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Unpicking Contemporary Racism: What isn’t contemporary about racism?

On the 23rd October, to celebrate Black History Month with Global Majority Campaign, was a talk called ‘Unpicking Contemporary Racism’. The speakers were: Natalie and Natasha from Black Lives Matter UK, Cleo Lake from Countering Colston & Justice for Judah and Aderonke Apata from African Rainbow Family. Aderonke Apata may sound familiar. This is because she’s a Nigerian gay rights activist who won her battle with the home office for her right to remain in the UK recently after 13 years.


The first half of the event saw the panellists speaking about who they are and what they wanted to represent at the talk. The second half was dedicated to giving the audience an opportunity to ask any questions. The talk was very informative, with the speakers covering subjects from talking about general black history to personal experiences of xenophobia, racism and homophobia.

Chloe was the first to speak, sharing how she attended UWE 20 years ago after Colston Girl’s School, of which the founder was a slave owner. The students were never taught this, but were made to celebrate and honour him for enslaving people’s ancestors. When she tried to challenge this, she got shut down. Not surprisingly, she is grateful that schools now listen to their students.

More recently, in 2016, she stood in the local elections for the green party and won, meaning she is now an elected representative. Plus, the new major being of African descent makes them the most diverse panel in Bristol. Next was Aderonke, who told the story of her unintentional time here. Fleeing her home country Nigeria from persecution for her sexuality, she got stopped at the airport in the UK whilst on route to Canada 13 years ago. Asylum was not granted to her until August 2017. The majority of this time was spent in Yarls Wood, which houses many women of approximately 60 different nationalities, many of whom are seeking asylum.

Afterwards, Natalie from Black Lives Matter UK spoke. Her work focuses on austerity and the impact it has on a local and global scale, particularly on state sanctioned violence and custody. As a secondary school teacher, she saw students from the community get frustrated at the injustices they faced, such as unnecessary force from police. Not to mention a large majority of black people being sectioned, rather than sent to a hospital and receiving the support and care they should get. These students struggled to express their anger. Natalie realised that her job as an educator was weakened, despite 15 years of changes to the education system. In other words, she was not educating youth to be critical, aware or politically educated.

Finally, there was Natasha, also from Black Lives Matter. She moved to the UK from Zambia when she was 6 years old. Her work looks at climate change as a form of racism, which has caused a lot of controversy for her. Admittedly, I was confused by this term ‘environmental racism’, since I had never heard of it before.

Natasha explained this concept to the audience. The effect of colonialism meant that black people were dehumanised. Most polluting buildings (such as factories) are predominantly placed in areas with people of colour. Due to this dehumanisation, their lives don’t seem to matter, as the effect of this pollution has not been considered.

Just over a year ago, Black Lives Matter managed to shut down London City airport in Dunham. There seemed to be a lack of care from airport users and management regarding the local community. White people were used in this campaign to make a statement against the unfair treatment of black people from the police. There was heavy news coverage of this protest. It also provided an opportunity to present two cultures working together in unison.

This talk highlighted to me that events like these are incredibly important to attend. Not only for the free food, but to educate yourself on these subjects, show solidarity and support future events. It could be argued that racism will always be contemporary, as our system was built to dehumanise people of colour. This could be why so little is taught on the subject – the government needs to acknowledge that this is an issue which needs addressing. This would result in a huge systemic change. One question which must be asked is: are the government so comfortable that they don’t
want to make this move? Only time will tell.
Maria Morgan.

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