Equality: black lives matter in Bath as much as anywhere else. What can we do?

Last week’s protest made the point that black lives matter in Bath as much as anywhere else. Now there are three good opportunities in coming days where Bath Quakers and others can  learn and engage more with issues of whiteness, privilege and racism in our own community.

There’s a free online Quaker course Black Lives Matter: learning for Quakers starting 24 June at 1330 – register today, don’t delay.

Bath MP Wera Hobhouse is hosting an online conversation that same evening 1800: see invitation.

And B&NES council leader Dine Romero has an event on Bath’s slave trade legacy next Monday 22 June as the first step in a broader promise to engage in frank conversation about black lives in Bath. Speakers include Dr Shawn Sobers whose 2018 talk on Bath’s transatlantic slavery connections can be seen here. Details to follow.

Comment: We should be in no doubt that we have a significant and unresolved problem of racism even in our relatively peaceful world-heritage city of Bath. It manifests in regular daily microaggressions experienced by the black minority, as well as perhaps a dozen more serious incidents each year according to the local anti-hate-crime charity SARI. There are also discrepancies in local school exclusion numbers, and nationally in pay and job outcomes.

There’s a culture of real ignorance, which can feel like a sin of omission. Black adults who grew up and were educated in Bath were never taught the full story of Beckford’s tower. Nobody is taught that Bath’s most distinguished and internationally most influential resident was African. People are still surprised to learn of local monuments and memorials – such as those in Bath Abbey – that praise the virtues of people who made their fortunes off the backs of enslaved African people.

Ethnic make-up of B&NES vs national figures. Source: 2014 census

Black people are a small minority in Bath and NE Somerset, perhaps 2.5% compared to over 5% nationally (see table above from 2014 census). Being such a small proportion means that the white majority are likely to be ignorant and inexperienced about the lived experiences of black people. And if the overwhelming white majority expects to depend on Bath’s black people to help us become more educated that places a heavy burden on the tiny minority. So it’s our problem to fix, not a burden to place on Bath’s black community.

It’s troubling that black people are under-represented as Councillors and governing bodies of our schools hospitals and health boards. Parity would mean one black face in every 40 alongside the white and one two Asian faces. To remedy historic under-representation and structural bias you would want more than that.

Quaker meetings aren’t exempt of course – see Edwina Peart’s national survey and comment on Embracing Diversity – and this has been a matter of long-standing concern. As Quakers we’re committed to equality, but can we be confident our Meeting is as welcoming as we would want to be?

 

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