By now, most (if not everyone), has heard of Kamala Harris. If not, then the most important thing you need to know is Harris is the first female vice president of the United States, and she is first African-American and the first South Asian American to hold this position.
Twelve years prior to Harris’ appointment, Barack Obama, you may know of him, was elected as the first African-American President of the United States. For some, these electoral outcomes are way past overdue, and with America’s track record on racism, they feel justified. A move towards more progressive and inclusive politics, that says regardless of race, class and gender, anyone can achieve their dreams. For myself, both appointments are obvious wins against the never-ending, laborious, but essentially persistent war against racism. Yet, I’m also left asking ‘where are the UK’s Harris and Obama?’ and also ‘do we actually need one?’
Such questions were asked in 2009, when Obama stepped onto the world stage. At one point, the former Labour MP Chuka Umunna was presented as the potential answer. As a centrist politician with a successful legal career who was elected to serve the people of Streatham for nine years, as well as being mixed-race and (for some) his features and skin tone were just enough black, but not too black for wider society to accept. The comparison to Obama was inevitable. However, that’s as far as the comparison went.
Fast forward to 2021, I am once again left wondering why the UK is failing to produce Black politicians that are, at the very least, likely to be party leaders, let alone become prime minister. In 2016, actor David Harewood’s exceptional documentary, ‘Will Britain ever have a Black prime minister’, delivered dismissal analysis that a Black child is 12 times less likely to make it to the top job in the UK due to the usual biases towards class, education and race.
But what about Kwasi Kwarteng, Kemi Badenoch and David Lammy, I hear you ask. And you’re right to do so. All are recognised politicians for both the Conservative and Labour parties. Let’s say that if those on the right of politics rise up faster in the Conservative party (which has already given Britain two female prime ministers and two senior cabinet members of South Asian and Indian heritages), will the matter of race still play a part?
I think most Black Brits will agree that they’d rather vote for a politician whose policies will help to enhance their lives, rather than cause further harm. But when politicians such as Badenoch – who is rising through the Conservative party’s ranks – label the Black Lives Matter movement as “anti-capitalist” and claim that Britain is “one of the best countries in the world to be Black”, it leaves me wondering if the only pathway to No10 for a Black politician is via right or centre-right ways of thinking?
In 2010, Diane Abbot made a bid to be Labour’s party leader and ranked third place out of fifth in the combined Labour Party membership and affiliated membership vote. Low support from MPs meant she was eliminated from the contest first. Poor support from their peers also meant that Black Labour MPs such as Clive Lewis and Ummuna (in 2015) also failed to successfully launch a leadership bid. Dawn Butler’s campaign for deputy leadership saw her finish last. For those on the left, such results should be embarrassing. As much as people may want to sneer at the Conservative party, but when it comes to creating career pathways for non-white politicians, they’re hands-down, leading the way.
So where does this leave Black Britains when it comes to our own political heroes? No doubt, if Badenoch, became Britain’s first Black female prime minister it would give us a moment to cheer. However, comments stating “teachers who present the idea of white privilege as a fact to their students are breaking the law,” or describing critical race theory as ‘an ideology that sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression’ cause me to have concerns.
By all means if people want to debate whether White privilege exists or not, then go ahead. But such discussions cannot cancel or dismiss actual real-life experiences. For too long, Black, Asian and other ethnic-minority groups have had their racial injustices silenced due to wider society’s unwillingness to accept that such biases take place, including in education. I understand that some people will argue that schools must remain politically impartial, however if children of darker skin tones are not being prepared for the acts of prejudices they will inevitably face and if children of fairer skin tones are not being taught to stand up to these injustices and that their voices are equally needed as allies, then how can future generations be properly equipped to tackle racism? The answer is that they can’t.
To answer my own question, where do Black Britains look to for their own political heroes? I’m not sure. To be clear, I am not saying that Black people should only look towards politicians on the left/centre to look up to, as members of my own family are Conservatives and Republicans. However, if one day a Black politician is elected prime minister but whose policies question or reject the idea that Britain needs to continue to tackle racism (and by this I mean the entire country getting its hands much dirtier and producing better tangible results than we’re presently doing), then will this moment be a real cheer for Black Britains? Or will we be too thrilled to know that at least one of us made it to the top?