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'It’s not white vs black, it’s everyone against racism': BLM Leeds founder says

The founder of the Black Lives Matter movement in Leeds has spoken of the 'horrifying' abuse she has faced while working as an activist over the last decade.

Marvina Newton is an award-winning campaigner and founder of Angel of Youths, a charity working with disadvantaged and marginalised young people in Leeds.

She started campaigning in 2011 after a frightening personal experience near her home in Armley.

Marvina was nine months pregnant when a man threw a glass of water over her, racially abused her and told her to 'go back to her own country'.

The experience spurred Marvina to found the Black Lives Matter Leeds movement and she's been tirelessly fighting racism in Leeds since.

Marvina, who has two young children, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "It took me by surprise, and I felt frozen in time - I looked around and thought, can no one see this happening? People just carried on with their day, there was an apathy in the environment.

Marvina Newton is an award-winning campaigner and founder of Angel of Youths. Image credit Yorkshire Evening Post

"It made me numb and I walked home, knowing I was carrying my first child and that I was about to bring a child into the world that looks like me."

Working with young black and Asian people in Leeds, Marvina has noticed that their experiences of racism are often in the 'micro-aggressions' of being stereotyped and marginalised.

But online, Marvina has faced a torrent of racial abuse and hate speech, from comments on her appearance to violent threats against her.

Following a march in Leeds against Donald Trump's travel ban in 2017, Marvina was left in tears after reading dozens of comments inciting hate against Leeds' Muslim community.

Marvina added: “The normal things they might not say in person get so drawn out in such a confident way. There are no repercussions for their actions once they’re behind that screen.

“Once people see other people writing negative comments, it becomes a herd mentality, and everyone starts feeling free to be racist.

“The comments on the Black Lives Matter protests recently shocked me the most. I love Leeds and I love West Yorkshire and I saw the crowds turn up to protest in a socially distant way.

“But the comments have been horrifying. A lot of the anger was aimed at people going out and marching during the pandemic and destroying statues - which we didn’t do any of in Leeds.

“There was no spike in coronavirus cases based on the BLM stuff. But there are all these false narratives created around it which was quite disheartening.”

"When I see the hate that I get online, it gives me the drive to do more work". Image credit Yorkshire Evening Post

Marvina has stopped reading the comments on her interviews and coverage of her campaign work for the last two years to protect her mental health, but says she is often sent screenshots of abuse by her friends.

"When I see the hate that I get online, it gives me the drive to do more work"

She is concerned about the effect that reading the abuse against her will have on her own children and on other young black people in Leeds.

Marvina said: “Loads of children and young people were looking at the BLM coverage, people whose mums or brothers may have been at the protest.

“We have to look at how we safeguard our youths and the public from being traumatised by seeing that much hate."

A Black Lives Matter Leeds allies group has been created on Facebook, offering resources and practical advice for white people to call out racist abuse online.

The group hopes to eventually open up anti-racism workshops and take the learning into public life.

Marvina added: “What’s beautiful about our black allies group is that it’s made out of amazing white people fighting racism and teaching each other through anti-racism work.

"It’s helping people come up with responses when they engage with racism online, it's so positive.

"Even they are finding they’re getting trolls, they’re getting hate, they’re getting insulted. They’re getting involved in arguments that drain their energy.

"One white friend asked me if it’s what it feels like to be black, getting that hate constantly. I told her it’s just about five percent of what the hate feels like and she started crying.”

‘If your anti-racism work prioritizes the ‘growth’ and ‘enlightenment’ of white America over the dignity and humanity of people of color – it’s not anti-racism work. It’s white supremacy.’ Illustration credit: Mikyung Lee for Guardian US

Marvina addressed the 'all lives matter' argument which has trended on social media following the Black Lives Matter protests across the world.

She explained an analogy she used with her daughter, telling her to imagine the whole family had enjoyed a big meal, but she didn't get a plate.

When her daughter said, ‘I should get my fair share’, Marvina replied, ‘but all stomachs matter!'.

"Technically I was right, all stomachs do matter in that moment, because I was hungry and needed to eat," said Marvina. "But I had access to food and the person who didn't was my daughter.

"And this isn't just one day or two days for black people, we're talking about 400 years of constant starvation.

"Anytime we talk and say we're 'hungry' - we're asked why we're playing the race card? Why we're being selfish?"

Just last week, Marvina was with her two young children when she was approached by a man who started hurling abuse at her and became physically threatening.

She has been egged outside her home and put on an English Defence League 'blacklist' inciting hate against her.

“But I don’t give the trolls or the racists the opportunity to break me down", Marvina said.

"When I see the hate that I get online, it gives me the drive to do more work.

"We need to educate and there is a real wound there that as a community we need to heal.

"I want Leeds to unite - it’s not white versus black, it’s everyone against racism.

"All I’m asking for is an equitable society where I’m treated the way a white person is treated. That’s just basic human rights.

"And you can’t say all lives matter until black lives matter.”

Source: Yorkshire Evening Post


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