Well, what a day!
Things began overnight with a certain very rich writer of dubious children’s books spouting transphobia over her Twitter feed. I had to unfollow and block one person, but in general I was very proud of the way my own personal social media bubble rallied round. Good show, people!
Just about when that was starting to die down, the Black Lives Matter demo began in Bristol. I wasn’t able to attend, and indeed many of the Black people I know stayed away because of health fears. Cleo Lake and some other community leaders organised an online protest with the hashtag #BristolTakeTheKnee, which I participated in. And then I got on with some work.
The next thing I knew, people had toppled the statue of Edward Colston and dumped it in the harbour.
For those of you who don’t know, Colston made an huge fortune from slave trading. He did pay some of it back by donating money that helped the city, but that’s no excuse for all the lives he destroyed. However, because of that philanthropy he had various things in the city named after him, and a statue erected in his honour. Much, if not all, of this was done in late Victorian times long after the slave trade had been abolished and when the white population of the city had managed to forget its horrors.
The Black people of Bristol did not forget. For decades now they have been campaigning to have Colston’s name removed from the city. Many of my friends from Ujima have been involved in that. Members of the white establishment have fought them every inch of the way. Last year the concert hall agreed to change its name, but attempts to even acknowledge Colston’s unsavoury habits on the plaque on his statue were ferociously resisted. We all know what happens when attempts at calm and reasonable protest are blocked.
A couple of things are worth noting. Firstly the actual act of toppling the stautue seems, from the video I have seen, to have been done by young white men. When Tim Maughan wrote about the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft in Infinite Detail he wasn’t joking, and didn’t make it up. Secondly, while Avon & Somerset Police maintained a presence at the demonstration, they did not attempt to intervene or attack the crowd. Those responsible for actually toppling the statue will be investigated, but public safety was maintained and there was no violence. This sounds very different from what police in London and Manchester have been up to.
The government is, of course, livid. I would not fancy being Marvin Rees (the Mayor) or Sue Mountstevens (the Police Commissioner) tomorrow morning.
I understand that the BBC has given air time to both David Olusoga and to my friend Olivette Otele, both of whom are more than capable of explaining just why so many people in Bristol want Colston gone.
And now I have to make a radio show. It will air on Wednesday, but I should deliver it by the end of tomorrow. And I won’t have time to do any interviews. I have been collecting civil rights songs to play.