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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak exemplifies the drawbacks of representational politics.

The third person to hold the position for the Conservatives this year alone, a new leader has just been chosen. Rishi Sunak, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has replaced Liz Truss as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and is the first person of color to hold the position. Many have hailed Sunak’s Indian ancestry and practice of Hinduism as evidence of how forward-thinking and representative our society has now become, ushering in our own “Obama moment.”

A quick glance at the current UK government would reveal several Black and brown faces, leading one to believe that the Conservatives had achieved perfect diversity and representation in politics. The first woman of color to hold the position of Home Secretary was Priti Patel, a brown woman with Indian ancestry. Suella Braverman, a different woman of color, currently holds that position. In Truss’ administration, Kwasi Kwarteng, a Black man of Ghanaian descent, served as Chancellor, and Kemi Badenoch, a Black woman of Nigerian descent, currently holds the positions of Secretary of State for International Trade and Equalities Minister. These positions are regarded as the top positions in the government.

In many women’s magazines, Patel has even been praised as a “GirlBoss” and a “feminist” for achieving her current level of success. But if you looked a little closer at Patel and the other “diverse” members of government, you’d soon see that their beliefs and the laws they uphold are not helping their communities; rather, they are doing more harm than good. As an illustration, consider Patel’s harsh immigration policies, Braverman’s “dream” of deporting immigrants, Sunak’s attempt to cut Universal Credit in the midst of a pandemic, and Badenoch’s decision to abstain on crucial abortion and same-sex marriage legislation.

The essence of representation politics is this. It is the notion that achieving equality and bringing about change in our society can be accomplished simply by bringing in various individuals from various “diverse” backgrounds. It is true that representation in previously all-white male spaces is crucial to achieving equality and making sure the voices of underrepresented groups are heard. However, it has also been appropriated by those in positions of authority to uphold current power structures while disguising a lack of deeper advancement.

Particularly governments have seized the chance to employ representation politics in this manner, and the current UK Tory government is no exception. It’s not difficult for the state to introduce a Black person or a woman and give them power while also upholding the status quo. especially when those who have access share the same ideologies as those in authority. Through representation, the state can “tick off” their commitments to diversity and inclusion while using these individuals as a crutch to deflect from valid criticism for things like racism. When questioned about the absence of Black MPs on the front bench, Health Secretary Matt Hancock famously invoked this defense. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also frequently invoked it in the face of scrutiny.

The’model minorities’—those with palatable views that fit with the state’s narrative—are the ones who the government tends to elevate to these positions.

Hancock’s response demonstrates yet another aspect of the superficiality of this brand of representation politics, which has a propensity to view “diverse” people and groups as a single entity. As though everybody who is not white or a man belongs to one big group and has similar experiences. Hancock instead cited brown MPs like Patel and Sunak as evidence of the Conservative Party’s commitment to diversity when questioned about the dearth of front bench Black MPs. How dedicated to change for these communities and identities can those in power be if they can’t even tell apart different marginalized communities and identities?

People with palatable viewpoints that fit with the state’s narrative are those who tend to be considered “model minorities” and who the government does elevate to these positions. This is what representation in states and institutions boils down to: it’s either a vapid attempt or a cunning political ploy that benefits wealthy individuals instead of assisting or easing the plight of marginalized communities. In reality, the “diverse” members of the government have implemented incredibly harmful laws that disproportionately harm Black and brown people.

Patel has devoted countless hours to strengthening the Home Office’s hostile environment policies, making life as challenging as possible for immigrants. The introduction of the Rwanda deportation policy is one of these policies, as are mass deportations, a rise in the use of detention facilities, and others. She has also significantly increased the police’s authority, and given that Black and Brown people interact with the police more frequently than other groups, this will inevitably have an adverse effect on and harm these communities.

Even though Sunak’s policies, particularly in the pandemic, don’t specifically target Black and Brown people, they still have a negative impact. The elimination of the furlough program, the cuts to Universal Credit, and the lack of adequate sick pay are all likely to have the greatest impact on Black and Brown people. Due to the fact that they are the ones who are most likely to be living pay check to pay check and working jobs that cannot be done from home, they are the ones who are forced to continue working despite the risks. Black and brown communities will continue to experience these effects due to the combination of austerity measures that are anticipated to be a part of Sunak’s plan as PM and the ongoing cost of living crisis.

Patel has devoted countless hours to strengthening the Home Office’s hostile environment policies, making life as challenging as possible for immigrants.

Another illustration of this harm is Badenoch. She spoke against critical race theory in Parliament in October 2020, arguing that students shouldn’t be taught about issues like white privilege in the classroom. She based her claim on the fact that she is a Black woman and used identity politics to support her claim. Additionally, in 2021, she attacked Nadine White, a reporter who now oversees The Independent’s coverage of race, just for raising concerns about the government’s vaccine video campaign. A very common practice in journalism, the attack involved sharing a number of screenshots of emails White had sent asking for a response in public.

The question of who these politicians actually represent must then be raised. It most definitely isn’t a brown asylum seeker attempting to navigate the Home Office’s system or a Black working-class family struggling to make ends meet.

Possessing a diverse leadership is unquestionably a step toward creating a society where everyone is treated equally. People from all backgrounds can access these spaces thanks to representation, amplifying their own voices as well as those of their communities. A person may have a seat at the table, but the odds are still stacked against them, so what representation can actually accomplish is also quite limited. Furthermore, it appears doomed to be superficial at best and actively harmful at worst when representation is co-opted for the benefit of the state and its institutions.

We should dig deeper and examine the structures that initially gave these white men the power, rather than focusing solely on representation in spaces occupied by white men. In order to ensure that we bring about real and significant change, it is crucial that we analyze the systemic issues that marginalized people deal with in their daily lives and work to address these issues.

This article was originally published on

Micheal Kurt

I earned a bachelor's degree in exercise and sport science from Oregon State University. He is an avid sports lover who enjoys tennis, football, and a variety of other activities. He is from Tucson, Arizona, and is a huge Cardinals supporter.

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