Bristol’s conversation about racism and discrimination extends far further back – and far deeper – than last summer’s protests. It is far bigger than statues. We are a city of contrasts and complexity. In 2016, I became the first directly elected mayor of African heritage of a major European City – elected to lead a city whose historic wealth is inextricably linked with the transatlantic slave trade. It is estimated that around half a million people from Africa were brought into slavery by Bristol traders in the 18th century.
And the racism that underpinned this trade is far from an historical artefact. In 1963, the Bristol Omnibus Company’s refusal to employ Black or Asian bus drivers in the city was only overturned after a four month boycott led by Black Bristolians. In 1980, the St Pauls uprising was sparked by a police raid on a café, following the increasing use of stop and search which disproportionately targeted members of the African-Caribbean Community. More recently still, the Runnymede Trust ranked Bristol in 2015 as the 7th worst area of England for racial inequality, and in 2017 said that “almost all ethnic minority groups in Bristol experience employment inequality compared to White British people.”
Tackling these disparities requires us to tackle the intersection between race and class. It also needs commitment from organisations who shape life across the city to move from symbolic acts to data-driven action on equality. Solving entrenched racism and inequality is a collective responsibility – no single organisation or individual can tackle this problem alone.
This is why we have developed the One City Approach. To encourage organisations across all sectors of civic, economic and cultural life in the city to recognise that they are interdependent with each other and the political, social, economic and environmental context of the city. We developed the One City Plan – a collection of over 500 goals which maps out collective outcomes we want to achieve for Bristol up to 2050. These are all mapped against the UN Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that through the delivery of the Plan, we will fulfil goal 10: to reduce inequalities within and among cities and countries.
Specific outcomes of this approach include the first ever Public Sector Race Equality HR Data Product for the city, to drive evidence-based interventions on workforce inclusion, diversity and pay. We pioneered the Stepping Up Programme – an award-winning training and mentoring course to improve Black and minority ethnic representation and progression across the public, voluntary and commercial sector. Of the more than 300 participants to date, 75% have achieved career progression and we’ve launched a specific programme – Horumar – to support Somali women in progressing their careers.
Removing physical and symbolic reminders of historic racism does not – in and of itself – improve the material outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities today. Indeed, in the aftermath of the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue, we saw escalating threats directed particularly towards Bristol’s Black communities. This culminated in a racially aggravated assault and the desecration of the grave of Scipio Africanus – an enslaved African man buried in 1720.
The events and aftermaths of last summer have shown how crucial it is to bring the whole city with us as we confront the legacies of disparities that have shaped Bristol. That is why we have set out a process to manage our journey. We have established the We Are Bristol History Commission which will help us tell our full city history. As we learn this fuller history including the part played by Black people, women, the working class, trade unions, and children among others, we will be in a better position to understand who we are, and the interconnected injustices we need to overcome to build a better Bristol.