Right now the ebullient Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, can do nothing wrong. His recent film star treatment at the Tory conference, eclipsing Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking to full audiences, and with people queuing up to hear him, established one unassailable fact: that he is regarded as the most exciting politician in the UK today. His positive, encouraging 'can do' style, and almost military organisation and success of the Olympic Games, have given him a credibility, prominence and status deserved for heroes, at least among the white majority.
But on the recent current affairs programme, Question Time, Benjamin Zephaniah, the respected black poet, accused Boris of having a right wing agenda, being culturally ignorant, with a racist attitude and being a "very dangerous person". According to him, Boris "has criticised China for having 'no culture', has called black people 'picaninnies', and said that the problem with Africa is that the British are not there". He added that, soon after taking office, the Mayor even stopped a major RESPECT festival which brought young people together.
Being black myself, and a consultant in diversity management, I cannot confirm or deny what the Mayor is supposed to have said regarding minorities, but actions for me speak even louder than words. Under the heading, "Being a Black woman, the main problem I have with Boris Johnson as London Mayor", this is what I wrote about Boris' office, back in March this year, when he was running for re-election:
The top team of Mayor and deputy mayors (5) are ALL WHITE, with a token white woman among them. Surely, at least TWO of those deputies should be from minority ethnic groups to give a fair representation? Worse still, the bid for the Olympic games was made on the very ethnic diversity of London, which is not at all reflected by this top team.
The team of Directors (3) below the mayoral officers are all MALE, with a nod to one Asian man.
After that, the team of Mayoral Advisors (8) are almost all white again, with the exception of another token Asian woman.
British Blacks are nowhere to be seen in this august team of 15 top people who represent multicultural London and, even worse, not a single black woman can be seen anywhere….it shows the lip service paid to diversity management as a whole, and the lack of expertise in implementing such diversity at the very top of the hierarchy to give substance to the message the Mayor aspires to. When we lack a diverse vision it is easy to see only our narrow view.
As I concluded that article:
I really do admire Boris, the person, and would be the first to campaign on his behalf to keep him in office. But, Boris the administrator leaves me cold, because with Black women playing no part on his team, it is very difficult to show respect and appreciation to someone who clearly shows you none, and to whom you are invisible.
Equalities as Priority
Today, months after his re-election, though 'Equalities' is listed proudly as one of his 'priorities', the message from his top team is anything but equal, because little has changed. Representing this glorious multicultural city at the very top are 17 colleagues. Of the seven Deputy Mayors, each of them, except ONE Asian, are all white, though more women have been added. The one director listed, is white. The two mayoral advisers are white. Finally, of his eight special appointments, two of them are black males, and still not a single black woman in sight.
So, on on team of 17, with almost 50% white female representation (most commendable, by the way!), black women are STILL entirely invisible. The clear message is that in the whole of London, there is not a single black woman worthy of joining his team. That is a powerful statement of contempt for some black Londoners. That might not be evidence of racism, but it certainly depicts gross insensitivity to minorities, especially black females, the exclusion of a whole group of people, and a marked absence of focus on the multicultural nature of the city. The worst aspect of that staff make-up is this: who speaks for black women in the capital? There seems to be something at odds with the proud but empty display of 'Equalities' being important to the Mayor's Office, and the current conflicting message from the top team regarding key elements of that equality goal.
Perception is the greatest influence on our lives. How we perceive our world and others - based on culture, gender, race,d beliefs and aspirations - determines how we act, and how we act determines how others react to us in turn, all based on their perceptions too. Hence why the true reality of any situation is often difficult to grasp or assess when dealing with different perceptions.
Personally, I don't care if Boris Johnson is right wing, left wing, or in the middle. Britain is in the biggest and most enduring economic recession of our time and we need all the help we can get to lift us out of it. We certainly need 'can do' and positive people like Boris, who are not hampered by bureaucracy, ideology or a limiting mentality, and are able to get things done. After all, only in the dictionary does ideology come before quality of life!
Perception of the Mayor
But the perception of Boris is a divided one which could work against him and his objectives in the end. On one hand, there is the perception of a brainless buffoon who shouldn't be trusted with high office, on another that of an insensitive, exclusive official who has the power to treat some members of his community with impunity, and does it with relish, while making them invisible and ignoring their needs, and yet another perception, that of a highly competent official who, in great American terminology, can 'kick ass' and get things done when required.
No one is perfect, but to be perceived as 'racist' and insensitive, while leading a multicultural capital as well, is not good for influence, public relations OR achieving stated goals. It deprives one of the credibility, respect and inclusivity required to impact on the very people one might actually care to convince.
Worst of all, anyone who is still laughing at Boris, after all he has achieved, are the real idiots themselves, because on sheer charisma, innovation and getting things done, Boris would make an excellent Prime Minister. However, Boris masks a lot with his extrovert and humorous personality. And if he is currently excluding whole sections of his community while he is Mayor, should he be given the power to implement policies as Prime Minister, would he be really 'dangerous' for the unity of a multicultural nation in that regard?