Diversity in Welsh politics needs to be more than just tokenism

Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

Leena Sarah Farhat, Diversity officer for the Welsh Liberal Democrats

Life as a ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ woman in Wales is my reality. I love Wales, I love my friends and I love my life here.

But despite Wales being home to a diverse mix of communities for over 200 years, racism and colonialism remain an ever-present part of Welsh life.

Growing up, I knew what it was like to be marginalised and be treated as unequal to my peers. And while ‘diversity’ has now become cool as organisations desperately reach for legitimacy in our multiracial and multicultural nation, there is still much that can be done.

Interaction with multiracial communities is currently treated as a tick box exercise. Too often all we see are disembodied people of colour in party political broadcasts and photo opportunities because of a desperate anxiety to appear “diverse” and interact with “diverse” populations.

This is sadly particularly true about our Senedd which, despite celebrating 20 years of devolution, has never seen a BME woman elected to sit in its parliament – despite being situated in one of the most diverse parts of Wales, Butetown, and near Riverside and Grangetown.

What happens on James Street for such a stark divide to emerge between multi-generational communities of colour and the Senedd?

I was once told that I was actually more electable as a Welsh speaker in Y Fro Gymraeg, rather than as a BME woman.

Ideally, neither should matter. We should be judged on our actions as you would any other politician. I am really excited to be standing for the Senedd in 2021, but not because I’m a BME woman but because I want to make the lives of people in Wales better. That is the difference between identity-based politics and values-based politics.

But the system we have at the moment is almost colonial. Representatives from political parties visit the local diverse area not to break down barriers to participation so their party can appear “more diverse” after controversies about racism including the normalisation of blackface. It’s treating voters as a resource, not empowering them.

Participation is more than a photo opportunity, more than a tickbox, it’s a long-term institutional change that can’t come from replicating the colonial-style engagement BME communities experience from political parties in England and Wales.

 

 

So how could you decolonise Welsh politics? Can we decolonise Welsh politics? What could a decolonised Welsh politics look like?

Firstly, fighting for pro-BME legislation in our Senedd is a start. The Senedd might be the jewel of Welsh democracy but to many, including many BME people who feel forgotten by devolution, its is a sign of gentrification. We were promised a voice we have seldom received.

Secondly, come to our communities and listen to us, don’t preach at us. BME people in Wales are driven and need to be empowered. Put party politics aside and start those grassroots discussions. I want a future where my children and look up and see elected representatives that can relate to and represent their community.

I spoke to Noor Ali, a person of colour from Cardiff with an interest in politics. She commented: “As a kid, nobody gave a **** about ethnic minority populations in Wales. According to the Senedd, we were Westminster’s problem.”

We are tired of being the subject of your guilt because of what was done to us in the past. I know for a fact many of us will be watching the next few elections closely but so many have lost touch or are scared to engage with the system.

As a diversity officer, I will always do my best to empower minorities across Wales. Our Senedd has done so much for the Welsh language, and for LGBTQ+ people.

And though neither of these fights is close to being over, BME people also need more representation at the heart of Welsh decision making.

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j humphrysj humphrysCitizenJohn EllisRhosddu Recent comment authors
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vicky moller
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vicky moller

Do we have to identify people by their skin colour? If feels wierd. You might notice appearance including skin colour when you first meet and make guesses about culture but once you know someone the suprrficial visuals disappear. You notice if they look well or happy or not. You no longer see their colour. I dont get why having different colours of people in government is the issue. It’s not a painting. Different backgrounds, skill sets, life experiences, networks yes . But skin colour? And now we can all self identity gender am I allowed to be brown like my… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

You can self identify as any colour you like but most of us, presumed moderately sane and not colour blind, will see you as you are !

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Shirley Bassey is Welsh. That’s all. Just when I start liking Plaid, via Adam, they strike up for communalism. That poster of the muslim woman is worth a thousand or more votes to the ultra right. There’s some knob on you tube demolishing it, and claiming that Plaid are thus “National Socialists! ”
“I’ll say no more”, he says. Yeah, right. So this is a gift to such people. What on earth are Plaid playing at?

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

This article is certainly relevant to Cardiff, but you’d be hard put to it to see how it would be significant in the rest of Cymru. But, since it’s all about identity politics (while claiming not to be), then pob lwc i hi if she can get herself elected on the BAME ticket in the capital. Neil McEvoy, who has Yemeni ancestry, has shown that the right policies for Cardiffians as a whole, coupled with ability and hard work, will result in electoral success. Vaughan Gethin, too, and Mohammed Asgar, are AMs. I don’t see either of them engaging in… Read more »

John Ellis
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John Ellis

I’ve up-ticked you because I agree with your essential argument. My reservation, however, is your reference to Mohammed Asghar. I might perhaps be wrong, but my understanding is that Asghar was initially elected to the Senedd on a Plaid Cymru ticket, but that he promptly switched to the Tories when Plaid adopted a policy that none of their AMs should employ members of their family as members of their staff. Asghar, I understand, employs both his wife and his daughter in that capacity. That’s not something that I’m prepared to support in our politics.

Rhosddu
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Rhosddu

You’re right about his nepotism, John. I was saying that he doesn’t play politics with the colour of his skin, and, like McEvoy, he does seem to put in a decent shift on behalf of his constituents — by normal AM standards, that is, although the bar is set pretty low.

More importantly, re. Snickers: You’re right, can’t stand ’em either.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Indeed, I take your point.

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

The tokenism espoused by this author is a disgrace. She is saying the electorate should not judge their representatives by how good or effective they are but by the pigmentation of their skin! We need good people as elected representatives not differing amounts of different shades of brown and pink to satisfy some crackpot ‘diversity’ quota (written or unwritten). If you think the Labour hegemony is racist say so, don’t blame electors. Her use of pathetic trendy terms like ‘decolonise’ to describe the Senedd is meaningless. Her proposal of ‘pro-BME legislation’ means what? Another meaningless phrase. She says that she… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

A fundamental problem with Liberals. One day one thing and the next something else.
And its’ been going on for over 200 years now, so people should have noticed .

Neil McEvoy
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Neil McEvoy

The Senedd lacks diversity. However, I have noticed that the professional staff seem more diverse recently. The biggest gap in diversity in my view is class related. We have a way to go yet in terms of equality. Stereotyping is still rife in Welsh politics. . I must say I also feel very uncomfortable with some politicians using people of colour as badges. The othering of people from different backgrounds is still prevalent. E.g. congratulating black or brown people who speak Welsh. Why shouldn’t we? I gave the Rosa Parks memorial lecture at Bradford University in December and felt that… Read more »

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Spot on there NM. Although I’m not a big “pusher” of class related politics I can identify with the frustration of people from the less advantaged socio-economic groups. Much of what they see at Y Cynulliad, including representatives of different ethnic origins, is a bunch of graduate standard “dull grey suits” who are there because of the warped, if not corrupt, party nominations system. Tokenism is a major issue – get a suitably “orthodox” person of colour or LBGTQ+ who spouts the current fashionable party line – as it avoids almost completely the risk posed by a radical thinker (wolf)… Read more »

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

If you feel a colonialism, yes, there is.. unfortunately. Wales is a colony of the UK and most racism is generated by imperialism. Ask yourself why the USA is so hated? Is it because they subjected Vietnam to bombing and chemical warfare in the 1970s. Today they intervene in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. They behave as a colonial police force with the largest arms industry and stockpile. If you want to oppose colonialism and therefore remove the cause of racialism, then de-colonialise Wales – join the campaign for an independent Wales. If you are looking for ‘Liberal democrats for an independent… Read more »

Ben Angwin
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Ben Angwin

I was a Liberal Democrat. We agree on a lot.

If your party is serious about diversity in Wales, than stop treating the Welsh Language as though it’s an Irish slainte written as a decoration in a pub.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

The article is confusing. Does the author believe in values based politics or identity based politics? She changes sides at least twice during the article. It all seems very binary when really it isnt, it is a lot more nuanced.

Citizen
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Citizen

Another generic piece of divisive race baiting by an indoctrinated young person obsessed with skin pigmentation. Universities are becoming identical ideologue producing factories it seems. The basic message again is me me me and ‘how dare Wales be a majority white and not the fully diverse, multicultural melting pot that I demand it should be’. This kind of entitled arrogant nonsense beggars belief -if any white writer or politician said these things in a majority non white country they would be rightly judged and castigated as pushing colonialism, disturbing intolerance and worse. The writer has obviously never thought what she… Read more »