In the UK, ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in comparison to their white English or British counterparts. Despite this fact, ethnic minorities, especially people of colour are often invisible in conversations about social class. Some attribute this to the non-inclusive ways of the British left, however it is much deeper in terms of political gain, colonialism and national identity.
Englishness and Britishness act as exclusive clubs of separation, empowering a host culture which includes the poor. These concepts were created to symbolise superiority, therefore do not include subjects of empire and serve to exclude them. With globalisation, waves of immigration and a breakdown of workplace traditions, politicians since the 1960s engaged the white poor by neglecting disadvantaged people of colour. The lack of attention directed towards our political issues, represents the subordinate role we are expected to adopt in this country.
The British government consistently fails to engage disenchanted black and brown people. It is considered taboo to challenge the status quo, which is why issues that impact the day to day lives of people of colour like; anti-black racism, islamophobia and other forms of hatred are rarely addressed. This contrasts to the political effort given towards the white working class.
We cannot ignore the whiteness the white working class benefits from, especially when mainstream political parties are inspired by the populist, “say it how it is” rhetoric of BNP and U-KIP alike. Politicians like Nigel Farage use the concept of the white working class, to blame immigrants for the failures of the political system. Users of the welfare state are stereoyped as worthless and lazy, so instead channel their status frustration towards those framed as competition. Such scapegoating, has been a reoccurring theme within British politics, making it even harder for people of colour to be treated and seen as equals. Black and brown people can be present within the political agenda, but only when represented as the problem.
In a 2007 speech, Gordon Brown declared he wants “British jobs for British workers”. This is similar to David Cameron, who in 2016 called individuals fleeing difficult situations “a bunch of migrants”. The language used by both politicians serves to put one group of people above another. A new wave of precarious workers, are framed as stealing jobs from the most deserving. Attention is not pushed towards the austerity and failure to create jobs by the government, but innocent people trying to make a living. From Brexit, to the migrant crisis, British politics is taking a shift towards the racism and bigotry of the far right. Racial equality is not considered by most politicians, in drawing out their plans for political success. Instead we see a rise in a more acceptable form of racism.
General election after general election, attention is taken away from the host culture who have issues with violence, discrimination and racism. All ethnic minorities are told they are the problem and must assimilate to fit in. Whether it be gang crime, gentrification, or gendered violence relating to country status, issues which impact people at the bottom of the racial hierarchy are overlooked or largely misrepresented. Migrants from Syria are described as a nuisance, as “cockroaches” with imagery of “swarming”. Black people are racialised culturally, as being animals prone to criminality.
Even when we are victims, we are culprits. Police brutality is an area, where the British black community are pushed into a further narrowing corner. Early in September, a policeman was filmed smashing the window of a black man In his car. Such aggression is deemed meaningless, with some justifying the police’s abuse of power by criticising the tone and language of those who stand up for themselves. How can ordinary black people have hope for their future, if the political system fails to address their fears?
Assimilation is not going to stop hardworking people of colour, being removed from newly gentrified established communities. Assimilation is not going to make people of colour less likely to join gangs, become deviant or radicalised. Assimilation is not even an option for women in Yarls Wood detained, abused and sexually assaulted. Britain needs to acknowledge the global poor, the underclass, the precariat and working class people of colour. The wealth of this country should come with accountability. The political system should view everyone as equals, but a false otherness makes us invisible. We are only acknowledged for political gain, which reinforces our status as “less than”. With Jeremy Corbyn officially the leader of the opposition, it is now up to him to work alongside us in making people of colour visible.
One thought on “Why Poor People Of Colour Are Absent From The Political Agenda”
Hey Chloe. Was great seeing you at the Owen Jones Guardian Masterclass in July. I am now following your blog. Keep writing. You can follow me too: darellphilip.wordpress.com