At a time when questions are being asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Leeds Living was keen to find out more about BLM Leeds. We requested an interview with one of their organisers. Robyn Wilson chats with Abdulaziz Adekola.
At the moment, some people are questioning the fundraising for BLM Leeds. Is BLM Leeds raising money for the local community or is it going towards the London based movement?
Abdulaziz Okay so the fundraiser for Black Lives Matter Leeds is raising money that’s 100% for work going into Leeds and surrounding areas. It’s to cover what people would automatically assume as operational costs, such as transport to locations, administrative costs such as printing materials, accounting and putting into community businesses that have been underfunded for years. Things like Racial Justice Network and the Leeds University Black Feminist Society.
So the money raised is going back into supporting the local black communities in Leeds. For example, are you going to help community centres in serious need of restoration such as the West Indian Centre?
Abdulaziz At this moment in time we are trying to map out the bigger picture, but we do have those community centres in mind; especially the Mandela Centre which at the moment is due an upgrade at some point soon, so once we know the extent of that, we can then help. But it’s important to recognize that obviously Chapeltown and Harehills have a strong black population but it’s also about branching out to the Somalian Community in Ebor gardens/Burmantoffs and the big Angolan and Eritrean community in Beeston/Belle Isle. The work needs to be done in the communities of the West African and Caribbean communities in Chapeltown and Harehills but also African communities beyond that living in Leeds.
I can imagine being black in places such as Belle Isle very isolating compared with Chapeltown.
Abdulaziz Yes, they are often excluded from the community compared to Chapeltown, which for black people is more of a safe space of some sort.
I think there have been 3 protests in Leeds so far, all having managed to somehow stand out from the other protests around the country, because in Leeds they have been non-destructive and peaceful. How do you think Leeds has managed that so far? Is it because we have organized it better or is it just down to the people in Leeds?
Abdulaziz I believe it’s a mixture of those things. First of all, anything in London has the possibility to go from peaceful to non-peaceful. It’s a matter of one person flipping the switch. You could get a million people marching peacefully and then you could get a million people rioting. As you can imagine, it’s hard to control a large number of people with a cause so deep in emotions. It’s a strong strike to the heart for lots of people. But then looking at London, Manchester, Birmingham they do have a larger population of black people, despite Leeds being one of the biggest black populations as well.
I guess it just takes one person, doesn’t it? And they can spoil it for everyone.
Abdulaziz Exactly, and with Leeds being smaller there were less voices setting things up, meaning collaboration is easier than other cities with 5 or 6 protests being organized. So not only is it so much smaller in that way but it really took the best part of 2 to 3 weeks to organise the most recent protest. We looked at it wanting to achieve 100% credibility – we got doctors and public health officials on board as well as a hundred volunteers on the day and event managers contributing to it. We have learnt from observing other protests in the UK from social media and newspaper coverage. We don’t necessarily want to be jumping through hoops, but this was like the first hoop to jump through to get that credibility.
I attended the second protest in Leeds and found it very inspiring and well thought out. People were handing out free masks and most people had a two metre width space between them. However, that particular protest had hundreds of EDL supporters very close by. Do you think they have a right to be there and what are your thoughts on them showing up?
Abdulaziz I think they had a right to be there and with the direction BLM Leeds is taking it was only a positive that EDL turned up and was less than 100 metres away. The fact that nothing happened, no conflict was a testament to the people we had supporting us in the square. The square had families of all generations, grandparents, parents and kids. On the flipside, we also had tons of men and women in their youth who thankfully remained calm and kept cooler heads, despite the hate felt so close by. Having the EDL so close just showed how much work does need to be done, reinforcing why everybody was in the Square that day to protest why black lives matter. Having the backlash of voices at the movement such as the EDL spouting their opinions and using their voices to say how they think and feel. They have every right to, just like we have a right to counter that with our voices on doing better and being better as people.
At the moment there’s some controversy around the abolition of police in the BLM manifesto. Is that something BLM Leeds is also behind? Or is Leeds separate to overall BLM ideology?
Abdulaziz In terms of defunding and abolishing police there’s a spectrum on what people mean by that. Leeds BLM isn’t trying to abolish police from society. Police have pros and cons. You now have plenty of merits and critics. Mostly in Leeds we are wanting to address the institutionalised racism in the police. Acknowledging that the UK police force is racist from reports such as the February 1999 Macpherson and ‘The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry’ that proved just how racist, which many more reports have proven it still is. In 2017 a police commissioner. I think her name is Cressida. She was found to say that we needed to lock more black and brown males up.
For clarity, we searched for this and found a report in the Independent from November 2017, when police commissioner Cressida Dick stated that young black men and boys were statistically more likely to be both victims and perpetrators. So far that year, there had been 21 examples of this out of a total of 24. You can read more about that here.
Abdulaziz So then it’s a case of questioning how to address a system that not only has been proven to be racist and failing the black and brown community for the past 10 to 20 years but since it was ever created and introduced to society. Is there a better way for money to be spent? How can we get to the root of the problem? Police are needed but perhaps minor things such as neighbours arguing over a fence. Are the police the best people to be called? Should it be addressed differently?
So, perhaps having a middle ground and another way of policing society but not getting rid of police as we need them for the dangerous situations that happen.
Abdulaziz I think it’s about exploring the presence of police in all situations. Should they be so heavily patrolling communities when we could be spending the money on addressing the root causes of destructive behaviours? Can we find preventative methods to common problems? When you look at the drug and alcohol calls to police, millions are spent alone on the Friday to Sunday night intoxicated antics. We keep dealing with the symptoms of the problem but never the root cause of it. I know at one point Glassgow had the highest knife crime in the UK or even Europe, so tons of money and resources went into methods to change things for young people there. Police stop and search was a very small part in that change of reformed behaviours. In Leeds, we are dealing with the same issues of hyper-masculinity, social status, poor education and exclusions in schools. These are the same characteristics in communities across the world with high crime rates, so let’s stop just throwing police officers at things and start coming up with solutions to change lifestyles.
That kind of rolls into my question of where BLM Leeds stands with what can be done first to tackle these conversations of racism. Are there any schemes in place to educate people, perhaps starting with schools?
Abdulaziz From the age of 5 to 18 we spend the majority of our time awake in the day with school teachers and friends who end up being big influences to us. Education has the biggest part of development in your life. I think putting an emphasis on what’s important to address as far as education goes. For instance, looking at post WW2 we have the Jewish genocide of millions of one particular religion of people taught to us in the curriculum. Putting it into most textbooks to show what they did and they are not proud of it and what a lack of education can lead to in society. BLM Leeds and the rest of the UK wants the education system to address the overall history of black cultures and why we are still feeling the effects today. Leeds is a big cultural hub in the UK and these inequalities and difficulties are what people are still facing and continue to while people ignore them while they aren’t happening to them.
So, it’s important to not just address the history of black people but also look at what’s happening right now to collectively come together and fight for equality and justice?
Abdulaziz In terms of schools, we at BLM Leeds have had a bunch of schools reach out to us, but while we are working on exactly what can be done most effectively within BLM Leeds we are still waiting to start going into schools. When we introduce what we are looking to do in schools we don’t want it to be short term like a token gesture.
Making it ongoing in the curriculum for now and going forward?
Abdulaziz We would like it to be a weekly or daily thing that’s addressed in some way, not just an event that takes place in let’s say September.
There are lots of people offended by the Black Lives Matter slogan. They are questioning why there’re movements such as the black pound day, a day just to endorse black businesses. Questioning Black Power as a saying. Their argument being, if white people had those things or said those things they would be deemed as racists. Why do you think people are feeling sensitive and offended towards those things?
Abdulaziz I think part of it is due to lack of awareness and education to it. You wouldn’t give a perfectly healthy person medicine because they don’t need it. I think people have missed that with this. I think people want to cancel these movements such as BLM due to its slogan then let’s cancel LGBT and Me Too movements and anything that helps refugees and asylum seekers. You know let’s cancel all those movements just so people don’t have to deal with other people that genuinely need help, need protecting and support. I realise people can still ignore these things as they are blinded. People saying All Lives Matter now hopefully have been saying that for the past 20 years, but are they only just saying that as a reaction to Black Lives Matter?
Sorry, I’m struggling to read my awful notes.
You don’t have to answer this question. I don’t expect it to be down to you to know the answer. White people have had the White Privilege term thrown at them. As white people are all different in class, gender etc they are often confused by this term. Do you think perhaps White Privilege should be taught in schools and workplaces? Is that something BLM Leeds is going to tackle?
Abdulaziz In terms of it being taught, I definitely feel like it should be. People need to understand that it’s not necessarily a case of them benefiting from being white; it’s not a hurdle they have had to overcome. We are in the process of launching a BLM Leeds Allies Network where white individuals and non-black people have come together to share their own resources and offer things that they can do to help BLM. So, it is something we are looking to formalise before we open it up to the wider community. I think it’s also a case of understanding all privileges. Like I as a male have privileges that come with being male.., and that’s not saying I have benefited from it but there are things I haven’t had to worry about. I think that’s the simplest way of putting it. White Privilege isn’t saying because you are white you are automatically going to be rich or you’re not going to jail.
Some white people feel attacked at the moment with the racist word being thrown around. The name Karen being heavily stereotyped as a racist white woman. Even spiritual teachers are feeling the need to defend themselves. What do you think about this?
Abdulaziz I think it says a lot about people when they personally feel victimized by BLM. Again, going back to the male privilege comparison. The Me Too movement that has some voices explaining why men are trash etc. I don’t take it as personal on my character but more so there’s work as a male I could be and should be doing. And all men should. It would change that perception. It’s not an attack but more of a challenge. This is how we feel about how the white people in the UK have acted and we are upset by it. You can either take that personally or rise up to the occasion and do something about it. I understand the feeling of being attacked when your core beliefs are being shaken and turned upside down.
I guess there’s a lot of people unaware and not realising how they contribute to the problem.
Abdulaziz Yeah, I understand, but the question to ask themself is. What can I do about it? Are they going to sit and sulk because they feel attacked or are they going to research how they can help?
How can people help and support BLM Leeds if they don’t have any money or even the people that don’t want to get behind BLM because of the controversy around it but still believe in the root problems? I have seen that a few footballers are not wearing the BLM badges now but are still in support of the cause. As BLM is being labelled as a Marxist organisation and has lots of bad press, people are questioning how and who to support? Is BLM Leeds aware of this and is there anything you can say to clear that up?
Abdulaziz I think it’s positive to know that BLM is a movement and it’s not institutionalized in any way, so for example in the UK there’s no governing body. People are connecting different cities together but ultimately each and every BLM movement runs completely independently. If people are going to judge BLM Leeds, judge Leeds based media and press which so far shows it as 99% positive. Yeah, if you don’t want to support BLM as a UK thing then look at what you can do to support black lives. We have uploaded a data bank of things to read. I think it’s all well and good reading and sharing what people are posting from any old newspaper articles, but looking at actual research papers that have been done and conducted in the UK over the years, I am personally more likely to side in an argument by actual studies brought to us by an academic who has dedicated years to it than somebody who has just written an article. I think to make a level headed decision people need to read further into it. Then if people want to disagree with BLM Leeds from seeing what is actually being done and why it’s more understanding than disagreeing and having an opinion with BLM Leeds because of an article they have read. People can speak to their friends and family about what they can be doing, asking their workplaces what more can be done and sometimes you could just offer your services of any sort to help the cause.
Yeah, so people with their own business or skills could offer their services for free?
Abdulaziz Well, the online protest that happened on the 7th June in terms of putting the whole professional broadcasting feel to it, it was done by a Leeds organisation that were all white, from the guy that owned it down to his whole team. They felt compelled to do something but couldn’t offer money. But they did come up with being able to do this and that for us and all they needed was a little bit of input from us to do it. They then put this amazing product together for us. People have also been printing posters and banners and volunteers offering their time to help out at the protests. Volunteers came to the last protest at 9am just to spray dots on the floor and stuff. We don’t necessarily need your money but there’s plenty you can do for us.
Why is Black Lives Matter Leeds not registered as a charity? What is it registered as?
Abdulaziz So we are currently registering it as a community interest company first, with the intention we can change it into a CIO charity. It’s never been needed in the past, the movements we have had never had the reaction or felt like this one we are experiencing now. Now we are at that point, able to generate funds and distribute, doing things like putting more pressure on local councils and businesses in Leeds, we feel like a company body in some form is needed.
The Black Health Initiative based in Chapeltown have collaborated with BLM Leeds, where they have a few artists making a charity EP to raise funds. Where will those funds be going?
Abdulaziz I personally don’t have involvement in that specific thing but I know the lady that runs the BHI spoke at our last event. She’s a very respectful woman who has very good intentions. So far the BHI has done amazing work in the community. I know that whatever funds raised will definitely be going into the community in a positive way for sure.
So as far as you know it will be going back into the community again, which is needed.
Abdulaziz We do accounting and bookkeeping with everything. We want to be very transparent in what we are spending money on. So for instance, once the website is finished we will be publishing costs. If people aren’t happy at the moment then hopefully that will clear things up.
There are lots of questions on the fact it isn’t a registered charity and where will the money raised be going. Is it towards abolishing the police? Is it going into London or is it going into the Leeds community directly? I guess the website will clear a lot of that up. There are so many things you have to address suddenly. This reaction has never happened on the scale it has before so I imagine you are under huge amounts of pressure right now, never expecting this was coming? Strategies and sustainable plans take time and shouldn’t be rushed.
Abdulaziz Comparing it to BLM London, to the only other body that has taken time and routing out what is next, it is very important to recognize right now we have a bargaining tool. It sounds corny but we have power with us now. We don’t want it to be a one month or three month phase. Of course, we want to start doing things as soon as possible but we have to take time carefully putting things together. We want it to be building blocks on top of building blocks in Leeds. We have been very hesitant to announce anything. We haven’t put anything out about defunding police or any other statements like that. We know what we want to do, but it’s about having all the resources behind it, helping it look presentable and credible. People will take it apart no matter what your good intentions are. We don’t want to be throwing promises out left right and centre when we are still looking at getting the right people in place to make sure these things can happen. Once you start just rushing and putting things out there that haven’t been thoroughly thought out, you start to lose credibility. It’s about having the right bank of data to support why we want to do certain things so people can support us with the right knowledge.
So slowly tackling our lifestyles as we know them. Another thing that is making white people uncomfortable is groups of Pro Black and Pan Africanism. People are suggesting that those things are trying to divide and conquer, the opposite of what they stand for as in fighting for equality. What do you think of those suggestions?
Abdulaziz I think the whole notion of divide and conquer is very much a collective of people recognizing how white people have treated black people for so long and God forbid they come into power and start treating us the same way we treat them. It highlights that they are very much aware of how black people are being treated but they don’t want it for themselves, but they are fine with it happening to others. It’s a very irrational way of thinking about it. Nobody is trying to divide and conquer. Nobody I know wants to put white people at the bottom and black people at the top. It’s just a case of, to put it bluntly, a cry for help. This is how we are being treated. This is how we feel. We need help to stop this from happening. Fundamentally it’s a call for help and support.
I guess it’s important for any marginalised people to uplift each other and have safe spaces and groups to embrace each other and encourage each other.
Abdulaziz I think people realise that this is a compounding effect of decades. This isn’t just a bunch of irritated 20 something year olds annoyed at today. This is pain and frustration inherited from parents and grandparents. This isn’t just because we are sick of today. We are sick of hundreds of years of the bad treatment of black people across the world. Countries came into place by geographical division. Europeaons drew lines on a map and said this is England, this is France etc. People understand there’s more to life than lands and borders. We want to build communities that benefit each and everybody to some regard. It’s harder said than done when you are working against decades, even centuries of things being done one way. Trying to rewrite how things should work could take longer than it’s been going on for. But people don’t want to wait 3 or 400 years for it.
Some people feel because they either come from a long lineage of Scottish, Welsh or English blood, they are losing their rights to be proudly white and British. They feel like movements such as BLM and Muslim schools, what’s being taught and not taught in British schools due to multiple cultures attending is losing their British heritage as they know it. They feel like they shouldn’t be deemed as racists because they don’t want to get behind changing anything. They don’t feel like they have to for people living in their country who weren’t born here or have immigrant parents. What are your thoughts with this?
Abdulaziz What rights are they losing? Nobody is losing their rights to life or free speech? People can openly say I am white and proud but one thing that comes with that is are you open to questionable critique. People saying BLM know there will be a backlash from saying it, but they understand that’s the way it is. There’s always repercussions. It’s a question of what exactly is it about British life and culture that you are so entrenched in that you are so opposed to change for everyone? Why wouldn’t they want their country to improve? Instead of being stuck in outdated ideologies and practices. If people really care about the UK, Scotland etc then understand that these are flaws in our country that need changing. Caring about your country isn’t just looking at race, but things like its economic flaws, health care system, housing, employment and all things across the board. So if you actively campaign against those because they are not working why wouldn’t you campaign against the race problem in the same state of disrepair, purely because that’s what you are accustomed to. Patriotism is wanting your country to improve. So to anybody that’s patriotic and wants the best for the UK, do some reading and find out all the possibilities for improvement of the country you love.
The Queen Victoria statue was vandalised in Hyde Park in Leeds with words like Slag etc sprayed on it. I don’t know if the people who did it were white or black. I don’t think that matters. It did, however, anger a lot of people. What do you think about the statues being taken down and vandalised across the UK? Some of the men made their money from slaves or war memorials. Do you think the statues are important to keep?
Abdulaziz I don’t personally care about the statues and I got the same vibe from the rest of BLM Leeds. They aren’t a priority as far as changing things goes. Actors coming out and apologizing for black faces is also great and all but what really needs prioritising is the abuse black people are getting in police custody and on the streets. If somebody vandalises a community statue that often gets vandalised throughout the entire year, whether that’s unity day, football games or so on, clean it up. Move on and let’s focus on what really needs to be addressed.
We couldn’t find statistics on abuse in custody, but Statista shows Death in England and Wales between 2008 and 2019, as follows:
White 85% (percentage of population 86%)
Black 8% (percentage of population 3%)
Asian 3% (percentage of population 8%)
Mixed 2% (percentage of population 2%)
Other 1% (percentage of population 1%)
Do you think it’s important to keep the statues, possibly putting them in museums to teach the history behind them?
Abdulaziz Yeah, there’s a big misconception about the removal of statues trying to erase history when in fact that’s not the case. Liverpool, for example, which has the slavery museum has done a good job of identifying the role of politicians of that time and the role they played in perpetuating slavery and also how people contributed to the abolishment of slavery in the UK. Liverpool had a massive port working the slave trade and the way they have acknowledged their part played is very educational. You know, owning this is the wrong we contributed to and it’s important for you to know this is where we went wrong. So yeah, no need to destroy the statues; put the statues in a museum. The Churchill one for me personally gets me. The man himself said he didn’t want a statue put up. Correct me if I’m wrong. They have him down as a great war time leader who was voted out by parliament six months after the war was done because he did a poor job managing the country. He wanted to drop an atom bomb on Europe before the big one dropped on Japan. People have a big misconception on history in general which is more damaging to today.
People argue that these politicians just did what they thought was right at the time. They made hospitals out of the money from slavery which are still used to help millions of people today at the cost of millions of lives lost through the slave trade. Famous scholars of their time were teaching that black people were not human and were a danger to society.
Abdulaziz Let’s choose to agree they didn’t know any better at that time. But what’s the excuse for people today when we do know better?
Evolving is something we continue to do. For example, mentally ill people are now functioning with therapy and medication instead of being locked away from society in asylums. I see that being open to change and progress is important with this. What do you think of people saying it’s the way they were brought up and it’s normal to do and say certain things to black people?
Abdulaziz Less than a hundred years ago white Britain was bombing other white men just off our shores in Ireland. What would now be called terror attacks, it’s often glossed over. It goes into the stereotype now of black on black crime being heavily spoken about which does not help the BLM conversations.
In some of the arguments I have read to counter the BLM movement the media highlights black on black crime and again feeds the stereotypes. Are there any strategies being put in place to tackle that.? Obviously you can’t control the media but is there anything you can do?
Abdulaziz We can’t combat the media; they have their own narrative. It’s something we probably will never be able to do. Forward thinking, clear minded people will put out useful material. Black on black crime is only accepted when people accept the fact white on white crime is just as much a thing. Or Asian on Asian crime. Also, the very nature of being black is making people susceptible for crimes. Are people also sharing the narrative of the top youngest 5 children in the UK to get A Levels are black? The same narrative that African boys and girls do better in A Levels and GCSEs than their white counterparts.
So if people are choosing to magnify the negative black stereotypes they should also magnify the positives?
As you know there’s an increasing number of people not wanting to back BLM Leeds for various reasons attached to other organisations across the world and certain news articles. Is BLM Leeds prepared for a storm coming in that way? Would BLM Leeds consider changing its name but keeping the same slogan?
Abdulaziz BLM is what people have come to believe. I think changing the name removes the tone. You won’t avert criticism and backlash because it’s impossible. People who are anti BLM can continue to be if they wish. If we changed the name people will find a way of picking on it another way. The name 100% is going to stay. And in terms of footballers not wanting to support us it’s a shame but it’s not as important as the overall responsibility of informing themselves about what is going on by reading books and studies.
Do you think in the day and age of celebrities such as influencers, actors, singers and models being idolised and copied, they have a responsibility of being an important voice in tackling racism?
Abdulaziz In terms of trying to reach as many people as possible you obviously want the backing of influential figures. We have to remember this whole thing has taken a life on its own by everyday people. So Anthony Joshua and John Boyega taking to the streets is remarkable but it wouldn’t have happened if the average person wasn’t protesting to begin with. Dave Chappelle highlighted in his 30 minute special that people don’t really care what celebrities think about it. The everyday person has taken to the streets during a pandemic because of how they feel about it. But I do feel it’s powerful, still seeing celebs taking to the streets about it as well.
There’s a big cancel culture right now. A man who devoted his life to a charity teaching young boys in Manchester about knife crime etc questioned BLM on his social media. His worries are based on telling young boys they are more likely to go to prison by being black would backfire, making them paranoid and angry. He voiced his opinions and a petition was made and he has now lost his job. What do you think about cases like that and Leeds own Temple Donuts?
Abdulaziz I’m so very sat on the fence about cancel culture. I think there’s positives and negatives to it. I believe the moment you decide to take your opinion on a social media platform you are consenting to criticism and scrutiny as well as love and praise. The two go hand in hand. You want people to like and support you but at the same time you know some people won’t and they will let you know they don’t. People need to be more mindful of voicing political views from a young age. Cancelling somebody over something they said when they were 14 isn’t the same as cancelling somebody who said the same thing at 30. We grow, we do better. It’s worrying to have the same thought process as you had 15 years ago. I don’t know the full story of the Manchester guy but in terms of the work he’s done positively or not. He has said enough for a petition to be done.
The Temple Donuts main issue was the racism that Sabrina continuously received working there that wasn’t resolved, and the manager failed to address it for a long period of time. Social media got hold of it and that’s when they decided to address it. People develop as they get older and start to know more on what’s wrong or right. Remember you don’t have to answer everything. Not everything requires a reaction. If you are not sure on what to say to certain situations then being honest and saying I’m not educated enough on this or I’m unaware of this, will help prevent being cancelled for saying something that could offend and upset people. Some people don’t deserve to be cancelled, but some people do. If you are putting yourself out there, just assume there’s a chance a big amount of people may not like what you are saying or doing.
What are the main things to prioritise for change? BLM Leeds?
Abdulaziz We want a greater country contribution. We want accountability of the education board like school governors and teachers to start getting the message across of Britain’s past history, reality of now and the future. We want schools to be a safe space for black and brown children. We also want changes in all marginalised groups of people. BLM Leeds is bigger than just race. We are looking at the value of black identifying in LGBT and trans. We are wanting to start seeing positive changes throughout the City. I have been here since I was 3 years old and I have seen the development of the City Centre improve so much. But communities so close to the City Centre are looking even worse than when I was a child. What are we going to do about that and what are we trying to do? We want organizations to give experience to black people such as the theatre and arts which has had a massive disparity in black involvement throughout the years, to give space and experience to black people for their voices and stories to be seen and heard. What are organizations’ short and long term goals on BLM? What can organizations do to give opportunities to black people who haven’t had the chance before? What are people doing about black businesses or people who have exploited black people to give back to black people? Overall, the most important thing is having representatives of marginalised people in big meetings with the government and policing when making decisions on the City. We want as equal a voice as everyone else.
Is there anything else you want to clear up?
Abdulaziz I think we have covered the most important things.