As I watch the recent Black Lives Matter events unfold around the world my heart is full with the knowledge that, this time, we may fully address the absurd atrocity of discrimination on the basis of skin tone. There is no racism because there is only one race of humans now on this planet – the human race. The word however holds great power and it is disingenuous to try and wriggle away from the facts that underlie its use.
As a native Bristolian, born and bred and living there largely all my life until the turn of the century, I lived my childhood in an environment of unconscious racism. The city has so many, so so many, references to the slave trade. Buildings, gorgeous, resplendent and functionally important, were built in the profit of human trade, and if not human trade then tobacco. The whole of the city is steeped in it.
I grew up in a Bristol that had parts of the city defined by the skin colour of those who lived there. Under the city are caves where the slaves were kept between ship and sale. Even in my lifetime (albeit only just) the Bristol Bus Strikes showed how racial discrimination persisted – but also how strongly it was fought against once people began to understand what they were taught to understand was simply wrong.
I learned better, or perhaps it’s better to say I unlearned. You could rework much of the above and apply it to homophobia too, because a lot of that story runs in a similar vein. But again, I changed focus. Occasionally, some hint of those times resurfaces – might be a Monty Python reference, or an old BBC comedy tv show, and it’s still funny. And then it’s not. I can see why younger folk don’t see the joke for the racism or the homophobia, and glance uncertainly at those who are laughing.
This isn’t the first time the fight against discrimination has surged to the top of the news agenda. I hope this time it draws a line under which it is impossible to return.
[this post wasn’t intended to be. It began as the opening paragraph of a post yet unwritten, and took on a life of its own. Maybe it’s a post whose time had come. So I’ve posted it.]