Diversity in Welsh politics needs to be more than just tokenism
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.