On the third time I went canvassing, at the age of just 13, I was sent to a complex of flats. These flats were mostly owned by people of Indian descent and I, as someone born in the UK but whose family originally came from Bangladesh, was confused as to why I was being sent there. At a meeting later that day, the senior figure who made me canvass that area proudly declared how we had gone to an Indian complex of flats and I had performed very well in the role of connecting with this particular community. It was very clear from this speech that this was planned to use my race to win votes. I was embarrassed but more so confused at why he thought I was meant to be the one to do this, and why everyone else (who was white), including an approved PPC, all smiled and murmured a chorus of approval.
Not too long after the election, we bumped into another senior local party figure in our town centre with his family. As he walked away I heard him explain to his son I was the 'new Indian boy'. This made me uncomfortable. My parents and I were born in this country. It was in fact my grandparents who came from Bangladesh (not even India). I should've put my foot down to the way I was made to feel, how I was tokenized and racially (mis)profiled. But I didn't want to kick up a fuss as an individual.
Many could call my experience an isolated incident, but I have spoken to other BAME members and former members who had similar experiences. One young female BAME member told me how she felt 'tired of being 'tokenised', with her culture 'often being misunderstood by members' and her 'objections not being taken seriously'. Other young BAME members I had spoken to like her felt very similarly, the feeling of being isolated often cropped up.
The issue isn't necessarily open, "National Front-esque racism. It's racism born out of ignorance, stubborn ignorance at that, where for instance on Facebook some white members fail to acknowledge the issues, instead taking offence when they should take this as an opportunity to learn how to better treat racial minorities. But it doesn't even have to be this obvious. Members at social gatherings asking you 'where you are from' until they get the name of a foreign country or constantly being asked to be in random local party photos at conferences because I'm young and brown is very tiring and awkward.
White members need to be more understanding, they need to treat and expect from minorities the same they do for one another. We must end the vicious cycle of the perception of a white party leading to minorities feeling they cannot get involved by creating an environment they find easy to get involved with. Yes, It will take difficult conversations such as the ones we are being forced to have during this time of upheaval, but after decades of dealing with barriers and racism to this day, is asking white party members to have a few difficult conversations and be a little more considerate really too much?
This article is part of a series put together by Young Liberal's BAME Officer Pushkin Defyer. If you are a Young BAME member with experiences of racial prejudice in party politics and want to get involved to write an article for this series please contact Pushkin.Defyer@YoungLiberals.uk