Standing up for Race Equality is a multi generational task

Last week I wrote of my own emerging awareness of ethnicity and discrimination, awareness from childhood.

This immediately elicited a parody on social media, which I personally found hilarious – imitation, even parody is a form of flattery; however, I did wonder whether any other contributions to Lib Dem Voice would be met with such a response, so swiftly were they written by someone from a well represented or powerful group, though you might well believe that this is more likely in that case. I leave it to you to speculate on whether this is part of the a great British tradition or whether it too is a manifestation of structural discrimination, intended to put people from under represented groups off. While you could say that it hasn’t put me off, are the very people who would be put off, the ones whom we wish to include?

While of course I could write about the statistics of race equality, I’m a physicist by training and while I have done many different things one of which was to track and latterly direct 800 performance (statistical) indicators for 6 years in order to work with others to turn one of the worst councils in the UK into one of the best, that would not give you a feel for the lived experience of being in a minority group and it is precisely the view that the experience doesn’t count, it is simply the statistics which matter which is a part of the issue.

Childhood is in so many ways an important time, if not the most important time of our lives, and it is important in forming our ideas on race equality too. I will stick with the theme of race equality in childhood and write about my mother and my aunt’s early life.

My mother was born in London, and my aunt though only four years older in India, in Assam. By 1939 and the outbreak of the Second World War both were living with both parents not far from King’s Cross Station. Both girls were evacuated together, with their new north west London school, outside London. They and a pair of friends were placed with a host family. The friends were sisters from a refugee family, which was Jewish and those friends were constantly picked on by the host. In those days, it was not the done thing for children to speak out, but my aunt was always feisty and both she and my mother became barristers later. So my then eleven year old aunt went into school and complained about the treatment of the two friends.

The entire group of 4 girls were immediately relocated to an entirely different host family, the Waley Cohens at Amersfort (Hall). I was aware that being picked on for your identity was not simply a matter of appearance, accent, socio-economic status or skin colour though all may play a part, from my early years myself, and that I was to be aware of the issue. From an early age I was told that it was correct to speak out.

My father had travelled from India to USA in his late teens to study and had immediately become a civil rights activist. He often mentioned his written dialogue with Coretta Scott King a well known civil rights activist whom I hope that you may already be aware of. Her words elsewhere apply here, “It does not matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are indeed part of the problem.”

Like my mother and aunt, I too went to school in north west London in an environment where I faced for most of the time what I perceived as a low or possibly non existent level of racism and race bias. I have always believed that that is in part because the communities in the area would not tolerate such behaviour. Our attitudes do matter, and never in the area have I heard the view which you might also hear in other places as I do, “Why not just ignore it?”

We should never just ignore the behaviour which is intended to systematically make groups of other people feel uncomfortable or excluded because when we do we exclude particular groups of people from the dialogue with which we shape our shared future.

We are all here to understand the predicament of people who are receiving unfair treatment and ensure that it is addressed, whether we are aged 11 or 101 and we could throughout the UK learn from that area of London, where still to this day people would not suggest that a survivor of an abuse or even minor impoliteness should just ignore it.

* Marisha Ray is a Liberal Democrat London Assembly Candidate for the Barnet and Camden constituency; she was a London Assembly London wide list candidate in 2012 and 2016, a parliamentary candidate in a 2012 by-election, and the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

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  • jayne Mansfield 5th Dec '20 - 1:47am

    Stay strong.

  • Marisha Ray 5th Dec '20 - 10:53am

    Jayne Mansfield, thank you!

  • Marsha, I can’t wait for things to be back to normal so that I could seek you out at Conference. Its not that often I feel so inspired (sorry colleagues). I was too overwhelmed last week but nodded my head when I read Alison Cs Comment. Somehow “baby steps” can’t be enough anymore. I have been taking “baby steps” all my working life, ever since at the age of 18 I came across that tatty note near a grubby door bell in North London saying “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs”. I felt then a cold wand of fear strike my heart and I just ran and kept running until I found the nearest Tube Station. I went on to nurse many Holocast Survivors in London’s East End and later many Bengali Residents. So much to do and I thought I had a lifetime to do it. But all I could do seems like a drop in the ocean. So keep writing in the wonderful way that you do. Your advice is greatly needed. I would love to see you on the green benches.

  • David Evans 8th Dec '20 - 2:35pm

    Actually my view is that is not just multi-generational but also never ending. And it is something as Lib Dems we must all do – Support Marisha and people like her because we all know they will support us just as much.

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