UN Anti-Racism Day

20 March’s guest blog comes from Alex Raikes, Director of Bristol charity Stand Against Racism & Inequality.

Alex Raikes (second left) at the Mayoral Breakfast with change makers – May 2017

What an honour to be chosen as the Mayor’s guest blogger to mark UN Anti-Racism Day 2021 and what a year to be tasked with this!

Firstly, the history – “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on 21 March. On that day, in 1960, police opened fire and killed 69 people at a peaceful demonstration in Sharpeville, South Africa, against the apartheid pass laws. Proclaiming the day in 1966, the United Nations General Assembly called on the international community to redouble its efforts to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.” This year’s theme is ‘Youth standing up against racism’ to recognize all that’s brought to the international fight against racism by our younger generations.  https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-racism-day.

The barbaric killing of George Floyd in May 2020 led to a resurgence of anti-racist activism but this must not be a temporary drive.  The case shocked the world.  A Black man killed, in broad daylight, by an officer meant to uphold law and order; hands in pocket; seemingly relaxed while his colleagues looked on. This Black life worthless to them.  Effectively a public lynching in 2020s USA.  But the brutal reality of racism is that Black men are killed on a daily basis by its evil.    

Yes, people of all colours and backgrounds have marched, mobilised and spoken up about the responsibility we must personally and professionally take to see meaningful change.  Employees throughout the UK have spoken out.  Some leaders (but sadly not all) of organisations have renewed their pledges for race equality.  But to be true to these vows, all must persist for the long term and not just when Black Lives Matter reaches centre stage.  Otherwise, steps towards elimination of the institutional racism that caused the Slave Trade, Apartheid, the brutal shooting by police in South Africa 61 years ago, will just be another vicious circle back to the taking of more black lives.

Batook’s blue plaque – 2016

In Bristol, Stand Against Racism & Inequality (SARI) – www.sariweb.org.uk – founded by race equality campaigner Batook Pandya MBE DL in 1991, still works round the clock to tackle racism.  Annually, we respond to over 700 referrals.  In June 2020, we took on the case of a racist murder in Weston Super Mare – the police did a brilliant job of bringing the offenders to justice – the main protagonist is now serving a life sentence.  In July 2020 we saw the racist hit and run of K-Dogg – a 21-year-old Namibian man – as he left work at Southmead Hospital.  He now has lifelong scars – physical and psychological. His family is traumatised. His attackers remain at large.  These are 2 out of hundreds of lives we saw scarred by the scourge of hate crime last year. 

Marvin Rees at the unveiling of Batook’s blue plaque – January 2016

I joined SARI 30 years ago because of my experiences of racism as a mixed-race child growing up in the 70s and 80s.  I was light skinned.  But my brother and father weren’t.  They got the physical brunt of racism; the negative police and authority attention.  I just got verbal when people found out I was related to them.  This story is common to many mixed-race people of my generation and sadly today’s generation too.

Bristol is a City of contradictions.  It has a dark history of wealth inextricably linked to the Slave Trade, but also stands proud of pioneering acts to ‘eliminate racial discrimination’ such as the 1963 Bristol Bus Boycott, run by Roy Hackett MBE and Paul Stephenson OBE alongside Owen Henry, Audley Evans, Prince Brown and Guy Bailey.  One of the first black-led campaigns against racial discrimination in the UK which over-turned the colour bar of the Bristol Omnibus Company and preceded our first race relations legislation in 1965.  Bristol boasts the UK’s first directly elected Black mayor, Marvin Rees, first Black female Lord Lieutenant and Black High Sheriff, Peaches Golding MBE and has a Cabinet with Deputy Mayor Asher Craig and Cllr Afzal Shah making history for Bristol’s Black and Asian communities.  The toppling of the Edward Colston statue in June 2020 pre-empted a global challenge about historic artefacts with links to the Slave Trade.  Universities, cathedrals and authorities are seriously reflecting on who stands on their pedestals to celebrate history for our future generations.

Turbo Island, Bristol – 2021

And yet Bristol is cited by the Runnymede Trust’s ‘Drifting Upwards or Sliding Back report as the 2nd worst authority in England and Wales for Ethnic inequalities for Black men and 7th worst for all Minority Ethnic residents in education, employment, health and housing.

White privilege and racism are a pandemic that, unlike Covid, has no vaccine.  Racism remains inextricably woven into the fabric of our society meaning frameworks meant to protect us, too often present a disservice to ethnic minorities.

So, the answer?  According to the UN Website, “The United Nations General Assembly reiterates that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and have the potential to contribute constructively to the development and well-being of their societies. In its most recent resolution (in December 2019), the General Assembly also emphasized that any doctrine of racial superiority is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous and must be rejected, together with theories that attempt to determine the existence of separate human races”. 

We need to see racism as big a threat to our planet as the Climate Crisis. The fight for race equality and human rights must be compulsory if we want safety for our children and our children’s children.

To end with hope, Kamala Harris has just become the first female, Black, Asian-American Vice President and the beautiful, young Black phenomenal Amanda Gorman delivered her awe-inspiring Poem for Biden’s Inauguration, ‘The Hill We Climb’.  What better way to end my blog – given the UN’s theme of ‘Youth Standing Up Against Racism’ than with her line: “When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, the new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Walkabout with Mayor Marvin Rees, Police Commissioner, and community leaders following terror attacks – 2017