Last week I was in London to speak at an event where I was able to share my perspective with other panellists from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) on ‘Race and Class: Tackling the Inequalities that Hold People Back’. I had a great time discussing these complex issues and sharing perspectives with the other panellists. In my keynote speech, I shared some stories about my own experiences of growing up as a working class, mixed race person in Bristol in the 1970s and 80s, and what this means for me now.
Definitions of race and class have the issue of power at their heart and Britain is still a society with deeply entrenched race and class divisions. The British sociologist Richard Hoggart powerfully wrote that “class distinctions do not die, they merely learn new ways of expressing themselves. Each decade we shiftily declare that we have buried class; each decade the coffin stays empty”. The same can be said for race. Progress towards becoming a society in which race and class no longer restrict people’s opportunities is far slower than it should be. Although we can point towards BAME individuals who have succeeded in their fields, this does little to change the structures of society which excludes people.
This applies in Bristol as much as it does anywhere else. Although Bristol is a diverse city with much to be proud of, it is clear that huge inequalities still exist based on the circumstances of birth. The Runnymede Multiple Inequality index says the city is the seventh worst place in the country to be born black. It is the worst city in the country to be born poor. It is also a city in which BAME citizens are twice as likely as white citizens to live in poverty.
Some national reviews, such as Ruby McGregor Smith’s Review on race in the workplace, and the recent Lammy Review into the treatment of BAME people in the criminal justice system, do a great job of talking about some of the causes of these issues, and provide some of the solutions as to how we can approach them. However, tackling these problems effectively at the local level requires a rebalancing of sovereignty from national government to local government, to address the particular types of racial and class based discrimination in a way that is right for that place.
I want everyone in Bristol to have the best possible chances in life, regardless of their race and class, and this continues to be my motivation in trying to secure a better future for the city.