Conservatives need to be more open to conversations about diversity and inclusion
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE
We can’t create opportunities unless we challenge the status quo
I am sitting in my car outside my flat in Battersea, when suddenly, to my shock, a woman gets in and starts giving me directions thinking I am an Uber driver. A couple of weeks later, I was stopped while queuing for a business class flight. I watched to see if any other travellers received the same treatment (you already know the answer to that question). I might be privileged, but for some people, you are defined by the colour of your skin.
I am of the Windrush generation and grew up knowing that colour can be a barrier. When I launched my business nearly 20 years ago, I decided that I would embrace the name given to me by my local community in Devon, and so The Black Farmer brand was born. My colour has allowed me to be a voice for change and ask why we don’t have any other Black farmers in the United Kingdom.
So, why is the food and farming industry one of the least diverse and inclusive industries in the country?
Land is expensive – many farmers own farms they inherited – but a lot of land is owned by large institutions such as the National Trust and the Church of England. These institutions could be trailblazers by offering people from non-traditional backgrounds an opportunity to get a start in farming.
In the food and farming industry, I frequently find myself being the only person of colour in the room. Often my colleagues are oblivious to this and, if the subject is broached, it is countered with: “We don’t see colour; people should be chosen on merit and not on the colour of their skin,” which I agree with wholeheartedly. But merit is an unjust measurement if a large section of society is not getting opportunities in the first place. To create a level playing field, there needs to be equal opportunity.
Wherever I go, I see colour, or colour sees me. This leaves me with two options: question the lack of opportunity for Black people, or pull up the drawbridge and leave those less fortunate to their own devices.
All of us, Black or white, must start to see when there is a lack of colour
When I stood as a candidate for the Conservative Party, the constituency was mainly white. Offering any opinion on diversity would have been seen as putting my race before their interests. This may be why Black Conservatives shy away from the subject.
A couple of weeks ago, I received my first social media backlash from my own team, as it were, for daring to ask why the English women’s football team is less diverse than the men’s team. My politics are centre-right and I am embraced by that community but, as I discovered, this is on the proviso that diversity and inclusion are not subjects open for discussion.
During Black History Month we have an opportunity to discover the great contributions Black Britons have made to this country. As a Windrush boy who managed to climb out of society’s dustbin, I am often asked to share my success story. Black History Month affords us an opportunity to ask the difficult questions and ask whether we are doing enough to bring about a more diverse and inclusive society.
Several years on from the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement when inclusion and diversity became top of everyone’s agenda, the mere mention of the words now brings out a hostile response that is reminiscent of 1970s Britain.
There is backlash from those who feel they stand to lose out if we become a more diverse society. If we do want to be more diverse, then we do need to create more opportunities, and you can’t create opportunities unless we challenge the status quo. That means all of us, Black or white, must start to see when there is a lack of colour.
Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, AKA ‘The Black Farmer’ is a businessman and farmer
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