This article includes excerpts from a 20-minute interview – the full video is below. The complete material includes discussion of Adam’s socially-distanced swearing-in ceremony and celebrations, one of his favourite SOAS professors, his fresher’s experience, being a Labour supporter at SOAS, and a mysterious fire alarm incident that ended up with the former Shadow Attorney General drinking with SOAS students in a pub down the road.
Katie: I wanted to ask that, in the context of how SOAS been taking the lead on decolonising curriculum, decolonising research, for a few years now – these sorts of ideas have really taken hold in the mainstream, particularly with the recent elevation of the Black Lives Matter struggles, and obviously now we’re coming into Black History Month. I know that you’re someone who’s been really vocal on this, on and off social media. So what kind of role do you think that local government can play in this type of activism and campaigning?
Adam: Race, class, culture – when it comes to conversations – are difficult for people. Some folks don’t want to engage with our history, they don’t want to engage with some of the wrongs that have taken place in recent years, and in years gone by.
I said during my swearing in that my Jamaican and Zimbabwean roots are hugely important to me; they guide me every single day. They are very much part of who I am, what I’m about, what I do and how I do it. I think that the place we’re in now – it was fitting that Haringey elected a Black man to be Mayor on the first day of Black History Month. But I also cautioned in my speech, that as important as it is that I was elected, as important it is that Black people and other People of Colour are in positions of power and influence, there’s so much more to do, for us to get to a place where we genuinely right the wrongs of history, where we eradicate the barriers based on class and religion.
Well, class for sure – that’s my socialism coming out there! – but certainly on religion and colour. I think that there’s a ton more to do. I’m very committed to using whatever role being Mayor provides, and the platform that goes with it, to champion some of those issues.
I think the point about local government’s an interesting one, because in so many ways all politics is local, right? So I have, as a local councillor, far more influence over the lives of the people I represent than our local MP does. Labour’s in opposition – although our MP’s a Labour MP, she can sure go to the House of Commons, she can shout at the Tories, she can put all these questions to the ministers; but every time there’s a vote taken, we lose – because they’ve got an 80-seat majority. She goes home, having made all these great points, challenging the Tories on their record, but can’t do anything.
Labour councillors actually can put our values into practice and you can actually show that things can be done differently. In this particular case, around the challenges of racism and bigotry that exist, local government’s got to be the place where we start to show that things can be done differently, will be done differently, and that we know how to do them differently. That’s what I’m planning to do as Mayor and I hope that all my colleagues on the Labour benches and on the opposition benches are willing to help me do that, too.
My message to those who may be interested in politics and getting involved: speak out, speak up and don’t be afraid. One of the things I’ve learned over the last few years is that people cuss you, you’re going to get plenty of haters.
I remember when I was first elected – and bear in mind I was doing my finals on Election Day – the most horrific time ever. One of the things I’ve learned since 2014 is that people will try and cut you down, they’ll talk rubbish, they’ll undermine you, they’ll patronise you, particularly if you’re young. But the best thing to do is to try and ignore them where possible – call a mate, call family, let it out, go for a run, smoke a cigarette, whatever. But don’t ever rise to the bait that people throw your way, because that’s what they’re trying to do. Speak up, speak out, and don’t be afraid.
Adam Jogee is Mayor of Haringey – and a SOAS alumnus.
This blog is part of our Black History Month 2020 series, which celebrates black voices and achievements over time, and across the globe. The series features contributions from SOAS alumni, academics, and students.