Tony Erizia, a Manchester based activist who has been involved in campaigns for anti-racist and Palestine activism for many years, attended the Why is my Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event on the 26th October 2015. This was the statement that Mr Erizia wrote concerning what transpired and how he and Sanaz Raji were manhandled and violently treated by 4 security guards present at the event. For full details of the background of Ms Raji’s intervention, you can read what has been elaborated here.
Statement of facts from Tony Erizia
On Monday 26/10/2015 I journeyed to the University of Leeds with Sanaz Raji to attend the event Why Is My Curriculum White, organized as part of the Black History Month and staged by the Leeds Student Union.
On the journey over Ms Raji read to me a statement she had prepared which sought answers to serious issues that had emerged between herself and both the university union and the NUS. The event, she told me, would feature senior members from both bodies, including officers from the Black Student Union.
Shortly after entering the auditorium I noticed prevalent security presence. I thought this unusual and later asked my daughter and others who I knew had organised similar speaking events in recent times at universities -if this was customary, and they were unanimous in replying that security personnel within an event was unheard of.
After the presentations came the questions. Now it is important at this point to mention the nature and purpose of the event. Why is my curriculum white- is, as I understand it-an attempt to address the reproduction of racist ideology via institutions of education. Now, when I last looked, an institution comprised more than bricks, walls, paper and policies. It involves real people performing real tasks and pursuing genuine projects. People trying to earn a living, attain their goals and live their lives. To be fair, mention was made during both presentations and initial questions of the relevance of the campaign to individuals of colour existing within the educational system. One such question had just been posed -about the relative scarcity within academia of women of colour, when Sanaz made her intervention.
From the moment of our arrival I had become aware of the nervousness of some in the room toward us. A female security officer had already ordered Ms Raji to desist from recording the event after a complaint from -what I took to be union officers. Now, as she rose to read out her statement all hell seemed to break loose. She was grabbed (that is the only word for it) by three large white male security staff and bundled down the steps towards the exits. Ms Raji is at best about 5ft 4in in old money. When I followed and attempted to intervene-I feared Sanaz suffering injury- I was physically rebuffed by a goon in a day glow style outfit. Knocked backwards I complained out loudly that at an event organized by and for people of colour with the aim of providing an outlet for the expression of our issues-this could be permitted to occur.
Let me put it bluntly: a woman of colour being prevented from voicing her issues, moreover, being physically assaulted by white male employees of the very organisations that were charged with protecting her rights!
Finally-after consternation from within the audience- Sanaz got to read out her statement, whilst sat on the floor surrounded by the Union’s heavies.
Meanwhile on the podium sat those charged to represent people like her. Most of them as silent as they had been accused of being by Ms Raji throughout the period of her struggle with the institutions of state and education who, moments previously, they had been denouncing as institutions of racism.
One black female union officer tried to drown out Sanaz by shrieking down a microphone. Another followed us out and confronted Sanaz. The woman, who stood a good 2 inches above my 6ft- became hysterical and began to scream down to Sanaz’s face. Fearing the possibility of assault, we left the building. The female followed us, still screaming hysterically. She only desisted when security once again intervened. We then left the campus.
Throughout my life I have been confronted by challenges arising from my ethnicity. At work and in schools, colleges, universities and even in the streets. One night in 1978, I sat down with a small group of compranero/as at the University of Essex and we set down the principles, aims and constitution for what I believe was the first autonomous political organisation for non-white students in English academia. In the mid-1980s I was part of the movement of teachers in West London who challenged the organisation and curriculum of schools and their inability to respond to the needs of ethnic minorities either as students and staff. After what I witnessed that Monday at Leeds, I wonder why we bothered.
As Ms Raji so eloquently observed-there is no point in conducting talking shops around the problems that still persist in our society, deriving from a past of imperialism and colonization- whilst studiously and conspicuously ignoring real life victims- advocate war then ignore the casualties? Monday 26/10/2015 was not an auspicious evening for freedom of expression nor racial justice at Leeds University Students Union.