Being Black in Bristol in 2017

Being Black in Bristol in 2017

Through conversations with BME Bristolians of different generations, #ThereISBlackInTheUnionJack charts the changing nature of BME identity in the city. The documentary features interviews with members of the community, local activists and political leaders. Providing a frank and powerful insight into what it means to be Black and Bristish in Bristol today.

Blog 5: Jules

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Day 1

Is there black in the Union Jack?

What is it like to be black and British in this day and age? We did discuss this as a group, and roughly came to the conclusion that black people are celebrated if they do well in sports and the music industry, but are generally left hidden, forgotten or demonised in general.

Reading historical accounts of how Africans were perceived and portrayed by certain educated white men in British society in the 18th and 19th Century. Their accounts are not favourable to black people, who are described as being very close to the ’savage’ and possessing very little intellectual capabililties.

We had outside of the classroom discussions on how we identified racially with our racial background. There were varying ideas and beliefs held within the group, ideas about how it is misleading to be identified with calling oneself ‘black’ as there is no ‘Black Land’, so calling non - white people black is and dis - empowering them by creating a sense of not physically belonging anywhere in the world. Another conversation was whether it is important or not, to have white friends or just have black friends?

We talked about different groups of people coming to live in the UK over the years,  and how they had mostly been treated and thought of in a negative way from the local Bristolians. 

Day 2

Bristol Records Office –

Looking at paper work from 1968 from the Voluntary Race Relations Council in Bristol, and reading that there did seem to be problems with the Black Afro - caribbean immigrants assimilating in to Bristol.

Looking at photos of white Bristolians celebrating Imperial Day held at Blaise Castle.

Black brass band marching, black history month calendars, Bamboo Night Club pictures.

 

Day 3

Camera and audio Recording Day,

How to use DSLR stills camera, using the video tool.

White balance, iso, shutter speed, aperture,

Audio don’t go above -6.

Camera shots, angle shots,

Watched a shot film about two sisters who are playing together, then becoming separated as they grew up a little.  The older sister starts bleaching her skin, and is not so interested in playing.

No dialogue, laughing and singing rhymes backing track. My favourite shot was of the older sister bleaching her face in the bathroom, while sister looks on the other side of the glass, water drops on the glass, look like her tears as she sadly watching her sister from a far.

 

Blog 4: Geetha

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Who are you?

I’m a small, rotund woman in my mid-40s with too much grey hair. I am British born of Indian descent from both my parents although my father twice migrated from India to East Africa and from there to the UK so he regards Dar es Salaam in Tanzania as his home. Actually, my father's arrival in the UK was not straightforward. Due to a change in immigration rules, he was detained at Heathrow Airport for two days while his entire family waited for him in arrivals. Then, he was forced onto a flight to Bombay where he lived in a hotel for three years while his family appealed to the Home Office and asked the Queen in a letter about how she would feel if Prince Charles could not come home! This puts me in mind of Donald Trump's attempts to keep Muslims out of the U.S. Anyway, while in Bombay, he met my mother over a game of cards. People are often surprised that they did not have an arranged marriage. I moved to Bristol from London six years ago, my miniature reflection of my parents’ migration journeys to the UK. 

I’ve worked mainly in the voluntary sector since my teens supporting people and organisations in various, vulnerable situations, including BAME specific services. From my work and education, I have developed listening and reflecting skills. I have interviewed people before but until this course I had not handled a DSLR camera or recorded film and audio of an interview. Taking down oral history of people marginalised by the mainstream is something that I have wanted to do for about 10 years but I have been too busy making ends meet and supporting elderly and unwell relatives to have the time and money to learn how. When I heard about this course and that it was free to attend, I jumped at the chance.

What did you know about Race, Migration, Racism beforehand?

My formal schooling in Race, Migration and Racism started early. My nursery school teacher taught me loudly, furiously and embarrassingly that the ONLY language that I should EVER speak should be English. This was in the days before we realised that multilingualism was a good skill and anyone who spoke anything other than English was still eyed with suspicion. I wish I had a chance to tell that teacher how much of my background and culture I lost because that traumatic experience led me to not speaking my other two languages while my only grandparent was still alive and in this country. Meanwhile, at home, my immigrant teenage cousin would have her racially mixed friends party to a reggae and ska soundtrack. In London, I went from being one of three BME children in my school in the early 70s to being part of 40% of the population by the time I left in 2010.       

There is definitely a schism between what I learned about Race, Migration and Racism in formal education and what I picked up along the way in the ‘school of life’. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the debates around these issues on the streets were, to put it politely, blunt. Faeces through our letterbox, petrol followed by a lit match, bricks through our windows, being spat on in the street, being targetted with stones on the way to school, finding 'NF' and perverted swastika graffite on our front door, police not responding to calls, judge not convicting people and ending up homeless with a council that refused to help juxtaposed complete silence at school about Race, Migration and Racism save for the odd patronising, “Oh, but you are not like the others.”

By the ‘90s, this schism had widened. Publicly, politically correct language, though welcome for making people hesitate before unthinkingly insulting people like me and my family, also strangled the debate. If you don’t know what people really think of you, how can you engage in debate, alleviate fears and help to change opinions? At home though, I had visited my mother's family in India for the first and only time and I was learning more about the stories of my parents, grandparents and their peers. These stories contradicted the mainstream narratives about poor people in need of charity, weak people in need of protection, ill-educated people in need of instruction, etc. Like others my age, I realised just how brave, strong, educated, hard working and ill-treated my parents and grandparents were. Further, I realised that by holding them back, this country was wasting an incredible pool of talent. I contemplated my own identity in relation to them and in relation to several different versions of Britain and of India. For a brief, wonderful time, I navigated with others of my generation, seemingly to an Asian Dub Foundation soundtrack, the ‘Asian Invasion’. 

In a fairytale twist, and after 15 years of sustained media campaigning against migrants and BAME people, Brexit’s kiss has revealed the ugly underneath the 2000s liberal enchantment. It's made me realise that we were not all on the same trajectory, after all. The far right, as expected has finally crawled out from under the stone it retreated to back in the 80s. However, it's those who call themselves liberals yet perpetrate subtle, racist attitudes who I am aghast at the most. Generally, I’m not surprised by the wheel turning society’s attitudes slowly but determinedly back to the 1970s yet, I hang perilously between the fear of what will happen to people like me, like my parents and the excitement of renewing the possibilities that were suffocated in the 90s through new movements like 'Black Lives Matters'. The difference now is that we have the internet and fast global reach.

What experience, if any have you had before the course of interviewing and recording members of the public?

I have done some market research in public, taken audio interviews on for research as a student but never filmed members of the public. 

What experience, if any do you have of conducting archival research?

Informally, I carried out some archival research about my college years ago but I have not conducted any formal research.

What did you learn on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

Day 1

On Tuesday, I met and learned about the eight other people on the course and some of reasons why they are interested in participating. Sado took us through some background of Black South West Network and rationale for this course. We discussed with Edson how historical attitudes towards race echo today and how in some ways, even if the language is different, very little of the power dynamics have changed. As a historian, Madge was able to ground us in a brief history of immigration to Bristol over the last 1000 years, starting with the first ethnic cleansing of Jews from the UK via Bristol Castle in 1290 through to 21st century diverse immigration. For the first time, I heard about www.journeytojustice.org.uk

Day 2

On Wednesday, we met at the Bristol's Records Office to familiarise ourselves with the various ways in which records are kept. Then, we investigated the racial history of Bristol by asking pertinent questions of key documents provided to us.

Day 3

On Thursday, Michael showed us how a DSLR camera and sound recorder operate. The key thing that I learned was that where possible, leave the camera on automatic! In groups of three, we were able to play with the equipment indoors and outdoors. It certainly increased my confidence in using and handling this equipment. Michael also took us through the various camera shot types and angles.

On Friday, again in small groups, we brought together all the elements of the first three days. Michael took us through good interviewing techniques and questions, then was on hand while we took it in turns to interview each other on camera, film the interview and check the audio recording. Edson then took us through blog writing as Sado explained possible next steps. Finn invited us to participate in an exhibition at the M-Shed this September, Madge pointed out possible sources of historical oral and written history and we all frantically exchanged contact details and discussed how we would use what we have learned on this course. 

Rounding up, how has the course changed your understanding of race, migration?

We squeezed so much into the 12 hours that we had and as I was leaving, I ended up talking with Trevor for about one hour. Trevor and I related as he moved to Bristol from London two years ago in his middle-age, just like me. An outsider, like me, Trevor has also been struck by the difference between London and Bristol in terms of race and migration. In London, our paths never crossed, but like all migrants, we spoke at length in our new home to compare notes. Finally, I said to him, “Talking with you makes me feel less mad.”

We are both surprised by the amount of segregation and subtle racism that we have faced, something that both of us consider we have not experienced in London for at least 20 years.

The course, too, helped me to ground suspicions that I had about race and migration in Bristol, the friendly, laid-back, liberal city that has an unacknowledged issue with race, in my opinion. This sense crystallises for me around the current simplistic debate to rename Colston Hall as if changing the name will erase the history of slavery associated with it and I must ask for whose benefit will this be? 

I can't say that this course has changed my understanding of Race, Migration and Racism however, this course has given me a good grounding in Bristol's history which has increased my confidence with challenging negative attitudes in Bristol when I perceive them. As a relative newcomer to Bristol, I have been shocked by some of the attitudes that I have come across. However, I have felt that it was not my place as a non-Bristolian to challenge these. Being on this course has made me realise that actually, given my background and my experiences and given my understanding of the experiences of my parents and my peers, who is there better than me to challenge these negative attitudes?

Thank you so much to Sado, Edson, Madge, Michael, Finn and Mina for giving up your precious time for free in running this course.

Geetha 

Blog 3: Antonette

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My Name is Eulinda Antonette Clarke Akalanne

I am a retired General Nurse, Midwife, Psychiatric Nurse, Health Visitor and Qualified Social Worker

My job roles involved working with patients who had medical and surgical condition, children and families some of whom had child protection issues or causes for concern.  As a midwife I delivered over 1000 babies.  I was a Senior Charge Nurse in a Medium Secure forensic psychiatric Unit where I assessed patients from Secure hospitals with the consultant, for their suitability to be discharged to a medium Secure unit with a view to eventual discharge into the community.  In my social work rold I worked in Child Protection in Sedgemoor DistrictCouncil.

Before coming to England, at the age of 18 years old,  I was taught nothing in school about slavery, migration and I did not even know that I was black.  At that time I was called ‘red’ to describe my colour.  I got a shock when I arrived in England ‘The Mother Country’ and learnt that I was black. The superior feeling I had against darker members of my ethnic group soon disappeared when and I became one and the same with them.  IT was in England that I learnt about slavery and that I was part African.  Growing up in Barbados, we had distasteful views about Africans. All that changed in England and I ended up married to a Nigerian Barrister. This was much to the disapproval of my mother who cut me and my children out of her will because I married to an African.  I had disgraced the family.

Migration has been going on since the beginning of mankind when Homo sapiens and Homo erectus left Africa to populate the world.  In contemporary   times people migrate for a variety of reasons some of these are: education, economic, famine, conflict, holiday and for a better life to name a few. Despite its long history, some people in Britain and Western nations abhor ‘aliens’ settling in their countries.  During the 1960’s discrimination against immigrants focused on Irish people then the Afro–Caribbean then Asians.  The focus is now on Eastern Europeans however I feel that once the latter group has had children who speak English they will be assimilated as English etc however regardless of how many generations of African Caribbean have been born here the colour will produce difference and it is that differenced that helps in discrimination against the immigrant.

I have had no experience at all in interviewing the public however this course has increased my confidence and I now feel able to do this.  The course has also given me interviewing the skills which I will use in my dissertation.

I have experience in conducting research but none in archival research. The induction which the archivist gave has familiarise me with this method of research.   I plan to use what I have learnt in my family history research.

On day one, I explored how BME people are represented by the union jack.  I conclude that they are invisible.  For instance, in the first and second world wars the black and ethnic minority solders were not given the honours that they earned.  It appears to be only in the sports arena that BME people are honoured for their contributions. Though we contribute to the British society we are denied the praise.

This course is excellent. It has really increased my understanding of race and migration and has stimulated me in further studies in these areas.    

Blog 2: Sharon Woma

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#BlackInTheUnionJack – My Story

I stumbled across the BSWN Black in the Union Jack launch event on Eventbrite my favourite go to place for what to do in Bristol. It occurred to me that I regularly talk about my own experiences of being Black, Black-British, African, Caribbean, African-Caribbean and more recently Black Other, depending on which form I am filling out, but I have not considered how others feel about being part of the experience of being Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic in Britain. I was keen to attend the event just to ‘touch base’ with my people and other peoples and hear their perspectives.

I confess my ignorance of Black history in Britain, I went to primary school in Jamaica even though I was born in England, I returned here in time for secondary school, I could probably recall some loose facts about Jamaican history but virtually nothing about English history, the date 1066 comes to mind, the only thing I recall from 5 years of sitting in a history class room in Nottingham. That probably says a lot about whether this is indeed my history and my heritage.

The workshop touched the surface on lots of topics, taking us on a journey through history via the local archives, accompanied by excellent talks from our hosts, we then visited issues like heritage, belonging, racism and exclusion and participation. The workshop also included filming and research skills again a good foundation to set us off in the right direction. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, I realise there is so much more to learn but now I some meaningful direction.

If you were to ask me is there is Black in the Union Jack, I’d say there is, but definitely in the seams, perhaps just the thread that holds it all together. We are tolerated rather than accepted, welcomed in but no one realised we were going to stay. This is contradicted by the strong connections we have with the indigenous population, they are friends, they are part of the family, they have mostly embraced our culture and we have mostly embraced theirs. But the tension remains as the flag is pulled in several directions and the thread, us, the Blacks, is stretched, distorted, misconstrued and misrepresented. Things do change, sometimes for the better, sometimes the worse – one noticeable change is no one asks me “where are you really from?” anymore, so maybe I do belong.

Blog 1: Alex Mormoris

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Who am I?

My name is Alex Mormoris I am the global majority leader at the University of the West of England within the department of health and applied sciences. I volunteer for Nilaar a local mental health charity which aims to serve the global majority within Bristol. I am on BCFM co-hosting the one love morning show every Thursday morning.

What did I know about race, migration, racism beforehand? Your opinions and what was learnt from formal education?

Before I came on the course I know a lot about race and racism but less about migration. My job requires me to maintain a contemporary understanding of how race and racism asserts itself, particularly within higher education. The curious thing about higher education is that it often bares the fruit of societal inequality. I know the systematic nature of racism that investigating individual episodes of prejudice is important but will not solve the problem. I understand racism within the west has its origins as a system of categorisation propelled into a zeitgeist wrestling with capitalism and religious dogma at a time of slavery. I realise the invasive totality of racism that even those long suffering under its boot heel will parrot its rhetoric, epitomised by the colonial mentality. I understand about critical race theory and the implementation within the fight for race equality. I understand the use of intersectionality and the roles in which class, gender, religion, sexual orientation all interweave into discrimination and peoples experience of racism. I know about the history of the fight for race equality and the relationship with economics. I was aware of the long history of migration to the UK but I didn’t know about the record office. I didn’t learn much about racism from formal education or history outside of Europe, I learnt about the different rates in diagnosis for schizophrenia diagnosis but not about the role of racism.     

What experience if any do you have

I didn’t have much experience of interviewing the public I have conducted some interviews for academic purposes using a basic handheld audio recorder however all of these were students.

I also didn’t have any experience of conducting archival research I have done some research for university work but never with primary sources.

Day 1:

I learnt Edson is amazing and there is a need to talk about race and for people to speak their truth on the matter. In a way I’m lucky to be able to do that so much. It made me think about the generational gap. Michael

Day 2:

I learnt about the archives, their location how to use them and how to interpret old documents in the present light of day.

Day 3:

I learnt so much from Michael and the use of camera’s and audio equipment

Day 4:

I learnt more about bringing it all together and developing an editorial 6th/8th sense. I was also given time to reflect on the week and what I have experienced.

This course has reaffirmed my understanding that there is a need for high quality accessible information around race as a topic as a thing. It made me also realise that I’ve been incredibly lucky to have access to the resources and people that I do and there is a need to communicate the encounters which I do have as accessibly as possible. 

Free Media and Research workshop - race, identity & heritage

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Our ‘Free Media and Research workshop - race, identity & heritage’ was delivered as part of our ThereisBlackintheUnionJack Project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The aim of this workshop was to introduce a group of participants to the different way we look at race, identity, belonging and heritage, as well as how to research them. Another part of the workshop focused on providing the participants with video/audio skills, to get them used to using a camera and microphone, and to help prepare them for using these skills in the future.  

The workshop took place over four days between the 30th May and 2nd June 2017, with a pack programme from our three facilitators: 

Dr. Edson Burton, a writer, historian, programme-curator and performer based in Bristol. His academic specialisms include: Bristol and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Black History in the USA, Cultural continuities between Africa & the New World. He has been a consultant and coordinator for a range of HLF and Arts Council history projects in Bristol. 

Dr. Madge Dresser, a Visting Senior Research Fellow after many years as an Associate Professor in Social and Cultural British History. She co-edited a book for Historic England on Slavery and the British Country House and since then edited and co-authored Women and the City: Bristol 1373-2000 which came out in 2016 and contributed a chapter on slavery and country houses for The Treasure Houses of Britain edited by David Cannadine and Jeremey Musson due out in 2017 as well as entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

and

Michael Jenkins, a young film director from Bristol. Michael is the founder of 8th Sense Media production company, their services range from imaginative and cost-effective productions as well as engaging training workshops for people of all ages. Michael made headlines when he  was commissioned by Avon and Somerset Constabulary to create a short film that looks at the impact stop and search can have on communities. The film is now being used as a training tool for new recruits joining the police force.

Our facilitators worked with a group of six participants throughout the whole workshop, and four participants for one or two days of the workshop. The only requirement for our participants was to be over 18 years old, or older, creating a very varied participant group that provided excellent discussion and different viewpoints on the material. 

On Day 1 of the workshop, Edson and Madge provided an overview of the major themes such as migration, race, belonging through looking at historical and film sources. This session prepared the participants for the following days of research and discussion. As part of the first day, Michael filmed a short clip of each participant to get an understanding of how they viewed their identity and belonging in Britain post-Brexit. These clips will be a part of the documentary Micheal is creating for the wider ThereisBlackintheUnionJack project, and will be screened as part of the Festival of Future City in partnership with Festival of Ideas in October. This day, as well as Day 3 and Day 4, were hosted by Junction 3 Library which was well equipped to cater to the workshop needs. 

Day 2 consisted of a visit to the Bristol Archive, with a session led by Madge. Her session focused on showing the participants how to search the archive for information and what wealth of information could be gained by researching at a local city archive. As she herself observed, it was an experience for both our participants and the archivists; “…just letting people know there is a Bristol Archive was worthwhile and exposing archivists to the fact that there is a tremendous thirst for documents pertaining to ethnicity and race showed the process was a two way street”

Day 3 of the workshop was led by Michael, with a focus on the video/audio skills. The group recapped on what they learnt from the previous session with Madge at the records office. The feedback from the group was that they were keen to learn the technical skills of gathering interviews and using DSLR cameras. Micheal introduced the group to the meaning behind various camera shot types and techniques, and explained to the group the various techniques and got the group to complete a short quiz to test their understanding. All participants were very engaged and each person have the opportunity to use the camera and the audio recording equipment. By the end of the session they all had a good understanding of using the equipment and tips on how to overcome barriers while recording.

On Day 4, the last day of the workshop, the participants were split into two groups. One group was practicing filming each other with Michael. In threes the participants constructed 10 questions and took it in turns to interview each other. They rotated the  equipment they used, so one was filming while the other was recording audio and the last participant would be the one being interviewed. The second group was situated with Madge and Edson, with an opportunity to ask any remaining questions as part of the ongoing workshop discussion. The participants were also ask to write a blog or create a blog to document their experience and learning process from the workshop. The groups switched halfway through the session to give everyone equal opportunity to complete their blog/vlog and practice further with recording each other’s experience. 

Feedback from all the participants was that they enjoyed the process and learning the technical skills, as well as using these skills in the future for their personal projects. The facilitators’ feedback was also very positive, and both Junction 3 Library and the Bristol Archive proved excellent venues for the delivery of our workshop. 

We look forward to hearing from our participants on whether they’ve had a chance to put their new knowledge and skills into practice when we see them again for the screening of the documentary in October! 

 

‘THERE’S BLACK IN THE UNION JACK’ Launch Event Summary

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Project Launch at The M Shed, Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN
Wednesday 19th April 2017, 6 p.m.

 

What does it mean to be black in Britain today? What is the place of blackness within Britishness? These are the driving questions of a new Heritage Lottery Funded project by Black SouthWest Network called #ThereISBlackInTheUnionJack. BSWN launched the project with a panel debate at the M Shed on April 17, 2017. Sado Jirde, director of BSWN, opened the launch with an overview of the project – giving a timeline of BSWN led HLF projects from 2010 to the present that have traced the impact and legacy of BME heritage within the Southwest of England. Dr. Edson Burton chaired the panel that had a mix of academics, organizers, and politicians speaking on issues of identity, race, and belonging in post-Brexit Britain and post-Trump America. Dr Burton invited the audience to reflect on what changes this had wrought on the sense of belonging of members of the Bristol BAME communities and whether progress had been made from the days of the publication of Dr. Pau; Gilroy’s ground-breaking book “There Ain’t No Black In the Union Jack” and Norman Tebbit’s cricket test which he devised in April 1990.

Activist Lee Jasper (London), Dr. Jon Fox (University of Bristol), Councillor Asher Craig (Bristol), Dr. Marie-Annick Gournet (University if West England), and Dr. Nicole Truesdell (Beloit College- USA) all engaged in a lively debate on the following questions: How do members of the BAME communities understand their heritage today? Who really belongs to the UK today and what do we mean by ‘belong’? Has Brexit intensified feelings of insecurity or self-awareness? What parallels if any can we draw with the black experience in the USA post Trump? Overall, panellists spoke on various structural issues that maintain inequality in the UK and beyond. Jasper spoke of the limited numbers of BME individuals in higher management roles and linked that to large cuts in areas of equality and race by the home office. Even though there are more and more BME graduating from university, three times more black graduates than white graduates leave university without employment. Craig pointed out mounting economic inequality that cuts across ethnic and racial groups in the UK, but heavily impact BAME communities to most – especially after cuts to the EHRC. Gournet highlighted issues of identity amongst dual heritage people and how that impacts sense of belonging. Fox highlighted the ways non-British white Europeans are seen in the British context, and the ways xenophobia has entered the national rhetoric pre and post Brexit. And Truesdell focused on the ways anti-blackness is a sort of global currency that allows for the maintenance of inequality, and gives some part of an explanation of the election of Trump in the United States.

Audience members engaged with panellists, and pushed them further to think about who was missing from the discussion and to think about the title of the project. Many in the audience wanted to hear more from young BME people in the community on what their opinions were on issues of race, identity, heritage and belonging in the UK. One member of the audience also added that we needed to think more about the intersections of identity – what it means for instance to be black, young, a woman, queer, disabled all in the same body. Truesdell from the panel also echoed this sentiment. There was some discomfort from members of the audience that the panel was held at the MShed, a location on the waterfront, and not within the BME community. Yet, members of BSWN did provide a history of various events like this one being held within specific BME communities in Bristol, alongside locations like the MShed.

Dr Edson Burton closed the event and thanked the panel for their stimulating and wise contributions as well as the audience for its lively participation. After the event we had a number of individuals ask to take part in the HLF project, with some joining us for our first volunteer workshop held May 30th over the course of 3 days.