Blog | Thoughts from the Bristol Black Lives Matter protest

Chay Harwood, a rebel and activist of mixed heritage, reflects on the recent Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, how it highlighted just how much goes unspoken in our society and how it is the duty of those with privilege to use it to fight racism every day.

Photo credit: Alfie Warren-Knight

The atmosphere was tense and tentative as thousands of PPE-clad protesters gathered on college green to condemn the recent killing of Geroge Floyd in Minneapolis, USA. The COVID-19 pandemic has made close contact with others a thing of the distant past but yesterday the citizens of Bristol stood shoulder to shoulder against racism in the US, the UK and beyond. 

The protest commenced with cheers that echoed through the city centre, our face coverings failing to stifle the cacophony of voices thick with rage and discontent. Powerful speakers shared their experiences of racism in the UK and implored Black, Brown and White allies to acknowledge the historic and systemic racial injustices on which the British empire was forged.

All present were roundly reminded that the city of Bristol was constructed on the backs of slaves who had been subjugated and snatched from their home land, rich in natural resources and cultural history, by British Imperial forces. Chants of “The UK is not innocent” could be heard throughout the day and this is something that we, as British citizens must never forget. 

As the speeches came to a close, we marched. The descent from College Green was slow and the mood could only be described as sombre and uneasy. There was a certain eeriness that simmered through the procession but as we reached Bridewell Police Station, eeriness gave way to vocal and passionate resistance of the police. “No justice, no peace. Fuck the police” rippled through the streets.

As we approached the Bearpit and around Cabot Circus, those in cars honked their support for the cause and cheers could be heard from beginning to end of the line of protesters, momentum carried us through central Bristol and Old Market roundabout. 

We eventually settled on Castle Park where more speakers took to the mic. There were many different voices and perspectives on what needs to be done to change the deeply oppressive system that we all live in – most I agreed with, some I did not but all were valid, emotive and impassioned – rooted in the injustices that Black people have endured throughout their everyday lives. 

The common sentiments, supported by the heavy applause and cheers of thousands of protesters were; calls for the decolonisation of our education system and an honest curriculum that tells the truth about Britain’s colonial past. The need for Black people to support each other and fight for Black representation in all areas of western life. An acknowledgement of how our society still benefits from racism and racist practice throughout western institutions and the duty of those with privilege to use it to fight racism in everyday situations – not because it is trending but because it is right.

Black Lives Matter protest Bristol 7 June 2020
Photo credit: Alfie Warren-Knight

As an activist of mixed heritage, with three Black siblings, we have all experienced racism in the UK first-hand. The emotions that yesterday brought bubbling to the surface are unparalleled to anything I’ve felt at a protest. What is clear is that the scars of empire have not healed and are still awash with the blood of Black and Brown people across the world. Furthermore, this protest illustrated just how much goes unspoken in our society and how much division is still prevalent in our workplaces, in our academic institutions and on our very doorsteps.

Those of us in the environmental movement must also realise that racism and colonialism is the foundation upon which the Climate Crisis was allowed to flourish. The Climate and Ecological Emergency thrives on the social, economic and environmental oppression of BAME people across the world and to eradicate climate injustice is to eradicate social injustice.

We have work to do and it falls on us as relatives in a global human family to take on the hard graft and challenge racist behaviours even when we are told that all is well and the atrocities of Empire are alive only in the history books.

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