Remona Aly
Monday 30 May 2016 The Guardian

Is OBV’s poster unnecessarily divisive?

The EU referendum debate has predictably descended into a race-fuelled scrap – and last week that scrap turned nastier.

The latest stumble into playground politics is a campaign poster launched by Operation Black Vote (OBV), which intends to rally voters from BME communities, and doesn’t hold back on shock tactics.

The image depicts a seesaw: at one end sits a white male skinhead, wagging an angry finger at a South Asian granny poised peacefully in her sari at the other end. She looks as if she’d still ply him with a plate of samosas.

This poster is in your face and powerful, but in essence I have a problem with it. There’s an implication, intentional or not, that Brexit voters are all white fascists ready to taunt the old auntie next door. By wheeling out drastic stereotypes, this limits what should be a broader and healthier debate around the referendum. Instead, it dives head-first into an already very loaded and messy argument.

Simon Woolley, director of OBV, insists the campaign poster is a mirror, reflecting “the toxicity of the present, rabid immigration debate”. Well, it certainly has been toxic. Not only has Boris Johnson alluded to Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage as a reason for his “ancestral dislike for the British Empire”, but a poster from Vote Leave also depicted the footprints of Turkish migrants queuing to get into Britain, should it remain a part of the EU.

Stereotypes are clearly in play, but should OBV really stoop to the same level? Their poster has been called racist, distasteful and even provoked a hissy fit from Nigel Farage, who said it was “trying to divide society”. As you can imagine, this led to incredulous responses from some – as one tweeter jibed, “pot, kettle, black”.

I feel like we’re getting dragged further into the desperate times we’re living in. Instead of rising above the dirty politics, we are led straight in by the nose. Fear-mongering is being used as a tool to push people to vote.

It’s true that BME voters could tip the Brexit balance. There are an estimated 4 million in the UK alone, plus an additional 400,000 from the British Commonwealth who are eligible to vote in the EU referendum – although around 30% are not even registered. And of those who are, some are still apathetic. It’s not hard to understand why. Speaking as one of the 4 million minority effnik voters in Britain, I’ll raise a pint of Shloer to toast the day we stop parading fear, panic and polarised cliches just to score points in the political arena. We are all part of the debate. Let’s make it a healthier one.

This article originally appeared in The Guardian on 30 May 2016. To view it click here.