include the uncomfortable bits not just samosas, rice and peas and a steel band.
Be open and honest with who you are, your level of awareness. Then the systemic changes can be made.
I used to only see points of inequality which affected me, a black woman nothing else mattered. Just the injustice which happened to others in my community. I began to recognise how I dismissed other points within the equality strands as not as important or self inflicted. Boy was I wrong. I have learnt to become more aware and contiue to learn every day.
Here endeth my sermon. (you may now leave)