Greens at stand up to racism

Greens of Colour at Stand up to Racism march, 2015.

My name is Steve, I’m White, I’m a Green Party member and I’ve been silent for too long.

With success comes scrutiny, and the Green Party has certainly been getting plenty of that recently, such as the Telegraph’s critique of our policies or the Spectator claiming we’re dangerous. It’s tempting to go into the tribalistic defence mode we’re used to from other political parties, defending ourselves against any criticism for the sake of it; turning scrutiny into a PR exercise rather than a prompt to reflect and improve. But the point of being Green is that we’re supposed to be better than that. We’re supposed to offer politics as it should be, not replicate the insipid, self-serving tactics of the Westminster blob.

The Greens were recently criticised in the London Evening Standard for having the lowest proportion of BME candidates for the general election of any major party. Even UKIP are doing better.

Let’s just let that sink in for a moment. A party vehemently opposed to immigration, that wants to scrap anti-discrimination legislation and that has had a relatively constant stream of party members exposed as vile racists. That’s a party that has a higher proportion of BME candidates than us. If that doesn’t make you sick to your stomach, it really should.

Sure, we can point to things like the formation of the Greens of Colour caucus and the election last year of Shahrar Ali as deputy leader, pat ourselves on the back and pretend we’re doing well. But that would turn genuine advancements into tokenistic excuses for not doing more. If we are to have any chance of making things better, we need to recognise that the responsibility for change belongs to all of us.

So what can we do? Sure, trying to be a good ally can be daunting at times. We want to help but not patronise, support but not take over, speak out but not offend. It’s easy to get it wrong, however well intentioned. It’s also easy to worry too much, and end up doing nothing. So here are my suggestions for how we can do better:

Listen – Follow the Greens of Colour caucus as it grows. Pay attention to what BME members say about racism and other issues that affect them. But don’t expect them to solve the problem. We should be seeking their advice on how we can help solve the problem.

Speak up – The Greens have been too quiet on issues of race and racism – we all need to change that. Whether you’re one of our national spokespeople or a new member who’s just started up a twitter account, we need to be talking loudly about racism in society. Whether it’s the Fergusson shootings, the toxic rhetoric around immigration, the fact that Muslims face the worst job discrimination of any minority group in Britain, or police targeting ethnic minorities with stop and search, these are things that should be making us very angry. They certainly make me feel angry. But when we don’t speak out, it looks like we don’t care. Worse than that, our silence implies agreement, and lack of action allows these things to go on unchallenged.

Encourage – Is there a BME member in your local party who you think would make a good councillor or parliamentary candidate, but who hasn’t put themselves forward? Try letting them know they have your support. Anyone who’s a member of a minority group has probably been told many times in their lives, directly or indirectly, that they can’t achieve, and that they’re not welcome. Make sure you’re a voice that tells them otherwise. Don’t underestimate the good a bit of friendly encouragement can do.

Engage – We should be talking to Black and Asian press, engaging with BME campaigns and groups, canvassing in communities with high proportions of BME people, listening to their concerns and offering to help. In local parties, we should be issuing open invitations for members who identify as BME to tell us what support they need to feel more engaged. We should be championing causes that are important to BME people, not as a PR stunt, but because it’s the right thing to do. Because it’s the Green thing to do.

Admit – We’re not doing well. We can either admit it, or bury our heads in the sand. Only one of those options can ever lead to us making things better. Anyone who says that there isn’t a problem in the Greens is really saying that things should stay the way they are. The kind of politics I want to see is one where we can say “We haven’t done well enough. We recognise that. That’s why we’re going to work hard to change things. We know we can be better and we’re going to prove that.” Then we need to back it up with action. British politics really doesn’t need another sound-bite that means nothing.

As a gay man, I’ve been really encouraged by the Green’s championing of LGBT issues, and the way I’ve found members to be consistently vocal and passionate about LGBT equality, regardless of whether they identify as LGBT or not. As someone who suffers from social anxiety, I’ve felt welcomed by the Green’s vocalism on the need for better mental health care, and the way Green meetings are run so that everyone has the chance to contribute and make their voice heard. If I was also BME, would I be feeling as encouraged or welcome?

It’s a central aim of the Green Party to fight for a society that is more equal, where we stand up for the powerless against the powerful. Not just because of a lofty philosophical ideal, but because we believe that when society is fair, everyone benefits. That world will never be possible if we don’t all take our responsibility to make it happen.

My name is Steve, I’m White, I’m a Green Party member and I’ve been silent for too long.

But I’m going to prove I can do better.

This article is part of a series that Bright Green is running on the topic of race and the Green Party. Past contributions came from Samir Jeraj, Lester Holloway and Violeta Vajda