Discussing political behaviour of ethnic minorities in Britain and the representation of people of colour
Dr Neema Begum is an Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations. She currently co-convenes the Political Studies Association (PSA) Race, Migration and Intersectionality specialist group.
Seek out help, allies and support if and where you can. I’ve been really fortunate to have colleagues, friends and mentors who’ve helped me along the way.
How would you explain your research?
My research is in race and politics. I look at the political behaviour of ethnic minorities in Britain, including voting patterns, political attitudes and representation. I use a mix of survey data, interviews and focus groups. I’m also interested in everyday issues affecting British ethnic minorities, including the cost of living, climate change and discrimination.
What inspired you to pursue this area?
When I started my undergraduate degree, I found there was beginning to be more teaching and research on gender, but that there wasn’t a great emphasis on race and ethnicity, not least how these might intersect. I’m interested in what gets missed out. When we’re talking about sexism or class injustice, we need to talk about how racism also shapes different forms of inequality, without forgetting about heteronormativity and ableism.
How will your research affect the average person?
Who we think of as the average person is changing! We’ll find out more when the Census 2021 figures come out later this year, but the UK population is becoming increasingly diverse from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Also, every person’s political choices and behaviour, including people who are part of the white majority, are affected by their race and ethnicity.
In terms of my research, I’ve analysed ethnic minority voting behaviour in the EU Referendum and 2019 General Election. Looking at Ethnic Diversity in Local Government, I helped gather the ethnicity and gender of every local councillor in the UK and conducted interviews with ethnic minority local councillors and political activists on their experiences of standing for election and involvement in local politics. I’ve also taken part in a large-scale survey looking at the experiences of Covid for British ethnic minorities. These projects enhance our understanding of British ethnic minority political attitudes, behaviour and representation.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
My advice would be to seek out help, allies and support if and where you can. I’ve been really fortunate to have colleagues, friends and mentors who’ve helped me along the way. There can be a huge focus on us as individuals but reaching out for help when you need it is really important. That won’t be easy for everyone, but it is really worth it when you find people you can trust. Plus, what I’ve enjoyed most is collaborating with other people and bouncing ideas off others.
What's the biggest challenge in your field?
In my view, the biggest challenge in my field is the low representation of people of colour. A lot of students go through university without being taught by a single Black lecturer or person of colour. This affects what’s being taught and what’s being researched. We have a lot of British ethnic minority and international students at undergraduate level but there’s a drop-off at Masters and PhD level. Academia should look like the society we live in, not just an elite pursuit.