Maurisa S. Coleman is a British–Trinidadian entrepreneur, currently working as a Parliamentary researcher. She is also an ambassador for the Notting Hill Carnival.
During the past few weeks, the protests over the death of George Floyd have brought a renewed vigour to the fight for equality. However, as the protests changed from peaceful chanting to police officers being hurt, I saw an important cause hijacked by the few using it for an alternative and baleful agenda.
Immigrants like me – people of colour; black people – know this too well. As an ambassador to Notting Hill Carnival. I passionately fight against at best the misunderstanding, and at worst the smearing, of our historic carnival – a price that millions of us are forced to pay because of small numbers of crimes committed on the same day of the festival.
I see the same pattern here. Peaceful events take place, but the media, typically, focuses on a few violent incidents. How can we prevent extremists from hijacking peaceful protests? We must take the time to listen and speak back. As a Party – and I talk as a member – we have not taken ownership of this issue. We have allowed the Left to run with it; to create division, not harmony.
A simple example was the cleaning of the memorials by the excellent Blue Collar Tories. I saw the initial picture, and simply waited for the media to tear it apart, as they did. I, and other Tory immigrants, should have been out there cleaning the statues ourselves. That would send a message that our Party is listening, that we understand, and subsequently that we, too, feel what inequality feels like and want to work together to change that.
The truth is that black Tories do understand and feel what those protesting feel. But we disagree that strongly violent action is the only way to show understanding. The best of BAME leaders who changed laws and societies have proved time and time again that it is reasoning, educating and understanding that changes inequality. From Martin Luther King to Nelson Mandela, love and forgiveness conquer hate and vengeance.
Those hijacking Black Lives Matter (BLM) are trying to turn this issue into black against white and, by proxy, Labour against Conservative. Racial prejudice won’t ever be taken as seriously if the Left continues to depict the Tories as the White Party.
The recent Parliamentary incident involving the Home Secretary is a perfect example. Before Priti Patel could finish her sentence in the Commons to defend a Government which is very racially diverse, Labour MPs shook their heads in disbelief. Patel’s response was to detail her own experiences – sending a loud, clear message to Britons of all colours that she understood the pain of racial abuse.
Yet again these left-wing politicians, who claim to speak for all minorities but so clearly don’t, showed their knack for dividing people by replying with a letter accusing the Home Secretary of trying to silence them and sadly – so very sadly – using the very hashtag which was supposed to bring us all together.
I refuse to have my identity shaped by victim-wannabes in Labour and on the Left, who believe that I, and millions of others, are race-traitors because we don’t confirm to their crude and frankly prejudiced stereotype of what ethnic minority men and women should be.
Throughout history, powerful BAME women and men have led people in resistances and protests that result in changes to the law. Whilst I am no fan of those who enslaved others, simply tearing down the statues will do nothing to erase or rewrite the past. It will not change the law and it certainly will not force anyone to understand pain.
Shouting one day to have black history taught, and then the next to have statues of British leaders removed, makes no sense. Black history – and BAME history is full of pain and trauma – is also full of power. Gesture politics is the enemy of truth.
A knee-jerk reaction – just like HBO’s removal of Gone with the Wind from their network, in a rush to show they understand. Frankly, I didn’t understand.
In the time period in which the movie was set, black women were housemaids, and that’s how it was: it wasn’t right, but that is the truth. As a Caribbean person, I look at these movies with pride, because I see a black actress who lead the way for other black actresses and think: once, all we got were maid’s parts but now we get leading parts – that’s how far we have come.
The removal of movies and TV shows from previous eras will make no difference to the cause of tolerance. You don’t change racial prejudice by banning Faulty Towers. The past is a different country.
There are nations in the world today that still discriminate. We are in a much better place than many. However, there is no case for complacency. The reason that Floyd’s death has stuck a nerve is, in my opinion, is due to the fear that progress won’t continue and that we will end, like other nations, in a condition in which low-level prejudice is part and parcel of life. This may be irrational, but that is the fear.
So what can be done to conquer it? We need to continue to make the case for a just and fair society, and not assume the battle is won. The Conservative Party should not simply react to BLM, or engage in stale culture wars. Instead, we need to be proactive, and champion those universal values that we all share. We need to own the race and equality debate, and BAME conservatives need to be articulating and leading it. The next time a memorial needs cleaning, we black Tories need to be out there cleaning it too.