You might not know this, but Bristol is one of the most segregated cities in the UK, with ethnic minorities experiencing above national average disadvantages in education and employment.
But many only finally heard about Bristol’s problems with racial inequality when the city paved the way for a worldwide call to action – when our city set a precedent of ridding ourselves of the symbolic glorification of men who destroyed the lives of many by tearing Edward Colston from his plinth.
In the wake of the atrocity of George Floyd’s murder, the audacity of Amy Cooper, and the tragedy of Belly Mujinga, Bristol had had enough. On 7 June, during a peaceful protest, Colston was ripped down, leaving me overwhelmed with emotions.
Colston going down was more than just Colston going down. The man is claimed to be responsible for the transportation of over 84,000 African men, women, and children to the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas, of whom as many as 19,000 may have died on the journey.
I know of many who have been fighting tirelessly for years to have an individual who was involved in the Atlantic slave trade removed. Every day when I walked to work, every day when I walked to meet friends, every day as I walked just to exist, his statue was a constant reminder of the pain my ancestors went through. For us all, seeing him fall was truly symbolic.
When his statue was temporarily replaced by one of a local Black Bristolian, Jen Reid, I stared at the images being shared across social media of a Black woman being the centerpiece of where a slave owner once stood. It felt like a triumph. For so long, Black womxn have not had the position to take ownership of our narratives. Finally, we had a chance.
Alongside 15 other Black womxn creators like creative producer Euella Jackson and illustrator Parys Gardener, I gathered a photo shoot by Jen’s statue. Our message? Like her, we were here to take up space and seize the moment.
Time was truly of the essence. Not knowing how long Jen’s statue would remain, we posed nervous as the crowd of people began to grow. But we knew it was time – time to get in formation, as Beyoncé sang.
After a while, the nerves ceased to exist and we were met with rounds of applause and beading smiles. Seeing creative Black womxn come together and bounce off each other, brought warmth to my heart. So often we are put on the back burner – by taking charge, we celebrated ourselves.
Bristol has long been a city in which creatives strive and advocate for social change. One agency that I have the pleasure of being a part of, Rising Arts Agency, is led by young creative thinkers who advocate for the sector and cultural change through campaigns, research projects and collaborations within the industry.
In the same way coronavirus has changed everything about our society, it feels like 2020 is the year we finally had the conversation about how racism harms our entire society too.
It’s important to say that for years before the Colston statue was removed, Black Bristolians had been working tirelessly to create and nurture safe spaces across the city. But since Colston fell, we are seeing designers, filmmakers and activists educate and inspire the next generation. Campaigns like Rising’s #WhoseFuture project were created to give young artists and creatives the space to address some of the issues we face, such as racism, access issues, the climate crisis, leadership and young people’s hopes for a secure and empowering future. Featuring 37 creatives on almost 400 posters across the city, we not only gave young creatives a voice – but gave those from an underrepresented background the opportunity to be heard, and a space to feel represented with no apologies necessary. Far from the performative black squares on social media, this was an authentic and continuous conversation with a call to action.
As a Black woman, I believe I’m living in the midst of two plagues: Covid-19 and racism. In the same way coronavirus has changed everything about our society, it feels like 2020 is the year we finally had the conversation about how racism harms our entire society too. People are beginning to wake up to the fact racism isn’t about just the n-word – it’s about injustice ingrained into society, that manifests itself everywhere from healthcare to courts to the creative industry. We see it in lack of representation, opportunities and accessibility, and much more.
It’s hard to say what happens next for the city of Bristol. The city has a lot of work to do to engage and represent the multicultural make-up of its people. The change has to start within. It can’t a one-day subscription that you can unsubscribe to when you get tired of it. It has to be about strategic actions put into places and for a shift in institutional structure.
As a fellow Bristolian and creative, I am in awe and inspired by the courage and tenacity that those underrepresented continue to speak up against. As we enter Black History Month, many continue to keep up the momentum and for others this is a new territory to navigate especially in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more.
I only ask that this work last beyond the next 31 days.
Stacey Olika is a production management assistant and multidisciplinary artist
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.