Having organised BTWSC’s ‘An Evening With Supt Leroy Logan MBE’ event (yes, it was well attended, and underscores the fact that African (black) people are not a homogenous lot with same tastes and opinions) at Willesden Green Library Centre in north-west London on Friday, I was back there on Sunday to attend Black Youth Drugsline’s ‘Why Don’t Black People Vote?’ film screening and panel discussion.
The documentary, made by Rashid Nix, was filmed mainly in south London borough of Lambeth’s Coldharbour ward, which includes Brixton, an area with a large and long-established African population.
Unfortunately a very small number of those eligible to vote exercised that right during the London Mayorial election. Nix, who lives in that ward, decided to find out why his fellow African neighbours don’t vote in their numbers.
Anyone he could get on camera was asked “Why don’t black people vote?” Although a few of the interviewees said they had voted, the overwhelming majority not only do not vote but seldom gave a good reason for not voting. There were the usual excuses, such as all politicians are the same, they don’t represent us, they don’t do anything for us, and the lack of African candidates.
After the screening, we heard from a panel which included Nix, entrepreneur Ron Shillingford, community activist Lee Jasper, Black Student Union Kenja Sessay, community activist Dr Cecil Gutzmore, and a lady from the Uhuru Movement, whose name has escaped me. Among the latter’s comments was the fact that people of African descent, we were African, as opposed to black. A point I concur with.
During the screening, I made a few notes. However, by the time we got to the Q&A section, there was little time, so I not touch on all of the points I would like to have made. Hence the reason for this blog, which allows me to cover all the points I would have liked to have made.
Whilst I understand the rationale for the film’s title, I would have preferred preferred ‘Why Don’t Some Africans Vote?’ Because I vote, and so do most of the eligible Africans I know. Or ‘Why Don’t Africans Engage With Politics?’ Because, as Nix showed in the film, it took him less than 5 minutes to cast his vote. However, there is more to democracy than just voting. What happens before we even have a chance to vote? That’s politics.
A number of the film’s interviewees talked about the lack of African candidates. Also, some in the film, such as Operation Black Vote (OBV) highlighted the sleeping giant that is the untapped “black vote”, whilst some on the panel, like Shillingford advocated the use of “block voting” or “tactical voting” to effect the desired outcome.
”First of all, I do not think most African candidates can be elected solely by relying on the African electorate. And secondly, elected representatives, no matter their race, are supposed to represent the whole of their constituency, and not just their immediate community. Of course, some like the late Bernie Grant, was not just a good constituency MP, but also devoted time to African-interest issues.
But before we even get to that stage, one of the important questions we need to ask is, How can we expect to see African candidates if we are not engaged with the political process? Before we can have Africans on the ballot papers, they need to be selected. The selection is done only by party members.
I, for example, have joined the Labour Party because I want to have Dawn Butler - she opened the event by talking about the political process and explaining why we should engage with it – re-selected as the Brent Central Labour candidate. It’s my one vote, and the votes of like-minded people within the party that is going to make her re-selection a reality. Being outside the party and just wishing for an African candidate will not make a difference.
I agree with Nix, who disagreed with someone from the audience who suggested we didn’t vote because we’re an oppressed people. Whilst I agree with Gutzmore, who talked about us being oppressed, from a global political and economic perspective, I don’t when it boils down to a personal level. We disempower ourselves if we think we’re oppressed. Because it disables us from doing anything – from exercising our power, our rights, and from voting.
It’s this same notion of giving power to external personalities and organisations, by repeatedly focusing on “they” and “them” as the reasons for not doing anything or the cause of our problems, instead of focusing on “I” and “us” as the means of moving forward. The battle, it seems to me is in the mind. Some of our great political leaders, Steve Biko and Marcus Garvey, urge us to get out of that mental trap.
If you’d permit me, I’ll like to quote from ‘African Voices: Quotation By People Of African Descent’, a book I compiled with Ms Serwah. Biko said: “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Whilst Garvey urged his followers saying: "None but ourselves can free the mind... The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind."
By the way, Tuggstar, who provided the edutainment, was brilliant. He delivered a conscious rhyme that was an ode to Malcolm X. What talent! How does he remember all those lines?