Bristol, a City of Sanctuary where 92 languages are spoken and celebrated, is a diverse and welcoming City. The small trading port founded in 8th century became England’s second City by the 18th century. The magnitude, quality and range of its Georgian buildings are testament in part to the riches gained by merchants in the City through the transportation of some 100,000 enslaved Africans to the plantations of the New World.
This link with slavery continues to haunt the City, with Edward Colston being the lightning rod for this uncomfortable legacy. Some in the City revere him as a saint for his philanthropy, while others judge him to be the devil incarnate for his slaving. These two diametrically opposed views create a palpable tension that reverberates through communities, highlighting different outcomes in education, employment, physical health, mental health and more. Individual and statistical evidence underlines how racial prejudice, racial inequality and institutional racism reduces life chances as well as life spans.
The City’s leadership models racial diversity: Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant, the Elected Mayor, head of the voluntary sector development agency, professionals, creatives and more are of black heritage. The University of Bristol has appointed a black historian as professor of slavery to investigate its links with the trans-Atlantic trade City Hall mentors and trains cohorts of talented, black managers in order to improve their prospects of promotion in a range of sectors, while a social enterprise mentors and encourages young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to elevate and broaden their career aspirations. The City swore in the most diverse group of Magistrates ever, with one third being black or Asian, female or non-Christian.
Black lives matter
So why was the statue of Edward Colston unceremoniously torn down from its City centre Plinth, dragged through the streets and thrown into the Floating Harbour? Why was the peaceful protest of many thousands of people, black and white, from Bristol and beyond, in support of ‘black lives matter’ not the headline news in and across the country? The unlawful actions of a few have successfully highjacked our attention and are poised to stop us focusing on the real opportunities that are around us.
In 1996 I started a two decade-long period of working with HRH The Prince of Wales to highlight the opportunities that greater access to employment, stronger communities, integrated supply chains and more visible leadership from black communities could bring to the country as a whole. Among the successes is increased portrayal of black people in corporate advertising and in the media, increased investment into black communities, a greater understanding among business leaders of diversity in the workplace, the benchmarking of businesses on how well they are doing to promote top talent and how this is being achieved and the greater numbers of educated, skilled, ambitious and capable black people in the workforce.
Yes, there is more to do. However, we have arrived at a new point. Today there is a greater awareness of how the racial divide drags down society as a whole. There is a willingness among the population as a whole to call out injustice, prejudice and racial hatred. More importantly, there are those in power that are willing to drive through change to make society better, fairer, more just and productive. We can all act to create a better society and it is imperative to so do.
By Mrs Peaches Golding OBE Lord-Lieutenant for Bristol