As we end Black History Month 2017, there have been the inevitable, articles, tweets, broadcasts and posts extoling and praising the huge gains that we, the African Caribbean community have made. Many an article and broadcast will contain the mandatory chronology, and even the odd genealogy of whose who, who begat whom, who sits on which body, and who is on the speed dial of the most powerful and influential people in these bejewelled and sceptred isles.
I will spare you the chronology, and the genealogy of who begot and was begotten by whom. We have every right to be proud of the success and the achievements of our most visible, our most wealthy, and our most connected with pride. These individuals are indeed the jewels in our collective crowns, and indicate just how far we have come and reflect just how open British society now is.
Notwithstanding this, whilst praising the achievements of our ‘exceptionals’; whilst applauding and being applauded for our irrepressible spirit and our ability to ‘still rise’, we should be mindful lest we forget, and in forgetting, we miss the huge chasm that still exists between our expectations and the lived experiences of the vast majority of African Caribbean’s in modern Britain.
The Cloak of Invisibility
The reality is that in the public sector and in politics, the cloak of ‘invisibleness’ continues to shroud and engulf us. We are largely absent from decision-making, and if we are there; we are rendered invisible, and if we are speaking, we are the unheard.
Individual exceptionalism may in the end, ensure that some of us will rise; thus paying homage to the truth that we have to be twice as good to even be considered. However, whilst things have changed in terms of awareness, very little has changed in terms of proportional representation and our visibility. Stroll through the public sector, political organisations, research companies and you will find that the rising tide of equality has not lifted all boats; look at department heads and other senior roles in any sector and you will see that people of African Caribbean heritage are noticeable by our absence.
Having set up the first black owned public affairs think tank in 2008, I must reserve a special place for think tanks and the public affairs industry who explicitly exclude African Caribbean people from their organisations.
Think tanks and the public affairs industry are gateways into and out of government; producing future government advisers and ministers and providing jobs for former advisers and ex ministers. Think tanks and the public affairs industry are happy to pontificate and affect social issues, focusing on getting messaging ‘just right’, but they refuse to appoint African Caribbean people.
We are not included in solution and decision-making, yet we are over represented in the services and areas that most require our input and inclusion. Why does this inconsistency and disparity persist in the way it does?
Our collective knowledge and understanding has increased, society is more sensitised to the use of language. There is organisational mindfulness that racism and discrimination are wrong and whilst some may call this rabid political correctness; most right thinking people see this as an important and integral social cohesion in modern Britain.
Black History month is important as it provides a time when we can look and critically appraise where we were, where we are and where we are going as a nation and as a people.
It is difficult to see where we are going. Religion was once called, the opiate of the masses: today, consumerism and technology are the new opiate of the masses; dulling our senses, and desensitising us to the realities of our everyday experiences and the experiences of others, resulting in our passivity, acquiescence and contentment in the face of continued marginalisation. For survival and acceptance, many of us have allowed our collective consciousness to be suppressed, reducing it to the lowest common denominator: i.e. we are an atomised and commoditised group of people. We are all consumers now.
I am sure that we have not forgotten our days in the wilderness. We have not forgotten the hard won gains of our fore parents. We are not content with the small bowl of porridge served to us for we have found that after thirty years, far from filling us, the pottage has left us emptier than when we first supped. It is time to reassess.
Nowhere is this truer than in politics. It was fantastic to see that general election 2017, saw significant numbers of new African Caribbean MP’s particularly women elected to the House of Commons. However, the Left of British politics have seemingly taken for granted and abandoned the African Caribbean community and as Trevor Phillips noted in his recent article; the political left has a problem with African Caribbean men, ‘The further away black men are, the more they are loved by the Left. And they [black men] tend to achieve truly heroic status only after the ultimate act of distance — death’.
The conservative party does not appear to have this problem. By the time you are reading this article, the Prime Minister Theresa May will have appointed a new Special Adviser of British Nigerian heritage to work with her on social justice. The conservative party, according to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nigel Heseltine, knows how to win; and they are stealing a march on the left.
Professor Robert Reiner of the London School of Economics and Political science calls this political cross dressing, where the left and right of British politics have adopted each other’s garments and it is becoming increasingly unclear who stands for what.
The conservative party needs to continue its forward march of engaging the African Caribbean community whilst ensuring that this is not tokenism.
The political left and the labour party needs to re-examine itself and reconnect with the African Caribbean community, as the activism of young people and grime artist’s needs to move from mere interest and fascination to engaged action.
The gains in equality have been secured largely off the experiences of African Caribbean communities in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s but we who have suffered the worst excess of discrimination, abuse and marginalisation are still discriminated against and marginalised. The public sector needs to review its schizophrenic position towards African Caribbean people.
Finally, lets be introspective. What is the legacy of our African and Caribbean political and institutional leaders? When our greatest and best people finally turn to hand over the baton, who will they be handing it to? Who have they supported on their journey.
It is true: everything has changed; but there is nothing new under the sun. We are older, but are we wiser?
Dr Floyd Millen is a Political Scientist and studied under the Conservative peer Professor the Lord Norton of Louth gaining a Masters’ Degree in Modern British Politics. Floyd was mentored by the former Education and Home Secretary the Right Honourable Charles Clarke.
Dr Floyd Millen is a former Special Adviser to the Cabinet Office (GDS) on GOV.UK Verify and is the former Head of Identity Services and Subject Matter Expert (SME at Post Office Ltd where he oversaw online and in branch identity verification. Floyd is the former Director of ROTA and was an Adviser to the Metropolitan Police Authority.
Dr Millen is a board director of London Mutual Credit Union (LMCU) and he sits on the board of the Hansard Society. FLoyd is a former board member of the Research Board of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
In 2008 Dr Millen founded the UK’s first and only black owned public affairs think tank and has throughout his career worked on ground breaking government initiatives such as Welfare Reform, The Work Programme, Work Choice, Police Reform and third sector sustainability.
Dr Floyd Millen’s book, ‘The Journey of Police Reform and Political Accountability in England and Wales and the United States of America’ will be published in 2017