My oldest and fondest memory of Bristol was my first ever trip to St.Paul’s carnival with my uncle and cousin. It was like someone had turned the brightness and sound up to MAX and said, ‘now this is what you call culture.’
Despite having an incredible day, my cousin and I were still only after one thing – McDonald’s. Forgive us, we must have been about 10 years old. Ever the joker my uncle insisted on ordering something along the lines of ‘McOxtail nuggets and plantain fries’ from the bewildered McDonald’s worker. In short, it was a day that made me realise there was more to Bristol than Cribbs Causeway and a convenient Park & Ride.
Photograph: @Lewis_mhill ‘The Child’s salute and the fall of Edward Colston’ -07/06/20
‘Til this day, if someone asks me where I grew up i’ll say ‘just outside of Bristol’. This a lie that all my small towners can relate to. The fact of the matter is that I actually grew up a fifty minute drive or a forty five minute train journey from Bristol. This becomes immediately apparent during interactions like the one I had LITERALLY this week with an uber driver:
Lovely driver: ‘So where did you live before you came to London?’
Me: ‘I grew up just outside Bristol.’
Lovely driver: ‘Ahhhh, like Brandon Hill.’
Me: ‘……………………………………… who?’
Turns out Brandon Hill is a famous landmark in Bristol, not a player for Bristol Rovers. Call it artistic license, call it a white lie, if you really want to offend me you might even call cultural appropriation, but after last week’s toppling of Edward Colston’s statue I will be dropping the ‘just outside of’. I am jumping on the Bristolian bandwagon because I’ve never felt more proud of a city. Sunday 7th June 2020 will be immortalised as the day Bristolians followed the sentiments of many if its inhabitants and did the right thing.
The omnipresence of slave traders in the UK can only be described at insidious, the ghosts of their perceived greatness haunt so many parts our daily lives. In Bristol alone there is a Colston School, Colston tower (a block of flats), Colston Street and a Colston Hall (a live music venue where I saw Kelly Rowland perform on her Simply Deeper tour in 2003, no biggie. Solange opened for her, again, no biggie). Those four examples in itself are proof of how structural racism materialises itself. Honouring a slave trader in an educational institution, a place where children are supposed to be able to cultivate their minds. A block of flats, the epitome of what should be a safe space. A street! Minding your own business walking down the street and you’re reminded of the Royal Africa Company who transported an estimated 84,000 Africans to the UK. And finally a music hall, a place where you should be enjoying culture, not taking a moment to pay homage to a man who was integral in the enslavement of our ancestors.
image: ‘The Reunion’ – Caliban Isrisen
The racists are seething and I could not be happier – well I could actually. I would be happier if Colston’s statue was left to rot at the bottom of Bristol Habour. That being said I would be concerned that it would become the world’s first underwater racist shrine – I wouldn’t put it past the racists, the lengths they will go to to defend their bigotry is truly astounding. It’s the faux outrage that is really grinding my gears. I’ve had a racist try to defend his opinion by suggesting that the statue of a slave trader helps preserve the memory of the enslaved people. The audacity, what next? Shall we erect a statue of that bat in Wuhan to commemorate the people who have died from Coronavirus? Of course not, that would be preposterous.
Historian David Olusoga offers in his piece for The Guardian ‘[the toppling of the statue] is one of those rare historic moments whose arrival means things can never go back to how they were.’ Words like this fill me with hope, as does the spirit of the Bristolians who have inspired the removal of problematic statues the world over.