As I occasionally note, I fall into the approximately 1.2% of the population who define themselves as ‘mixed race’, and therefore supposedly part of the BME community.
I say ‘supposedly’ because, in the past week, it has become abundantly clear that those in the Party who speak so boldly on behalf of ethnic minorities care very little for me, my needs or my interests. The ongoing debate following the GLA selection has been entirely couched in terms of ‘visible’ ethnic minorities, and the assumption is that your status as a minority is therefore entirely defined by skin colour. If only it were that simple…
My mother was born in Keith, a small town about midway between Aberdeen and Inverness, and brought up in East Sussex. She has pale, occasionally almost translucent, skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. My father was born and raised in Mumbai, came to this country in the early sixties. They met, presumably fell in love, and have now been married for over forty years. He is brown-skinned, with brown eyes and, once upon a time, black hair. He is also from the generally overlooked minority Catholic faith.
Me, I’m brown-eyed, with dark brown hair (tending to grey these days, I’m afraid) with the skin tone of someone who has been out in the sun for just the right amount of time. When I look at myself in a mirror, I increasingly see my father, and there are much worse things to recognise, I can tell you.
I have always felt closer to my Indian family than to my English one, perhaps for no better reasons than that we think alike and that I am comfortable in their presence in a way that I never quite have been with my mother’s relatives.
Accordingly, I have always identified myself as half-Indian and proud of it. Occasionally, when my English friends are getting a little carried away with the sheer wonderfulness of being English, I like to remind them that my ancestors were building great civilisations at a time when painting yourself blue was considered the height of fashion here.
So you might therefore understand why the viewpoint of senior figures within both the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and the Ethnic Minority Election Task Force troubles me. Their suggestion appears to be that only certain BME groups, as defined by them, are worthy of their attention and concern. The rest of us, who don’t quite fit with their view of the world, are somehow disposable and our views either an attempt to patronise or, worse still, to block meaningful change.
I’ve spent most of my political life below the surface of the Party’s processes, attempting in my own small way to create opportunity for all. The fact that I have no personal electoral ambitions appears to make some more cynical souls convinced that I have some other agenda. Clearly, if I had been more nakedly ambitious, my motives would have been more acceptable.
And so my public attempt to persuade the wider Party to make real efforts to create that mystical level playing field is at an end. Instead, I will try to find ways of using the machinery of the Party to experiment with new ideas, consulting with my friends to do so. It just isn’t worth the abuse of doing it any other way…