Posts Tagged ‘Bristol City Coiuncil’

Bristol Announces Education Report about the Contribution of Different Communities to City

January 19, 2022

Yesterday a couple of bods from Bristol city council appeared on the news to announce the imminent public of two reports, both dealing with race and community issues. At lunchtime it was reported that there was a report coming out about how the city should educate people about city’s history as a major centre of the slave trade. Then on the 6.30 local news, deputy mayor and head of equalities Asher Craig appeared to tell viewers about another report coming out about another education initiative, this time about the contribution different communities had made to the city. She thought it might perhaps form the basis for a new museum. The report was hailed as bringing communities together.

Bristol’s a port city and so people of different races and nationalities have been living in the city since the Middle Ages. It had a Jewish community, complete with a miqveh or ritual bath, on Jacob’s Wells Road before Edward I’s expulsion of them from England. it also had strong links with Ireland, and it’s possible that there was a community of Bristol merchants in Dublin before Henry IIs invasion of 1169. It also had strong links to Wales, and so there’s always been people from Ireland and Wales here in the city. There were a few Icelandic merchants resident in Bristol in the 15th century. As the city also traded in wine from France and Spain, I’m fairly certain there were also French people and Spaniards here. There were also Black people in Bristol from the 16th century onwards following the emergence of the transatlantic slave trade. However, the bulk of the modern Black population probably really only dates from the Windrush migration. Other immigrants to Bristol include Poles, Russians – there’s a Russian Orthodox church on University Road by the museum in Clifton, Chinese and peeps from India and Pakistan. A few years ago a book was published about Bristol’s diverse immigrant population.

But I don’t think this is primarily about all of the city’s various ethnic communities. I think it’s really an attempt to promote Bristol’s Black community. Last year, when I contacted Craig criticising her for some of her comments about the city’s involvement in the slave trade, her reply talked about the ‘One Bristol’ educational project. This would promote Blacks, and be ‘diverse and inclusive’, which didn’t always happen with White men. I don’t know if that last comment is a deliberate sneer or putdown.

It’s fair to say that the majority Black areas of the Bristol have the same problems and reputation of inner cities elsewhere – drugs, crime, prostitution and violence. When I was growing up people from outside the area drove along Stapleton Road in St. Paul’s with their windows up and the door firmly locked. Nearly two decades ago in 2004 there were a series of murders in the area and it was reported on the news that there was a gun-related incident everyday. I can remember going along the road on the bus to a lecture at UWE and seeing armed policemen on the street. I’ve heard from friends that there are local people in the community collecting and blogging about the area and Bristol’s black history as way of combating the alienation and marginalisation many Black Bristolians feel. From Craig’s reply to me, it looks like the ‘One Bristol’ education project is intended to do something similar by giving a more positive image of the community.

As for educating Bristolians about the city’s role in the slave trade, I’ve grown up knowing about it although there is still the strong belief among some Blacks, repeated by Craig in her interview on Radio 4 last year, that the city authorities have covered it up. In the 1990s the City Museum and Art Gallery staged an exhibition about the city and the slave trade, ‘A Respectable Trade’, named after the costume drama then showing on the Beeb, adapted from a book by Philippa Gregory. The M Shed museum on the city docks also has a gallery about Bristol and the slave trade. There are articles about the city’s involvement in the slave trade on the museum’s website, a slave walk in Clifton and a plaque on one of the warehouses down by the M Shed commemorating the victims who were enslaved and sold by Bristol merchants. The official name for the very bizarre looking ‘horned bridge’ across the dock’s is Pero’s Bridge, after one of the few named slaves who was brought to Bristol itself.

I have to say I’m a bit sensitive about some of the demands for the proper commemoration of the slave trade in the city. It sometimes seems to me that’s it’s being used by angry members of the Black community to attack White Bristol because of the poverty and marginalisation that still plagues their community. Back in the 1990s, for example, when the city celebrated the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland, various Black spokesmen declared that it was a celebration of slavery. This followed American Blacks’ condemnation of the celebration of Columbus’ discovery of America a few years earlier. Indigenous Americans also attacked it as a celebration of their genocide. It wasn’t, of course, meant to be a celebration of slavery, but they had a point. Following Columbus discovery of the New World, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean were enslaved and worked, tortured and massacred until they died out. The Spanish then turned to Black African slaves to replace them. I don’t believe that the discovery of Newfoundland had any direct connection with slavery. That seems to have started in 1619 when Spanish merchants brought a consignment of them to Jamestown, and it seems that initially the English settlers didn’t know what to do with them. However, slavery and all the horrendous methods of repression soon followed. A Black artist produced a picture showing his feelings about the celebration of Cabot’s discovery. It shows the Matthew sailing up the Avon Gorge. watched by cameras from the Evening Post and the local news, while shadowy figures rampage across the suspension bridge. The painting’s now on display in the slavery gallery in the M Shed. To me it demonstrates a bitter mentality that automatically assumes any celebration like it must somehow be about the persecution or exploitation of Blacks, and it seems to me that a similar deep bitterness is driving the demands for proper education about the city’s slavery history. On the other hand, there have been a large influx of newcomers to the city from London and elsewhere, and it’s possible that, not being Bristolians, they really know little about the city and the slave trade. The education initiative could therefore be a response to them requiring to know more.

Points West stated that the report about educating Bristolians about the contributions of Bristol’s multiracial communities will make five recommendations, while the one about slavery will make fifteen. It’ll be interesting to see what they are.