Black Lives Matter and Bristol


This post comes from former student in History at the University of Gloucestershire, Luke Simpson.

George Floyd was not the first and he will not be the last black human being to be killed as a result of police brutality and racism. Every day we wake to hear that another black American has died because of racism. But, George Floyd’s death has had a ripple effect across the planet. In the UK, the veil that once obscured the problems of systemic racism has been lifted. British history is also black history, but this history has been suppressed, hidden, oversimplified. The history of the UK is also a history of racism.

On the 7th June Bristol made the headlines, when the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston was pulled down. I wish I could have been there to witness the event in person. This seventeenth century figure is one of Bristol’s most controversial. Only recently have people come to know the true history of this man. The statue does not honour a worthy individual, but instead glorifies oppression. Yes, Edward Colston helped grow the city of Bristol and make it prosper.  This however, was done with the hands of slaves and on the backs of my ancestors who were ripped from their homes and their families and forced into a life of bondage.  The UK was one of the most significant exporters of slaves in the seventeenth century. Colston alone stole 84,000 Africans from their homes and transported them. 19,000 of these people would not see land ever again as they died on the journey.

Now you would think, that once people knew the truth behind the statue of this figure, they would see that it is wrong for it to be up. But unfortunately and sadly this is not the case. Many people, primarily from a Caucasian background, are using the argument that the statue is part of history, that taking it down would mean that history would be lost. This would not be the case, statue standing or not, as the history will still be there. I’m finding it rather annoying and getting tired that people are stopping me and advancing this poor argument in an attempt to justify their racist beliefs. Adolf Hitler was part of German history, he is not glorified in any monuments because that would be wrong, so why should we have  figures of racism and slavery being glorified in the UK?

Where Colston’s statue used to stand.

When I finally had the chance to visit Bristol city centre and saw where the monument used to stand, I considered the signs, posters, and balloons that were surrounding the empty plinth. I was overcome with emotion and nearly broke down on the spot crying. For nearly 25 years of my life I have had to deal with, and endure, racism. Every racist incident I had experienced came flooding back to me in this moment. 

It was good to see that this figure of oppression, a person who had ripped my ancestors from their homes and families was finally gone. This should have happened sooner but this is just another perfect example of systemic racism as, if it was a figure of oppression towards those of Caucasian background, it would have been removed without question. I do not mean to cause offence by saying this but it is the truth.

There are people out there, even those high up (such as David Starkey) who make the argument that the Black Lives Matter movement involves a delegitimising of British history. But for centuries black British history has been constantly suppressed and hidden. Why is that not classed as delegitimising British history? The dark history of the UK and its racism needs to be accepted, not ignored and suppressed. We must educate people so that they know the truth!

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