Not taking “no” for an answer: The Welsh Senedd’s first woman of colour
This episode of Our Voices presents the story of Natasha Asgar, the Welsh Senedd’s first woman of colour. She talks passionately about the value of perseverance and how she has had to use this quality to overcome discrimination and prejudice.
A lifelong inspiration
It would seem that Natasha’s greatest inspiration growing up was her father, Mohammad Asgar. The motivation to work hard and the desire to represent ethnic minorities in politics are qualities Natasha says she inherited from him. She tells us that her father would say to her “There’s nothing on this planet that you can’t achieve and you can’t have if you work hard enough for it.” For Natasha, becoming the Senedd’s first woman of colour would prove this.
Representing ethnic minorities in politics
Another thing that Natasha’s father said to her was that “ everyone in life should have a plan A, plan B [and] plan C.” He demonstrated this belief by becoming a qualified accountant, a qualified pilot and, finally, an elected politician. During his initial political campaigns, people would often tell him “you people will never achieve anything in politics”.
But he showed he was able to overcome racism in Wales when he became the first person from an ethnic minority background to be elected to the Welsh Parliament. He would remain there for 13 years until his unfortunate passing in 2020. But, by this time, he had left “a big mark on a lot of people’s lives.” He had also blazed a trail for ethnic minorities in politics.
Despite the strong influence Natasha’s father has had on her, her initial ambition was not to follow in his career footsteps. Instead, she attempted to pursue a career in media. She began her career with local TV and radio shows but, in 2010, she decided that she was ready to make the step up to national television. “For me, the biggest dream… was to work for the biggest organisation in the world, the BBC.”
Targeting the big time
Natasha initially went down the traditional route of applying for a BBC position. She sent off CVs when openings were advertised but she was not having much success. As a result, she decided to try something different:
“I actually went online and I paid a company to make these helium balloons with my face on it. And I said, your next big star is the one and only Natasha Asghar. And, on the back of it, I had my phone number [and] my website.” Clearly the BBC appreciated such initiative as, soon after, she would receive a call from the organisation in order to invite her to an interview. “I cannot tell you how excited I was, I was buzzing! … I thought: this is it.”
First experiences of racism
During the interview, everything began as well as could be imagined. However, as the interview was drawing to a close, the interviewer gave some unexpected advice: “He said, maybe it might be worthwhile for you to work in some of your own channels.” This was deeply shocking for Natasha. At first she didn’t know what to make of the interviewer’s comments but then the reality of what he was saying began to become apparent.
“I know people from your background have channels like ZTV, PTV and these are all ethnic minority channels, which quite a lot of people are aware of. So why don’t you try and do something with one of those channels and see how it goes. And maybe then we can perhaps talk about where you’re at in life.”
It was clear that Natasha was being rejected but she hadn’t been given a reason why, except, perhaps, one: “He’s not saying my presenting is bad. So clearly, there’s something else and, naturally, for me, it felt incredibly racist.”
The shock of the experience led to Natasha calling her father in tears. Up until that point, she had never experienced racism.
“I’m not the type of person who judges people by their skin colour. So for someone to judge me by mine was just quite patronising, and, quite honestly, soul-destroying at the same time. And I wanted to never experience that feeling again.”
Making a transition
Natasha continued working in local television and radio. But her father came to her one day with some sage advice “Darling, I swear to you, get into politics, and you mark my words, the same BBC that said this to you will be begging you for interviews… Please just get into politics and I promise you, you will change the world.” The strength of her father’s conviction clearly had a strong impact on Natasha and her fledgling career in politics began.
A difficult beginning
But politics has not been an easy road for her. Talking about her involvement in the campaign for a European Parliamentary seat, Natasha describes how she was with a host of other candidates who were all caucasian. When handing out flyers to one man and his wife, they immediately returned the flyers to her saying “No thank you.” The force and aggression of the rejection was clearly not just based on party lines: “ it was just very much like, don’t want to see you, don’t want to talk to you, don’t want your leaflet, you can just go away and out of my face.”
This was not the only instance when people returned her flyers. Her new career was showing her how difficult it can be for ethnic minorities in politics. “I think, for me, that was the biggest time and the only time I’d felt racism in Wales in my life. And that was only when I got into politics.”
Becoming the Senedd’s first woman of colour
Irrespective of the barriers faced, Natasha eventually achieved her ambitions. She was elected as the Senedd’s first woman of colour on her sixth campaign. As her father predicted, journalists from all quarters wanted a piece of her but it was down to Natasha herself to establish the appropriate narrative.
“I was the one who had to tell the journalists, I am actually the Senedd’s first woman of colour… So I almost had to spoon feed them the story that came out because otherwise they would have just said “member-of-the-Senedd-who’s-passed-away’s-daughter has won seat”. That would have been the headline.”
Representing the people
The only downside to Natasha’s success was that her father wasn’t there to see it but she knows just how he would’ve felt. “I think he would have been incredibly proud. I mean, for him, it was his ultimate dream.”
By becoming Senedd’s first woman of colour, she has helped to increase the presence of ethnic minorities in politics but now it’s Natasha’s goal to focus on representing all the people as best as she can, for her, there is no room for racism.
“I’d like to be seen by others as a politician who’s here to represent everybody, not just those from the ethnic minorities, but from all walks of life and all backgrounds.”