Everybody knows that you don’t have to be a woman to know that sexism is wrong, a person of colour to know that racism is unacceptable nor identify as LGBTIQA+ to be intolerant towards homophobia. While this is the case, if you are not part of a particular community you will never understand the life those who are lead or the problems they face. You can sympathise – any humane person can sympathise. But you can’t empathise, because how can you possibly understand? How can you put yourself in a black man’s shoes if you are a white man and benefit from the privilege they lack?

An image of Shahrar Ali speaking at a podium onstage at Spring conference.
Deputy leader candidate Shahrar Ali speaking at Autumn Conference 2015

Descriptive representation is the idea that elected representatives should represent the descriptive characteristics of the people they lead. Now to some this may seem like an extreme idea – to have a woman stand up for women and people of colour stand up for people of colour – but really it is not that drastic. Essentially it allows people from less privileged groups to see that, despite suffering as a result of their characteristics, they have the means to combat it. With descriptive representation, leadership are better aware of the needs of the people they serve, and as time grows on, ingrained oppression grows less prevalent as people begin to view those of every group in society as leaders rather than associating power with a very specific type of person. In my opinion, descriptive representation is how we combat the issue of people in positions of power failing to understand and truly grasp the problems the people they represent face.

When I saw the list of GPEx candidates, I wasn’t so much shocked as familiarly disappointed to see the lack of diversity. To be blunt: we are the Green Party, so why, from our leadership, could you easily mistake us for the White Party?

I don’t want to name names or throw individual people under the bus. Everyone who meets the membership requirements is entitled to stand as leader. But just like the Conservatives are seen as wealthy, pro-austerity and privately educated men, we are viewed as the party of the middle class white vegans. The people that I have met and associate with within the party don’t view us in that way, but from the outside that is how we come across. This is hardly going to change when all of the leadership candidates, and the vast majority of deputy and GPEx candidates, are white. Men are also a majority by a wide margin. What about the party makes us so unattractive to people of colour?

A woman of colour activist smiles whilst holding up a green smoke bomb. A crowd is visible behind them. They are attending the Sisters Uncut action da.y.
A woman of colour activist, Shanice McBean holding a Green smoke bomb (Credit Lou Macnamara: http://tinyurl.com/ju6ah9o )

So many people of colour leave the party or don’t join in the first place due to this stigma and how they are mistreated, pushed aside and spoken over by white people in politics. My examples tend to reference sexism or racism, which is because I am a woman of colour – and an angry one at that. It is almost as if people of colour – especially woman of colour, of which there are no candidates standing this year – shy away from the top jobs within the Greens. I wonder why? Would a step forward be to include the liberation groups (that people mistakenly believe are exclusive cliques) on GPEx or GPRC? Do we need to re-open nominations to encourage a broader spectrum of candidates to stand? Should we start researching and publishing a breakdown of how underprivileged groups are represented in party leadership and introduce targets to improve this?

It is clear that a change is long overdue, and we can only hope that the candidates on that list will begin to take at least steps before fixing things because unless this happens the leadership elections this year represent only one thing – a glaring badge of embarrassment that as a supposedly progressive party meant to represent an alternative kind of politics we still perpetuate the same politics that most of us are sick of: male, pale and stale.