My experiences of being a woman Councillor of colour

I am very proud to say that I was elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor in 2017 to serve the residents of Cyncoed and Lakeside at Cardiff County Council. Cardiff, capital city of Wales, is very cosmopolitan, a city that celebrates its diversity, but still fails to represent its population in the make-up of the council chamber and the workforce within the council.

I had stood in local elections before in a different area and did notice the ballot papers that came in with crosses next to my ward colleague names and not mine and still this time same occurred on some ballot papers, but luckily I secured just enough votes to become the third and last candidate to be elected. When you see such ballots, many questions and answers come to your mind, why did they not vote me? They don’t know me personally so is it my name, the origin of the name, my faith or the colour of my skin that they considered more than anything I had to offer?

Anyhow, delighted to be elected I went for the induction and signing in day, parking was arranged for councillors, only I had to explain three times to the car park attendant that I was an elected councillor before he allowed me in to park my car. The glares and looks as you walk into meetings have become part of my life for quite some time now, almost questioning your presence.

However, things are a little more settled as I have become accepted part of the council now. It has been great to voice, question and challenge the council on equality issues. I have raised questions around the make -up of council staff and the pay gap that exists based on ethnicity. The failures of council in reaching out to diverse communities, making their services inclusive and accessible by all and involving people of different background in their decisions. I have time and time again highlighted these failures at scrutiny meetings of social care and also raised questions in the council chambers and I have faith that change will happen.

However, assumptions and presumptions still remain part of what you do. There are people who assume you have little awareness and knowledge beyond issues related to ethnicity, and there are also those people who presume that because you are of colour you can speak for all people of colour. So, my work continues in making my mark, my stand clear and break misconceptions in meetings and in the work I do. So, I end by using the famous words of Robert Frost “… I have miles to go before I sleep”.

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11 Comments

  • Yousuf Farah 5th Oct '20 - 8:22pm

    I think the examples of covert racism you mention are probably just the price we have to pay for being minorities or people of colour in this country. I can relate a lot to what you say, where I live, in Scotland, racism goes on pretty much everyday for me, I’ve long since accepted it as a part of life. I confess, I’ve never been to Wales, and I’ve only been to England for a few days, and that was a long time ago, but from what I gather there seems to be a lot of racism there.

  • Could Bablin please confirm for me that 8 out of the 38 (i.e. over 20%) Councillors of the ruling Labour group are, to quote Yousuf, “people of colour in this country”, as are 2 (25%) of the 8 Lib Dem Councillors on Cardiff City Council ?

  • George Thomas 6th Oct '20 - 8:34am

    “I confess, I’ve never been to Wales, and I’ve only been to England for a few days, and that was a long time ago, but from what I gather there seems to be a lot of racism there.”

    Perhaps the best way to think about Wales is to see it as a big contradiction: an introverted extrovert, for example. It is both incredibly warm and welcoming and at the same time cautious or distrusting, both looking to the world and still acting as little villages, both hugely patriotic and lacking faith or confidence in itself. Nathan Blake (Welsh ex-footballer) did a programme within the past week on Welsh, black miners so maybe you can catch it on Iplayer to see a bit more about where things were, where things are and where they’re going.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Oct '20 - 10:45am

    George, I agree about Wales being a big contradiction. I was brought up in the South Wales valleys. People there welcomed immigrants from Poland and Hungary and, once they got to know them welcomed Asians with their curry and Italians with their ice-cream. But when Enoch Powell made that famous speech they warmed to him. They were not too enthusiastic about the Welsh Nationalist Party, yet always complained about the English ruling over us. The majority working class were strongly opposed to the ruling elite; thus they disliked Sir Winston Churchill and although most sang the UK national anthem and waved to the Queen when she visited, they argued strongly that Wales and its people were treated unfairly by the UK generally. They could be fiercely supportive of nonconformist Welsh tradition, yet unsure about speaking the Welsh language. Even the Welsh Nationalists, who promoted that language, were very supportive of international institutions and did not like the UK’s narrow British outlook on the world. Most of my friends and relatives supported the Common Market and were eager to join. They were always suspicious of wealthy people; they used to say it is likely they have not gained their wealth by fair means, but simultaneously they complained how they wished to have more themselves, just a little bit, perhaps by winning the football pools. What was really good was the community spirit and even the welcome to strangers, born out of the nonconformist chapel tradition; the only thing was, those strangers could ‘get in’ only so far, but no further.

  • Bablin, thank you for setting out so clearly the discrimination you have faced, not only on a personal level but also in the Council’s management of its services. It is really important that people understand this and recognise the importance of a more inclusive approach and a greater understanding of the structural inequalities in our society.

  • Bablin Molik 6th Oct '20 - 5:16pm

    @davidraw yes the points you raise are correct. However 10 out of 75 councillors in a city like Cardiff is not representative and nor is the percentage of BAME councillors across UK within lib dem party representative of UK BAME population. In Cardiff though there are 10 BAME councillors, I am the only female BAME councillor. I think it is inaccurate to isolate individual cases & fail to see the whole picture.

    Thank you to those that have appreciated the article. I have lived & grown up in Cardiff & I love living in Cardiff & Wales. But, much is still to be desired in ensuring I and all people feel like a part of the city & country. The sentiments need to come from both sides.

  • George Thomas 6th Oct '20 - 6:12pm

    Apologies Bablin for not commenting directly on your article and thank you for raising these issues. You are right in saying there is much still to be done.

  • Great to read your post Bablin, especially as I lived in your ward many moons ago!

    The non party block votes on the ballot paper are always a bit of a mystery during an all-in election, and often they can determine the outcome. Sometimes they follow a rational pattern – selecting only female candidates or those who actually live in the ward. And people who think they only have one vote will normally favour the candidate nearer the top of the ballot, ie earlier in the alphabet.

    Sadly I have certainly also spotted votes which seem to be cast on ethnic lines, especially when names are not obviously English names. They represent the unpleasant underbelly of society, but on the whole voters seem pretty decent.

  • Bablin Molik 13th Oct '20 - 2:53pm

    @Chris Cory we will be getting new census data next year. But I can tell you that Cardiff BAME population isn’t just Asian & Black & that it was higher than 10% in 2011 & is even greater now around 21% according to stats Wales.

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