Mayor Andy Preston faced criticism following Facebook post that asked locals to ignore “talk in the media about white privilege”.
The mayor said that “awful situations” affect both “white and non-white families” in Middlesbrough and that “negative outcomes [in the town] are driven largely by poverty not skin colour.”
His comments followed the wake of Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd in the USA.
Some Facebook users said his post was “ignorant”, “extremely uninformed” and “failed to understand the meaning of white privilege.”
Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, a presidential fellow in Ethnicity and Inequalities at The University of Manchester told Metro.co.uk that “white privilege refers to the ways in which people racialised as white experience advantages over non-white people.”
In his Facebook post, Mr Preston writes: “Don’t listen to careless talk in the media about white privilege – look at the awful situations so many white and non-white families face in Middlesbrough and other places. Deprivation here appears to be colour blind.”
He responded to a comment made by a Facebook user by saying: “How can it be true when so many white skinned people do so badly in our society? How can it be true when poor white boys do worse at school than poor black boys or poor Asian boys. How can it be true when some of the least diverse/most white boroughs are the poorest?”
In response to the post, Teesside African & African Caribbean Network, formed a campaign group under the name of ‘Teesside Unites’ on Facebook. They shared an infographic that showed statistics about the treatment of black and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals and asked their followers to share examples of racism in Middlesbrough using #EducatingAndy.
The mayor responded by asking his constituents to take part in a CVFM community question time, where he would answer their questions in a Facebook live video.
Credit: Facebook/ Tees Issues by Andy Preston
Marsha Garratt Pearson, a guest speaker and influential black voice within Middlesbrough, criticised Mr Preston’s comments about using the term ‘white privilege’.
She said, “You deny the existence of white privilege, but you can see that racism does exist. White privilege and racism are intrinsically tied. In other words, you can’t have one without the other.
White privilege is tied to the concept of race via the idea that white is naturally superior. White privilege does not mean that white people do not live in poverty. White privilege means that white people do not have to worry about their skin colour being a factor in how they are treated.”
The mayor responded by explaining that he wrote that “Black Lives Matter. And All Lives Matter” to increase traffic to his post. “Black lives matter. Full stop. That’s what I wrote first. I deliberately put a full stop” he said.
“If I had written black lives matter and left it there, I would have had fewer viewers,” he explains. “So what I tried to do was to get [more people] to read my post. To understand that discrimination exists, understand that racism exists, and to understand that deprivation is a colossal barrier to everybody regardless of skin tone.”
In the live video, Mr Preston also said that “Middlesbrough has become, fairy quickly, a much more diverse place than it used to be” and that it is a “tolerant town”.
He added, “I didn’t want to use the word tolerant on its own because I knew it would attract people saying “well I’ve experienced this, I’ve experienced that” and I know they have, so I use the word ‘relatively tolerant’. Compared to other places we are relatively tolerant.”
reinforced division within the community.”
The mayor was also challenged for blocking Middlesbrough inhabitants on social media platforms like Twitter.
Mr Preston responded: “I rarely block people on social media. Whatever you think of me, I’ve [came] on here tonight to face questions from people who feel disappointed, frustrated and hostile towards me.
That’s okay. That’s my job. There aren’t many politicians or many people who would do this. That’s not because I’m a hero, that’s because my responsibility is to the people who are out there, who are watching.
Sadly there are some people who only seek to undermine my messages. I have loads of people who criticise me publicly and I don’t block them. The number of people I’ve blocked in the 7 years of tweeting and Facebooking is probably in the 30s.”
Article by Sunita Dastidar