Albie Swingler looks into Bristol’s race relations, from the 1960s to the present day.
Since the arrival of the Windrush generation, Bristol has prided itself on its reputation as a multicultural city. Boasting a world-recognised music scene steeped in reggae and dub influences, as well as holding the Notting Hill-rivalling St Pauls Carnival, it is impossible for the contributions of immigration to go unnoticed. But can we as clearly see the racial divisions that exist within the city today?
2017 has only just begun and already there has been two race-related issues in Bristol that have reached national BBC news. The first concerns Judah Adunb: a 62-year-old black man from Easton who was tasered last month by Avon and Somerset police when officers mistook him for a wanted man.
What makes this case most poignant is that Judah was a race-relations adviser. He was a founding member of a group set up to tackle problems between the police and the black community in Bristol – including police brutality. Closer to home, we saw three University of Bristol students coming forward to share their experiences of racist verbal attacks from the mouths of fellow Bristol university students. On a local level, these issues raise major questions about the current climate of race relations in Bristol.
Bristol is often seen as London’s smaller, West-country counterpart. As Bristol University has probably one of the highest population densities of Londoners in regards to other universities – many have reflected and acknowledges these similarities- perhaps even initiating their interest in Bristol as a potential home from home university experience.
Epigram spoke to Siobhan Prendiville, a third year economics student who certainly felt the strength of this connection. She told Epigram that, “my secondary school Camden School for Girls definitely tied those links. My school was racially and culturally diverse- but this diversity suddenly came to a halt at sixth form.
Whether this was down to the fact grade requirements were introduced for prospective A-level students and pupils from private schools nearby were shipped in, or because minority groups did not feel comfortable at the school anymore is a discussion in itself. But is this lack of diversity within education, which seems to be a nation-wide problem, more acute in Bristol?
According to the Bristol Post, Bristol schools are ‘more racially segregated than the rest of England’. Recent findings from the Government commissioned Casey Review show that the Government has ‘failed in their approach to social cohesion’ and found Bristol at a lower national average than the rest of England in terms of integration levels.
This is no surprise when comparing an area like Bedminster, which is majority-white working class, to St Pauls and Easton, home to a large Afro-Caribbean population. Another important aspect of the study addressed the reality of ‘social selection’ among Bristol schools, where demographics are essentially decided by those who can afford to live in these acclaimed ‘well-to-do’ areas.
Where are these ‘well-to-do’ areas then? It seems like these locations are beginning to change. The gentrification of Stokes Croft has long been underway, a project met with such hostility that it can still be seen today in the graffiti which towers over the cultural hub, encouraging people to ‘Think Local, Boycott Tesco’. But its neighbouring district St Pauls, historically celebrated as home to black and minority communities, seems to be under a similar attack of perhaps undesired gentrification.
According to the Guardian, the property website Zoopla now includes St Pauls in its ‘Top 10 Hipster Hotspots Across the UK’ – an index which marks the areas where house prices have risen twofold. The report states that property in St. Pauls has gone up by 38.5 per cent over the last five years which the Bristol Post has recently attributed to the ‘hipster invasion’.
The family moved to Bristol under the confidence and expectation that boasting a large black population, her children would feel less culturally and racially alienated.
Interested to understand what Bristol was like before the term hipster was even coined, Epigram spoke with local Bristol resident Kate Finlayson about her experiences as a white woman living in Bristol with her adopted two children of colour during the 1970s and 80s. Before a time when inter-racial adoptions were frowned upon by agencies, Kate adopted two children of Afro-Caribbean origin during the late 1960s. After relocating from Devon, the family moved to Bristol under the confidence and expectation that boasting a large black population, her children would feel less culturally and racially alienated.
By the late 1970s, both her children had started secondary school at a South Bristol comprehensive, a school which had a significant white working class pull from neighbouring Bedminster. By no means were the 70s a period of racial harmony in the UK, let alone Bristol.
The aftermath of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech had ushered in an era which saw the rise of the National Front and staunch anti-immigration rhetoric across Britain. Kate’s children experienced this racism first-hand, not only from students who would taunt them with racial slurs but from a teacher too who would single her out for having dyed afro-hair.
Perhaps Kate’s children would have had a different experience growing up if they had lived and gone to school in a more diverse area of Bristol. Interestingly enough, one of her children did move to St Pauls after she had left sixth-form. This was an area that, especially after the riots of 1980, had established itself as the heart of multiculturalism and diversity in Bristol.
Ultimately and more importantly resultantly, both children left Bristol and moved to London where they still live today. Their reasoning? Simply put, they feel much more comfortable in London where the population is much more mixed in terms of race but also class. When Kate’s eldest moved to Clapton in East London, she felt her colour was something completely overlooked. According to Kate, she felt that if she had stayed in the city she grew up in, she would have been labelled as ‘another black person in Bristol’, as opposed to ‘just another person in London’.
These experiences are still relevant today as they paint a picture of Bristol as a disjointed city. It highlights the fact that despite having an established black community, this exists in distinct separation from the well-to-do areas of Clifton and Redland.
In housing, gentrification has led to ethnic minorities unable to find affordable private sector rents or available social housing.
And this disjunction is most apparent at the University of Bristol. As a white student at a predominantly white university, I cannot speak on behalf of the black community. Neither can I possibly attempt to understand the levels of discrimination people of colour face on a day to day basis. But it is clear that issues of race, segregation and ghettoization are as prevalent in Bristol today as they ever were.
With every other building named after the prolific seventeenth century slave-trader, Edward Colston, it is no wonder the city has battled with racial tensions from the get-go. The concern is that this division is multi-faceted. In education, schools are still segregated. In housing, gentrification has led to ethnic minorities unable to find affordable private sector rents or available social housing. Both factors continue to perpetuate divisions in Bristol which are harmful to the culture, social mobility and unity of the city.
What are your thoughts and experiences about Bristol’s race relations? Let us know in the comments or via social media links below.