As we move into a new Senedd term, Leila Usmani and Sahifa Miah review Race Alliance Wales’ report into racialised representation and ask: who runs Wales?
Race Alliance Wales’ 2021 report on racial representation is available here: ‘Do the Right Thing: achieving equity in racialised representation in public and political life in Wales’.
With the recent Senedd 2021 elections, we look to review a unique peer led action research report, investigating and suggesting improvements towards the representation of racialised people in public and political life in Wales.
With the spotlight on the Sixth Senedd, we examine how much representation is really being achieved in Wales.
Race Alliance Wales’ (RAW) vision is that of a more fair, diverse, and representative political sector in Wales, that exceeds 7%, reflective of racialised population in Wales.
Racialised, not as means of self identification, but as a socio-political categorisation formed by White-led society, applied to people based on individual differences and characteristics to justify our oppression.
Having a true representation of races and ethnicities in Wales and considering other characteristics in representation such as racialised women, young people, disabled and neurodiverse people, and LBGTQIA+ people, was one of the strongest messages to come out of the ground-breaking research.
At the time of the research, looking at the Senedd, 3 representatives were racialised, and in Local Government, 37 of 1241 councillors are notably racialised. Considering the prevalence of anti-Blackness, it is stark that only 3 Councillors across Wales are notably Black.
Never has a racialised politician been sent to Westminster, nor had we ever noticed a racialised woman, racialised queer person, or racialised disabled person in the Senedd.
“60% of respondents felt discouraged to enter political life, due to institutional racism – a prominent aspect within the political arena in Wales.”
And it seems we still have a long way to go. With the newly elected Senedd having 3 of 60 elected members being notably racialised, it is exciting to welcome the first racialised female Member of the Senedd.
Cause for celebration some would say, continuing with a 5% representative Senedd electorate. However, this is where the pertinent point arises of the need to go beyond the 7%.
Racialised people do not want to be tokenised, nor can they be cut into bits/split down the middle. Can these 3 people represent the myriad of experiences that are encompassed under the ‘BAME’ banner?
RAW’s research paints a clear picture of why we lack true representation. 60% of respondents felt discouraged to enter political life, due to institutional racism – a prominent aspect within the political arena in Wales.
Experiences include being tokenised, stigmatised, having to work harder, lack of support by political parties, and not having enough role models, thus, emphasising the feeling that political life is ‘not for them’.
Contributors reported feeling consistently intimidated, seeing political life as complicated, creating another clear barrier for entering political life.
Findings showed that White counterparts regularly suggested racialised people would only be successfully elected in constituencies of high racialised population as that would gain them the ‘race vote’ and were equally discouraged to stand if another racialised candidate from the party was already up for being shortlisted, suggesting the desire for equity and diversity is a ‘blind spot’ and ignored by those in power in the White British culture.
“RAW suggests proactively supporting racialised people in their journey to political life… if they are a first-time candidate, they should be given the opportunity to shadow.”
Clear in the research relating to political diversity to date, efforts towards ‘diversity’ were mainly aimed at White women.
In contrast, aspiring women of colour were responded to with microaggressions, including the ‘angry Black/brown woman’ trope, subservient/oppressed Asian woman stereotype.
RAW are calling it the responsibility of the Senedd, Local Governments and political parties to make racialised people feel welcome in political Wales, setting clear recommendations to move towards a representative nation.
Firstly, this includes moving education towards being proactive and community led, to increase different learning styles, success stories, and promote diverse role models, targeting young racialised people into becoming emerging leaders.
From this, RAW suggests proactively supporting racialised people in their journey to political life, by increasing accessibility and inclusivity of programmes and initiatives. Each level of their journey also needs to be considered, for example, if they are a first-time candidate, they should be given the opportunity to shadow.
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Ensuring these programmes are sufficiently staffed and run by racialised people for racialised people is important. And in mentoring, matching people based on lived experience creates an environment of trust and makes these programmes more likely to be successful.
This would create a supportive, understandable, and comfortable network and environment for racialised people to communicate freely. Opportunities, such as sponsorships, arise from this and lead to success stories.
RAW also recommends providing equity, diversity, and inclusion education for political staff and representatives, valuing it as equal to health and safety, safeguarding and data protection training.
This would help to eradicate unconscious bias and inequalities allowing for underpinning belief systems such as White Supremacy, patriarchy, elitism, capitalism, and ableism to be addressed.
Encouraging people to fight for the rights of racialised, different gendered, queer, disabled and other marginalised people despite their political level is important to creating engagement with racialised and marginalised communities.
Based on contributors’ input, information and the political process needs to be more transparent, clear, and accessible.
For example, internal party application forms, shortlisting, interview, and assessment processes must be simplified and clearer to complete with detailed advice for writing, communication, and interviewing skills, so racialised people understand and feel supported within political parties in Wales.
In addition, although racialised people felt tokenised from their experiences with racism and discrimination, their other life experiences must be held at a high value. This includes considering positive and negative issues such as rurality, transport, and housing.
RAW suggests that racialised candidate’s life skills and knowledge should be recognised as highly as their education and professional backgrounds, because their experiences can be applied to decision making.
With a view to the Equality Act 2010, RAW recommends reserving spaces on party shortlists for racialised candidates, moving to completely reserved shortlists post 2030. This would diversify political life, as it would mean seats are guaranteed for racialised candidates should the party win the vote.
Another recommendation made to combat seat-blocking is to limit the number of times an individual can have a seat and stand for re-election, as it would provide more opportunities for racialised people to win safe seats during elections.
Furthermore, it is crucial for political institutions to demonstrate their integrity, by being open in admitting mistakes and failures, especially in relation to racism in the broadest sense.
“Political leaders must actively demonstrate that racism and discrimination in all forms is intolerable in society to show an example to the community.”
Actively showing that the political institution is making changes from recruitment, service provision, governance, internal culture, and external image, would show integrity by their willingness to change.
Lastly, and most importantly, RAW recommends that political institutions show real demonstrations in how they would diversify representation, through compassion, solidarity, validation, and acceptance.
This means political leaders must actively demonstrate that racism and discrimination in all forms is intolerable in society to show an example to the community.
It is difficult to know what political life in Wales will look like in the future, however, RAW is committed to ensuring that achieving equity in racialised representation is secure.
The focus is now on lobbying for change within political parties regarding the Local Government elections in 2022, utilising the development of the nations first Race Equality Action Plan as a tangible tool.
We hope that over the next 5 years, concerted emphasis is placed on making changes, so we can see a more visibly – beyond the 7% – representative Senedd in Wales.
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