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The Tricky Dynamics of Intersectional Representation

A glimpse into the complexities of ‘political wins’ that are not all they seem

The appointment of Rishi Sunak, first person of colour to become UK’s prime minister, has brought to life many South Asian group chats and social media circles with celebratory messages and juicy memes. The generation of young future politicians from underrepresented groups can finally dream of being leaders. This is progress and representation, right?

Let’s dive deeper…

Dissecting the nuances of representation

In theory, marginalised groups benefit from having politicians that share their gender or ethnicity, as their shared experiences enhance the chance of these politicians promoting the wellbeing of the group they are said to “represent."

Descriptive representation pertains to when representatives are in their own people and lives in some sense typical of the large class of people whom they represent. Black legislators and women legislators are thought represent black constituent and women constituent, respectively. Marginalized groups have concerns and perspective that those who lack this experience cannot understand. However, the question of representation is more complex than that. Just because a politician is from an ethnic minority, they do not necessarily share the same lived experiences as the rest of the group members.

For example, despite being a second-generation immigrant, Rishi Sunak supports Conservative Party’s policies that only exacerbate inequality and anti-immigration sentiment, which include capping the number of refugees in the UK and tightening the definition of who can claim asylum.

  • He has supported the Conservative party’s racist policies, which include sending asylum seekers to Rwanda

  • He contributed to implementing policies that invested over £628 million in UK’s Future Borders and Immigration System programme to ‘bolster security’ and ‘modernise the border’

Representation does not ensure sameness of experience

Sunak, for example, is a multi-millionaire and was educated in privileged private institutions; making his experience vary substantially from other immigrant children in the UK. A vast majority of his wealth comes from a career in finance that precedes his political career, working for Goldman Sachs and hedge funds. Despite his positionality as a second-generation immigrant, we cannot expect that he will share the stereotypical experiences that most minorities groups have.

Overall critique of descriptive representation

It is important to critically examine how Rishi relates to the minority communities he is at face value representing.

The case of Rishi Sunak disarms the arguments in favor of descriptive representation, although he gives the minority populations a face to celebrate representation he simultaneously pushes conservative, racist and anti-immigrant policies that serve colonial white supremacist ideals--causing more harm to the minorities they seem to represent.

Reflection questions

  • Should minority groups have similar political opinions?

  • How do people from minority groups manage their assumed expectations from leaders that seem to represent them?


For sources of photos used in our instagram post:

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