Feminist Philosophers

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The whiteness of British politics April 27, 2010

Filed under: politics,race — Jender @ 12:37 pm

Read about it here. Particularly interesting is the situation with the Lib Dems:

The leaders’ debates have produced a love-affair with the Liberal Democrats that has barely paused to question the party’s record on diversity. Although popular with Muslim voters in many constituencies, due in large part to its stance against the war in Iraq, and in spite of its mini-manifesto on equality, the Liberal Democrats are the only party whose MPs are likely to be entirely white. Of the 36 Liberal Democrat candidates from minority backgrounds, not a single one has been fielded for a winnable seat.

The Lib Dems’ poor record on minority representation has been noted by minority voters, but so has the media’s failure to reflect those concerns.

 

18 Responses to “The whiteness of British politics”

  1. Em Ryall Says:

    I think this is a bit harsh considering the places where the Lib Dems are most likely to actually be elected, i.e. rural South West England. In this case, having a ‘white’ MP would be highly representative of the constituency. For instance, consider Julia Goldsworthy’s seat of Redruth and Camborne or Andrew George’s constituency for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Considering the constituency is around 99.8% ‘white’ (okay so this is an educated guess), it doesn’t seem unrepresentative at all. What really counts is whether the MP is able to effectively represent their constituents, not what colour skin (or eyes or hair) they have.

  2. Monkey Says:

    Interesting point, Em.

    Also Jender – the link seems to be broken.

  3. Jender Says:

    Thanks Monkey– should be fixed now!

  4. Tom Says:

    It’s not surprising that there’s less diversity among the Lib Dem MPs – there are fewer of them!

  5. Jender Says:

    I agree that policies are the most important thing, and that’s why I in fact voted Lib Dem by postal ballot. However, they also clearly need to work on having more diverse MPs– the Tories are actually managing that, and if Tories can surely Lib Dems can.

  6. Black Philosopher Says:

    > What really counts is whether the MP is able to effectively represent their constituents, not what colour skin (or eyes or hair) they have.

    “What really counts is whether the MP is able to effectively represent their constituents, not what sex the MP is.”

    > I agree that policies are the most important thing

    “I agree that policies are the most important thing – it doesn’t matter that all their MPs are male.”

    From the Gendered Conference Campaign page:

    > We’re trying to spread awareness of the harm that this does, by perpetuating the invisibility of women in philosophy and thereby feeding the implicit biases that make it more
    difficult for women to be taken seriously as philosophers (or to take themselves seriously)

  7. Monkey Says:

    Good points, Black Philosopher.

  8. Albert Atkin Says:

    Em, I think you make two conflicting points and I’d be interested to know which one you’re intending to advance (unless I’ve misunderstood you and you’re advocating neither!).

    On the one hand, you look like you’re supporting descriptive representation or race-concious representation (“considering the places where the Lib Dems are most likely to actually be elected … having a ‘white’ MP would be highly representative of the constituency) and saying that on that view the Liberal party are quite appropriately “white”.

    And on the other you seem to say that actually, race is irrelevant to an MPs ability to represent their constituency.

    Now, I don’t think you can hold both of these views – race either matters or it doesn’t. I also think that if you’re suggesting the former, that doesn’t justify the LibDem lack of minority candidates – not all British constituencies are “white”. Unless you’re seriously advocating the view that parties should only have race-concious representation in seats they might win. (Are you?)

    If you’re suggesting that race is irrelevant, well, I think that’s the very assumption that the LibDems don’t seem to be questioning and which is troubling to minority liberal voters, and others. Many (including Black Philosopher it seems) think it is far from obvious that a candidate’s race, gender, religion, etc. is unimportant to their ability to represent – Iris Marion Young’s work on descriptive representation is interesting here I think. Simply (re)asserting the assumption which, for many, is at the heart of the debate doesn’t seem very satifying. You might have to say why you think race is irrelevant here.

    Just my thoughts! I’d be interested to hear yours too.

  9. stoat Says:

    Black philosopher – point taken. But I think the stances expressed here and in the Gendered conference campaign are consistent. Here’s how imagine the analogy (perhaps others would put it differently, but here’s a stab):

    -What really matters (in terms of conference papers) is that the philosophical content is good.

    -Good philosophy is the most important thing…*

    The point is that there are women philosophers doing good philosophy, so there is no reason to suppose that caring most about the good philosophy would lead to all male conferences. That would only happen if you let biases (or other discrimination) affect selection. And attending to the harms perpetrated by such homogenous line ups is reason to try to stop this from happening.

    Likewise, it seems reasonable to assume that there are suitable black and minority ethnicity people workining politics who could stand as candidates. So there is no reason to suppose that caring about policies alone would lead to disproportionate numbers of white candidates. That would only happen if biases (or other forms of discrimination) affect selection. Which, most likely, it has done here. And given the harmful effects of this, there’s reason to try to prevent this.

    But just as there’s no reason to select a paper due to gender, even if you think it contains poor philosophy, there’s no reason to vote for a candidate due to race, even if you disagree with their policies.

    Rather, there’s reason to try to draw attention to the fact that good philosophy papers, and good potential candidates for MP, include those other than white males. And to draw attention to the harms perpetrated by lack of representation. So it seems to me the right course of action is to vote based on what policies you prefer, but if that means voting for a party that is doing badly in terms of representation, you should call them to account for this.

    Hmmm, the analogy is not perfect. But it seems to me to work. What do you think?

    *I think it is slightly uncharitable to attribute to Jender the claim ‘it doesn’t matter that … [all the MP's are white/male], because she never said this, and the points above indicate that it is acknowledged that it does matter.

  10. stoat Says:

    -that should be ‘working in politics’. Sorry!

  11. Emily Ryall Says:

    Thanks Albert for your comment and you raise a very interesting point (as now I’m having to think hard about what I want to say).

    By definition, a consistency MP should be representing a group of people. I guess the issue comes with what we mean by ‘representing’ and whether they should be ‘representative of’ that constituency. Obviously they can’t be wholly representative of a diverse group of people (it is impossible to take account of all individual differences) but we might at least hope that they are able to empathise with the interests of as broader spectrum as possible (so as to understand and hopefully resolve their issues / problems).

    For me, what is most important in any prospective MP is that they have a character that genuinely wants to make the lives of their constituents better, and to enable their constituents to feel as if they have a ‘voice’. That is not to say that a ‘black’ MP would not be able to do this adequately for a constituency comprised solely of ‘white’ voters or equally a female MP couldn’t adequately represent her male constituents. I just think we shouldn’t get hung up on the issue of what ‘box’ people fall into. If we have a Parliament made up of people that genuinely care about their constituents and are open to listening to their problems, then that would be much better than having a Parliament comprised of representatives that although appear to represent the diversity of the UK (50% women, etc…), actually are closed minded and don’t care about (all) the people they are supposed to represent.

    I don’t know if that really answers Albert’s point. Essentially, what I wanted to say was that it is the candidate’s character that matters not what box they tick on diversity forms. If we focus on building good character then I think a culture shift that would encourage more diverse candidates to come forward naturally, would follow (I do agree with the point that we should be resisting implicitly sending out a message that particular careers are only for particular people but I think this can be changed through other methods – such as education, and the media). I also wanted to raise the point that we shouldn’t be surprised (nor too critical) when we see a lack of diversity (ethnicity, gender) on particular ballot forms.

  12. Monkey Says:

    Stoat – I think Black Philosopher was responding to Emily Ryall – the quotes are from ER’s first comment. I don’t think it was supposed to be a representation of Jender’s views.

  13. stoat Says:

    hi monkey,
    the second quote is from jender’s comment as far as I can tell? I couldn’t see that claim in ER’s comment (from which the first quote comes)- but maybe I’m just not seeing it?

  14. Monkey Says:

    Oops you’re right – sorry!

  15. Monkey Says:

    I really shouldn’t try and read the blog quickly whilst doing seven other things :P

  16. stoat Says:

    That is super efficiency! I need some of that…
    :)
    [ps. I never told you how much I chortled at the cold weather naturist outfits you poster earlier. Coffee splurting hilarity!]

  17. Jender Says:

    I wrote far too quickly and wasn’t clear enough, and Black Philosopher is right to call me out on it. I think race does matter, which is why I made the post that I did. Policies also matter. I’d like to have both policies I like and diversity and the possibility of making a difference. When I don’t have all of these, I have to choose one of the flawed options. In this case, I voted Lib Dem, because I prefer their policies and I think a Lib Dem vote is most likely to make the sort of difference I want to make But I’m very disturbed by their lack of diversity and I think something very much needs to be done about it. I didn’t mean to minimise that at all. (But just as I wouldn’t vote Palin to get a woman, I wouldn’t vote Tory to get a black– even if I had those options.)

  18. Monkey Says:

    Stoat – glad you liked the outfits! I think it was Jender who originally showed them to me.


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