What a Tory government really means to POCs and all minorities
Everything was grey. The weather, sludgy wet mist that never seemed to lift, a constant cold damp nudging a constant runny nose. The buildings, hideous concrete slabs designed to be built on the cheap rather than please the eye. And the politicians, every time you turned on the telly, there was another palid grey wrinkled face in the same shiny grey suit spouting the same dry grey words with the same empty grey meaning that nothing was ever going to change for the likes of me and mine.
If you’re too young to remember the 80s and early 90s, you’re lucky. If you’re a person of colour, you’re not just lucky, you’re blessed. The cultural watershed that began in the mid-90s and crescendoed with the election of the first Labour government of my lifetime in 1997 was lifechanging to anyone who wasn’t white. Slowly at first, and then sharply, jubilantly, the world grew into colour. After the hopeless inevitability of prejudice, difference, othering and often blatant abuse condoned by nearly two decades of Tory leadership came the glimmer of possibility, the change in perception that at last, finally, people of colour didn’t have to be afraid anymore. We were no longer expected to walk with our heads bowed, not daring to look strangers in the eye, knowing that being too visible, too forward, could draw unwanted attention, aggression, violence.
Enduring a childhood of being called Paki, blackie, curry-muncher, darkie (among the milder insults I received), not to mention the constant ridicule of my name and constant comparison of my skin colour to either chocolate or excrement, all of which was not just accepted but positively encouraged by a Tory government, I was, not unreasonably, crying with joy when the Labour landslide came in. And when Labour brought in legislation making hate speech a crime, my life changed completely. I could walk with my head held high knowing that anyone who thought it was acceptable to use racially defamatory language against me would end up in a police cell. That, my friends, is empowerment. Having the law on your side to protect you, really protect you against both verbal and physical bigotry, against hating yourself because hate towards you has been so normalised. If, as people of colour, we want to continue to exist in our society free from fear, free from hate, we need the protection that only a Labour government will offer us. Those grey-faced bilious rich white men are back, calling us pickaninnies and letter-boxes, publicly shaming us for existing as ourselves just like they did in the 1980s. Blink and we’ll be told once again that there’s no such thing as society. I for one don’t want to go back knowing my place, or even pretending to. I don’t want to wait out another storm of conservative hatred, watching emboldened gammon-faced thugs jeer at minority groups in the street, mock us for our dress, our voices, our names, our faces, our culture, our language, our very existence. I don’t want another generation of young people of colour growing up afraid, mired in self-hate, not understanding what they did wrong to be hit in the face over and over by a lack of acceptance from a society they want to call their own.
The Labour Party is not perfect. Like so many other hopefully folks of my generation, I got a rude awakening when Labour slapped tuition fees onto my degree, took us into an illegal and unjustifiable war in Iraq and broke our trust in innumerable other ways. I swore I would never vote Labour again. And for a long time I didn’t. But three years ago everything changed and in a single, tragic, night, all the bigots who have been hiding in the woodwork for the last 20 years have dusted off their St George flags and really believe they can take control of our country again. I can’t bear to see the pendulum swing back the other way, knowing how long we waited, how hard we fought, and how much there is to lose. Keeping this vilely regressive incarnation of the Conservative Party out of office is the only way to safeguard minority rights, as well as our NHS, social and public services, and the principles of equality and justice for all. I’m praying we don’t end up back in that grey hell I’m honestly still recovering from.