Posts Tagged ‘abolition 200’

Myths and Facts


Facts and Feelings?

This working title for this book project is a bit problematic.

The idea of myths suggests something that is not ‘true’. Something that is a part of folklore, usually involving supernatural and celestial beings.  The kind of ‘myth’ we are supposed to be dealing with here though is like:

Slaves were kept in caves in Redcliffe.


Blacks were sold on Blackboy Hill.

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

Blackboy Hill on Port Cities website

While I could not say that this is absolutely untrue, I am aware that established historical orthodoxy on the subjects suggest that such things were certainly not the norm.

The other kind of ‘myth’ we are dealing with is

‘That’s such a long time ago, let’s move on’.

Usually that comes from a feeling that we should change the subject and not talk about this anymore.  We’ve learned over the last few years that it’s important to acknowledge these feelings. It’s not a ‘myth’, it’s an opinion and since it’s accompanied by an emotional charge, then there is a reality to it.   Any book on Bristol and transatlantic slavery,  published now, addressing popular prominent ideas about the subject should touch on such common feelings and ideas too we feel.

How long is ‘too long’ and what is meant my ‘move on’ are some arguable points right there. But such ideas are common. It’s difficult for people not get agitated or uncomfortable when exploring this subject.  Is it like talking about the Nazi implemented Holocaust in Germany?   It would be great to see our capacity for such conversation in Bristol to mature. And it is completely possible But first there is the need for the alleviation of much ignorance.

Knowledge will lead to understanding and hopefully some shifts in feeling. Like it or not our thoughts and feelings do impact on our realities today. Even when something has come out of nothing like Tracy thought that Brian said some stuff about her.  It’s still going to affect how Tracy and Brian relate to each other.

This book, if anything is to be added to the dialogue in the city must address FEELINGS.  It must enhance the dialogue. Especially after all the fireworks from the Abolition 200 moment has long sizzled out, gone soggy and got stamped into the streets of yesterday.


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Black & White

One noticeable thing about this year and the open debate about the suffering of black people, has been the increased irritation of some white-folk.

Mainly because they can’t see why all the attention should be placed on people who, to them, have have only just arrived. Especially if they have similar basic needs too. A decent life and liberation from their social-economic prisons.

They have heard the same thing from black people since they started coming to this country (in recent memory), and despite loads of money and laws and quangos and newsreaders, and childrens television presenters and MPs and so on, ‘the blacks’ are still banging on about it. But the white folk don’t really see that for black folk in some ways little has changed underneath the cosmetic face of race relations.

With immigration getting ‘out of control’ and governments creating more asylum seekers, fearful statistics, and the terrorist threat. Where are they to turn? And they are many who would jump to answer that call. So the last thing they really want to hear is how their ancestors were so evil. Especially as they themselves, have been so accommodating of late!

So how this year has been? It could be said that there has been much genuine interest from white Bristol to get to know more about their history. There are of course those who still subscribe to racial hierarchy, and think that blacks should be in bondage today.

Most white folk in England would like to think themselves as fair-minded and just. They would of course say ‘ There’s good and bad in everybody’, and such wisdoms. They might disagree with apologising for slavery and changing street names, but still agree with equal pay and equal justice for all. Some might not see how the African is denigrated in the European cultural and economic consciousness.

Since this year has only scratched the surface with these discussions, it may be that there is more to be had. There are lots of white children not getting anything out of their education, addicted to drugs, stuck in poor housing, and suffering just like black folk, some of them resent the charge that they all benefited from slavery. And it’s likely, they didn’t.

Marvin Rees argued in a BBC Inside Out that Bristol was ‘racially fractured’. But the fracture is not understood by all. He contunues to argue that race has to be discussed openly and frankly in safe spaces, so that it is better understood. And easier to live with.

Children growing up in Bristol schools think it’s racist to use the terms ‘Black’ and ‘White’. They don’t understand why, but have been taught that it’s charged with bad stuff, fearfulness and confusion.

One speaker at the Malcolm X centre that night(12 Nov 07) told of how her white friends when walking though areas with black people in, was unsure ‘what to call them’. I have sympathy. It’s hard to keep up with the speak. And one may be African, Caribbean, Somali, Nigerian, Bengali, and a whole host of things, but essentially in England, you are non-white. Though we are not ‘coloured’ anymore. However we are still subject to this thing called : Racism.

It takes so many forms. Though for many white people today, with race such a senstive and hot issue, and one which they feel so confused about, it’s hard to negotiate all this ‘stuff’. They think it’s all gone away. They don’t see riots on streets any more. And there’s all those black people on the telly. But many of them did not notice it go underground.

Of course white-folk, black-folk cannot be described in homogeneous clumps. Since people, regardless of colour, occupy various places on the streams of thought and belief. But this block mentality is something has characterised many of the discussions that have been had so far. As Marvin states, Black and White have proven inaccurate and imprecise definitions. This year has shown that the division is not so ‘black’ and ‘white’, but Rich and Poor.

Still, African people, and those in its diaspora have a very particular story around this slave trade and its legacy. They have looked at themselves through British eyes as being at the bottom of the racial hierachy, having just graduated to human status. So this won’t go away so easily. It’s been a few centuries in coming. And the call is now for Africans to look at themselves through African eyes.

Cultural Representation is the third of three priorities identified by the Abolition 200 report. Great, as long as it is not just African drumming. (Though it would be nice to have a bit of Kora!) There’s a whole range of Diaspora stories to tell in a whole range of media.

As we get through these first big broad triangular strokes of acknowledging, explaining, and understanding the African-European story, there are many smaller stories that will emerge to demonstate the complexities and contradictions of our human story.

So as the discussions continue, (and we’ll see what Action follows), it remains to be seen what value and understanding we place on race. Is it still a valid concept?

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So on the night in question (12th November 2007, reviewing Abolition 200 in Bristol at the Malcolm X centre, as per previous blog entry), there were some pertinent questions and debate about this year.  There were a few points on education brought by Cllr. John Rogers , Lisa Blackwood, well and everybody really, after a question from Jacky Davis.

This education thing took up a whole portion of the night actually. The basic thread being; Why are we still talking about reversing the mis- education for the ‘black’ child when Bernard Coard had this down forty years ago. And nothing has happened?!

Cllr. Rogers (also a school governor) cautiously suggests that there have been some improvements in response to recent measures applied in schools in Bristol.  Though not nearly enough.  His announcement included ‘improvements’ in the mechanisms of measurement. That is, that data which analyses children based on ethnicity, neighbourhood, and other demographics have become more precise in their measuring. So failure can be tracked more accurately! I jest. Well it’s kinda true, but the idea is so that improvements can be targeted. You know it’s the way councils and similar bureaucracies work. The measure things.

Of course with all this measuring stuff, there is this double edged sword. On one side is the clamour for, and gathering of measurement data proving the flaw in the system’s education of African-Caribbean children. One the other side is the resulting : ‘B***k b**ys are F*iling’ mantra that rolls off the tongue like a sh*t on a hot shovel. But more poisonous.

While on my ego trip on this panel, my argument began to settle on supporting the volutary sector. There being where much good work is done in supplementary schools and more holistic approaches to nurting children, families and communities.

And one peoples I didn’t mention, who I later noticed in the room was Sis. Nwanyi from Imani and now, St Paul’s Study centre. And there’s Full Circle doing excellent work in the same neighbourhood. And then the council’s ‘trojan horse’ (as it was once dubbed) of St Pauls Family & Learning Centre. One of the council’s frontline community learning centres which supports such activities.

The So What project, highlighted the need for the things that Nwanyi & the whole supplementary school movement is doing around the city (and country) to make actual improvements in learning.

This year was dubbed the ‘Year of Black Achievement’ by  Bristol. With the commemoration stuff giving the Equalities departments some political leverage to lean on their overlords to make that official. Also after the fear that the year was just going to be totally meaningless, education was chosen as a key theme. It’s also something which is to be focused on in the Legacy Commission (after 2007)

Oh and there was the issue of Afrikan education…

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