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'I deplore anyone that seeks to divide our communities and attack one above the other'


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Ahead of the voter registration deadline for the upcoming election, Operation Black Vote (OBV) has launched a campaign – ‘Blacks Don’t Vote’ - to encourage more people of colour to register to vote.

According to OBV CEO Simon Woolley, the campaign was designed to mobilise black and minority ethnic communities to stand up and be counted.

He says: “When Theresa May announced that she would have a snap election, I thought to myself ‘there’s an opportunity here to put our issues on the political agenda and demand that the political parties acknowledge them and have a solution. In particular, to close those persistent race and equality gaps.”

The campaign cites that 1.4 million potential votes were not used by BME individuals, 28% of whom aren’t registered to vote (compared to 6% of white people). Among BMEs of African descent, specifically, that is closer to 50%.

Actor Riz Ahmed and Entrepreneur Jamal Edwards are the faces of ‘Blacks Don’t Vote’.

In a promotional clip, Jamal says: “it’s a fact – blacks don’t vote. But if we do, we’d have the power to decide who wins the election and that is big.”

Riz says, in a separate video: “The reason we’re making this film is because blacks don’t vote.

“And by black people I mean ethnic minorities, of all backgrounds.”

Woolley speaks highly of both ambassadors: 

“People like me, the older generation, we seek to hand over the baton to the next generation of black activists.

"I see Jamal Edwards as one of them. Yes, he’s an entrepreneur, yes he has lots of cultural intersections but within that strain, there is a desire for social and racial justice. I applaud him and Riz Ahmed and I deplore anyone that seeks to divide our communities and attack one above the other.”

The last point is a direct answer to a few critics of the Blacks Don’t Vote campaign, who have taken issue with its use of the word ‘black’ in reference to all minority ethic communities and implication that all of these groups face the same challenges.

Woolley says: “I make no apologies for Operation Black Vote. It was formed in 1996 to address the concerns of African, Asian, Caribbean and other ethnic minority communities. To address systemic racism.

“I implore our communities to not go down the divide and rule route. When racism is played out by the state, in regards to stop & search, immigration, the lack of jobs, they don’t distinguish between our communities. To some of them, we’re all black b******s.

“When you look at our post-colonial history of independence, our internationalism, that gave us the strongest, legislative mandate for tackling race and inequality that’s ever, ever existed – why would we tear that down now?”

Is political blackness, of the 1970s, a thing in 2017?

Simon said: “We cannot be so insular; this would be a monumental mistake. This is not a zero sum game which says that if we join together, we lose. On the contrary – we can be both.

“That doesn’t mean to say that within the African continent there aren’t a kaleidoscope of different views that need to be articulated. What I’m saying is, the individual countries, cultures and communities are strengthened by the collective.”

Woolley draws upon the example set by the recently departed activist Darcus Howe:

“We lament about the sad loss of Darcus, the renegade, the warrior and he comes from that internationalist, post-colonial, international movement that saw unity in oppressed people – particularly of post colonial societies.

“And if we lose that in a narrow, ‘them and us’, ‘it’s all about us way’, then we cannot then celebrate the life of Howe, Mandela, King and Malcolm X.”

Encouraging ethnic minority communities to utilise their suffrage is only the beginning, Simon acknowledges.

“Registering to vote is an important element but it’s also about being active and holding the political class and political parties to account. You don’t wait for them to give you crumbs, you lobby and engage in activism that demands an equitable slice of the political and economic cake. That means being pro-active.

"That’s why we’ve written a black manifesto; a manifesto for race equality that demands a plan to close some of the gaps in education, health, employment and more.”

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