In Conversation with Linda Bellos

Monday 12-10-2015 - 14:26

Linda Bellos OBE is a former politician and current businesswoman and activist for gay rights who will deliver the keynote speech at NUS’ first ever Black Leaders Conference (registration is open here). We caught up with Linda ahead of the event to discuss her history of championing equality and human rights across the UK.

You were elected Leader of Lambeth Council in 1986 – the second Black woman to gain such a position – how euphoric was this achievement within politics at the time?

It was not euphoric, Black Sections had since 1983 demanded that suitable Black people be selected to stand as MPs. Some White MPs had stated that White people would not vote for a Black person but we knew that this was untrue. Lambeth Council had a number of Black Councilors and this meant that many White councilors had voted for them because they were representing the Labour Party. I put myself forward to be leader because I thought that I could do the job. The media coverage was awful it was without doubt racist.

When did you first come across intersectionality?

All people are more than their gender, ethnicity, age or their disability. In the early 1980’s Barbara Smith and others in the USA brought out an anthology called But Some of Us Are Brave. Written by African American women, it stated all the women are White and all the Blacks are men, but some of us are brave. I was one of the steering group for the conference in England in 1984 called But Some of Us Are Brave, which brought together African and Asian feminists.

Many in society today would take their inspiration from your legacy, but who do you cite as an inspirational figure during your formative years?

I am not sure that I would say I have been inspired by a person but I have by a struggle, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks have been courageous and bold but my mother a White Jewish women was a courageous, ethical and loving. Before she died I asked her whether she knew she would be disowned by her family for marrying an African Christian in 1949 and her answer was yes. She knew.

What advice would you give to aspiring black and women leaders?  

Be true to you principles and listen to others then decide what you will do.

Why are events such as NUS’ Black Leaders Conference significant for the student movement and for society? 

Racism is real and as a young child in the 1950’s I was verbally abused by adults who were white as well as by children. Sometimes the abuse was physical, my father taught my brother and I how to box.

Racism still operates in the UK, building solidarity and consciousness is vital for change, and it should in my view include an awareness of class. Margaret Thatcher wanted to build a Black middle-class as does Cameron, but they want to ignore Black working class people. We must not forget the struggles of our parents and those forced to flee from their homelands. Whatever their class at birth they become working class once the come to the UK with a few exceptions.

NUS Black Leader's Conference 2015 takes place in Sheffield on Wednesday 11 November and you can book your place here. For further information about the Black Leaders Conference please contact Mandeep Rupra-DaineNUS Equality & Diversity Consultant. 

Register here


Black, Features, Union Development

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