An open letter to other White Greens
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.
I was a member of The Green Party on and off since the 1970s when it was called ‘The Ecology Party’. I have now said good-bye to the Greens and joined Labour. I did that with a very heavy heart because issues of institutional racism within the Green movement are just never addressed: the old links with racist Anthroposophy via Steiner Schools, Biodynamics, Triodos and other Anthro organizations; the lack of critical thinking in the Green’s support of the ultra-right racist origins of the Soil Association and the general atmosphere of ‘blood and soil’ that links a kind of cod spirituality to localism and thus whiteness. On several occasions I have raised these issues with local and central Green Party personnel as well as with local green-affiliated pressure groups and each time the issue is gas-lighted, ignored or argued against in ways that pointedly communicate that such issues are simply considered to be trivial – the social milieu of white spirituality being way more important than inclusivity and safe spaces for people of colour.
I think Greens, Tower Hamlets group especially, missed an important opportunity to publicly challenge the rancid prejudice and racism of the Spiritual Influence aspect of the Tower Hamlets Coup. Giles Fraser did.
Yesterday, Cameron bundled it into his Birmingham hate speech, so now it is establishment cannon.
The Tower Hamlets Coup was perhaps the most politically racist event of the election period, complicated and non angelic, but nonetheless glaringly unjust. Green London people shrugged it of saying they didnt feel it democratic to override a local group.
But I and others were ashamed of my GPEW association.
Lets look forward to strong decolonial futures.
I am Jewish so I self define as a BME candidate even though I’m a “progressive white Green”. I am always telling Labour it would be nice to have a black mayor of London but really I should be taking more of these steps with my campaign.
There are a lot of people who we need to engage with better than we currently do!
There are pockets of decent work happening across the country and we need to be sharing and growing this together and forging links in our communities, this will happen only if we make it a priority and we put time and resources into making this happen together.
Good piece but we also need to acknowledge the work being done cos not everyone is in the same position and re the North East I think we are making some good progress, lets face it we need to be in this for the long haul on a whole range of fronts!!!
My issue with scenarios like this is that I always feel worried that I’m coming across as patronising or condescending if I specifically do or say things that highlight the lack of BME political engagement.
This is why I struggled to Like the Greens of Colour group. I 100% support the aims, but if the group compromises mostly white people showing solidarity, it seems like it defeats the purpose.
I guess it’s a bit of a catch 22 situation.
The Greens of Colour membership is BME only, so I’m not a member of that group. I definitely want to see more solidarity between white people and BME people in the Greens, but Greens of Colour I think should definitely remain BME only, so that it maintains a safe space for those members.
That’s why I think it’s a great thing to follow the Greens of Colour – whatever comes out of that group is the product of discussions between BME members of the Greens. It lets you know what issues are important to them, and how they’ve reacted to political events, so hopefully will make it much easier for everyone else to discuss those issues without worrying about sounding patronising or condescending.
Hi Andrew, I completely agree with Steve, safety within a group of people targeted with oppression is important, and it is also important that they can reach a common position unencumbered by their ‘traditional’ oppressors, in this case white people.
At the same time, I do think we whites have a crucial and important role to play in supporting the BME members of the Green Party. Thinking of our own role as allies and working out how to have our own movement that is independent, yet supportive of their goals is a big undertaking, yet it can be done elegantly and well. ‘Critical whiteness’ is a term that has been developed by activists and academics to signify an understanding of whiteness that stands in solidarity with critical race theory in acknowledging racism & white supremacy but not getting stuck in old ways of binary thinking. I like to quote this from an article on elegantbrain.com (!): “What Is an Ally? An ally is a member of the agent social group who takes a stand against social injustice directed at target groups (Whites who speak out against racism, men who are anti-sexist). An ally works to be an agent of social change rather than an agent of oppression. When a form of oppression has multiple target groups, as do racism, ableism, and heterosexism, target group members can be allies to other targeted social groups they are not part of (lesbians can be allies to bisexual people, African American people can be allies to Native Americans, blind
people can be allies to people who use wheelchairs).” Well worth a read – especially ‘appendix B’ at the very bottom of it: http://www.elegantbrain.com/edu4/classes/readings/depository/race/teach_rac_classroom.pdf
I think this is probably the biggest question for Greens over the next few years – perhaps alongside our ability to win support in the North of England. Absolutely vital.
Glad to see the interest that this article has sparked. We would love to hear from Green Party activists who are interested in discussing #ProgressiveWhiteGreens as a movement of allies to @GreensofColour. Please leave a reply here, or alternatively respnd on Bright Green’s facebook page or tweet using the hashtag to respond or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you! Proud to be Green & White.
Why the term “Greens of colour” was this chosen through consultation?
I can only assume it was chosen by the group – I only saw it appear after their first meeting at the Green Spring Conference. Their facebook page recently posted this article by way of explanation for why they use that term:
Hi Steve, nice post. I am not white but I am of the view that the problem of everyday and institutional racism that is also present in the party needs to be addressed with white people , otherwise we are danger of marginalising ourselves as some kind of “minority” interest, where as in London where I live and in my borough we are the majority.
I think it would help if we looked at our “whiteness” and went from there, at our privilege………..