Leaders of black movements in Leeds not shocked by racism row involving the Royal family

The Harry and Meghan interview has raised the issue of racism at the highest level but leaders in Leeds say they are not shocked by it.

By Emma Ryan
Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 5:00 pm

The interview with Oprah Winfrey aired in the UK on Monday night and has got people talking on both sides of the Atlantic. It saw allegations that racist comments were made by a member of the Royal family over how dark their son Archie's skin tone would be as a result of the couple's dual heritage.

Two black women from movements across Leeds that work to address racism and inequalites have spoken to the Yorkshire Evening Post about the fall-out from the interview, and, with the question of racism and inequality being raised again - what does that mean here in Leeds.

Meanwhile, a statement was issued from Buckingham palace last night where it said The Queen is "saddened" to hear the full extent of the challenges faced by the Sussexes and the issues raised around race are "concerning".

Marvina Newton, head of Leeds Black Lives Matter movement.

It said: "The statement on behalf of the Queen said: "The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan

"The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members."

Marvina Newton, head of Leeds Black Lives Matter movement said while many people were shocked that such a comment would have been said, for black people it happens all the time but unconscious bias and racism is still present.

Heather Nelson, from the Black Health Initiative in Leeds and a board member of the NHS Race and Health Observatory organisation.

She said: "Look at Meghan as someone in your class that for years has been bullied. Everyone has seen it, sometimes stuck up for her, some said 'it is none of my business' or 'it is an elite family'. We don't know what happens indoors but if you are in a toxic family or abusive relationship, what do we say - get up and go. There is a lot of oohhing and ahhhing going on. No black person is shocked by that comment - that comes all the time.

"You would never imagine Meghan would face discrimination over dark skin because she is lighter. You would not expect that to be there but what is important, dual heritage couples are feeling that pain and it is a wake up call that to the system - you are black, the system will treat you like a black person."

In Leeds, Ms Newton said great strides were being made following Black Lives Matter movements last year after the murder of George Floyd - but still is not enough and added that 'tick box' excercises were contributing to racism being pushed underground.

She said: "We are seeing a lot of conversations with white people educating themselves, we saw the statue review, we have been working with food groups to get donations from African and Asian shops for foodbanks and that is one of our big successes. We are working to create a Black Allies programme, the impact of climate change on black communities and how mental health is accessible for black children.

"The council set up the Black Lives Matter steering group but felt they needed to set it aside. It is a shame it has done that. It took the right position when it looked good and ticked the boxes. As soon as it dies down, everybody goes back to normal. Black Lives Matter is not just a month, it is about how do we change a system? How do we further these conversations and create opportunities? No-one has come out to say here is the resource to make this Black Lives friendly. Nothing has been done on that scale. Black Lives Matter is doing other people's jobs, it is not fair."

Heather Nelson, from the Black Health Initiative in Leeds, also said that following last year's Black Lives Matter debates and discussions, she had also seen very little significant change.

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"It is about systematic racism, the way we understand the micro-aggressions that happen. Years back we were talking about unconscious bias, it is no longer unconscious because we all know about it so now it is a conscious decision people are making."

She added that there had been different reactions to the interview from America and the UK but it highlighted that racism in Britain is "covert".

"Unless you are aware of certain issues and see the micro-aggression, you will not acknowledge the issue the racism is there. With it being hidden you can't address it. Political correctness has pushed it underground.

"I think there will be some acknowledgment (from the palace) but will be white-washed and we won't even recognise it is an apology, that I think is needed.

"If it is her truth (Meghan's) you have got to listen to it. It is a big step to leave a country and for Harry to leave his family for something that is not a truth. The first step is admitting there is an issue and addressing it but I don't think that will happen."

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