Calling time on Colston

08 June 2020

Colston’s statue no longer looks out over our city – personally, I am delighted. His company shipped 80,000 people from West Africa to the Caribbean and southern states. Nineteen thousand slaves were thrown into the sea – much like his statue.

By any measure, Colston’s crime against humanity has put the burden of history and trauma on those in the black community today through institutional and direct racism. It has taken us 400 years to get this far, and we are a long way from the world we want to live in.

We must all face the truth

Campaigners had been requesting the removal of the statue for years.  But as it was still there, it seemed almost inevitable that it would be taken down as Black Lives Matter raised again the issue of racism that many of us in Bristol are privileged enough to ignore. Bristol brought this on itself by avoiding the question of Colston’s legacy, and its impact on our communities for decades.

If we had all listened harder, we could have acted before today, and Colston’s statue would be sitting alongside the shackles and other weapons of slavery in a museum teaching us all about this shameful period of our history. This is a failure of decades of leadership and a collective ignorance from all of us in the white community.

The statue should have been replaced long ago by a statue of someone who represents our diverse and forward-thinking city as it is now – a Bristol that values freedom and equality.

I saw the emotion pouring out of the black community, as this symbol of the old Bristol was torn down. One person said to me, ‘I have been waiting for this all my life’.

This must mark the beginning of a new era

But all of this will be for nothing if our  black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities continue to be disadvantaged by racism. If communities remain poor and unheard, if the jobs and houses are not there, if people are denied opportunities simply because of the colour of their skin, then we will have failed. We must redouble our efforts and continue the hard work that is needed to change our society.

It must force us all to listen harder and learn more deeply, reach out across our divided communities, act more boldly and  do what is right – even in the face of resistance. If we don’t, then history will judge us all as it has judged Colston.

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