As Operation Black Vote turns 24 years old this year, Simon Woolley begins the podcast by reflecting on the organization’s history. Woolley frames his work as a continuation of the work of the reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, seeking to change legal and political institutions shaped by white supremacy. Operation Black Vote, in Woolley’s words, wants communities to be able to demand equality and rights, not just ask for them.
Next, the conversation turns to representative democracy. Woolley notes that black politicians in the Conservative party largely represent white constituents, whereas black politicians in the Labour party tend to represent largely black communities. L’myah supports this argument with demographic statistics. Importantly, Woolley adds, BME politicians have a dual burden. They not only represent their own constituents, but also speak for ‘the millions of people who do not have a voice’. Progress has been made, but much work remains to be done. When Operation Black Vote began in 1996, there were only four BME MPs. Now, there are 51. Nonetheless, high minority unemployment and discriminatory policies like stop-and-search persist.
For much of the podcast, Woolley focuses on the importance of strategic rhetorical framing. He does not, for instance, use the language of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘black faces in high places’, as he finds such language tends to make people less receptive to the arguments behind the slogans. Thus, Woolley argues that we have to tell these stories through ‘facts, evidence, and data’, which frame racial equality not as a zero-sum game but as positive-sum arguments about effective policies to communicate that ‘we’re all better off if we have diverse decision-making tables.’
After a discussion about including as much of the political spectrum as possible in conversations about racial equality, Woolley ends the podcast with a call to action for our listeners. It is important to explain to people the complexity of black politics through podcasts and social media, but it is just as important to go out into communities to speak and to listen. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a disciple of MLK with whom Woolley has worked, was only in his early twenties when he became an activist. Thus, Woolley concludes, it is never too early to get involved.
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- Operation Black Vote: https://www.obv.org.uk/
- Race Disparity Unit: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/race-disparity-unit/about
- Equality and Human Rights Commission: https://equalityhumanrights.com/en
Simon Woolley is the Director and a founder of Operation Black Vote, which seeks to promote greater racial justice and equality throughout the UK. He is the former Commissioner for race on the Equality and Human Rights Commission and recently took the position of chair of the Race Disparity Advisory Group at 10 Downing Street.