We must all “bend the knee” to fight racism

One thing we can do quickly to publicly fight racism is to enact a motion unanimously agreed by Liverpool Council last year relating to those public places where our colonial past is glorified. However, for about the millionth time I can say that this should not include Penny Lane which was NOT named after a slaver!

A couple of days ago I saw a rather stupid debate about whether or not the UK is a racist Country. It appeared to depend on your definition of racist. What is abundantly clear to me is that there are four questions which can clearly only be answered in a way that shows that there is far too much racism in this Country:

  1. Do people from ethnic minorities get stopped in the street more by the Police than white people?
  2. Do people from ethnic minorities that were born here have a higher likelihood of ending up in lower paid jobs?
  3. Are people from ethnic minorities under-represented at a higher levels of education
  4. Are people from ethnic minorities more likely than white to be casually abused in the street because of their colour?

Of course, the answer to all these questions is “Yes” but in different ways for different ethnic groups. The BAME community is made up of a number of different communities. Their experiences have a huge number of similarities but many differences. Differences in where people live; differences in educational opportunities; differences in cultural; activities of those communities.

My ward in Liverpool has about a 10% ethnic minority population. Almost all of these are from families which have been in Liverpool, for a long time. We have communities in our City especially from West Africa who have been here for 8+ generations. They are very little different from anyone else who lives in this community. They are well educated, professional or own their own business. They are the typical product of immigrant communities where people arrive in hard conditions, take difficult, low paid jobs but strive to give their children and grandchildren a better life.

Increasingly though the communities are made up of professionals that we have asked to come here. 10 years ago there were few people here from Kenya. Now the City Region has a thriving Kenyan community most of whom came to take up senior positions in the NHS.

So people from different backgrounds, have different jobs, different levels of education and have many other differences so why do they all suffer the same prejudices?

When I look at those who are racists I see two types of people. The majority of racists are people who have poor jobs, poor educations and live in poor circumstances. They lash out at immigrants and people of colour because they are fearful and jealous. They blame those people for their own failures in life culturally, economically and generally. The second group of people are those who exploit the first group. From Moseley onwards some far-right politicians have sought to use the racist element themselves.

Behind them all you have a group who are absurdly attached to two beliefs. That the World was a better place when there was a British Empire and that Britain won World War II against Europe.

In the first case they ignore the fact that most parts of the Empire had perfectly advanced civilisations before we imposed our thoughts and our way of life upon them. Large parts of the World were more advanced in the arts, literature and science than we were. In other parts of the World civilisations worked in different ways with indigenous populations finding their own ways to live lives that were economically and socially sustainable.

So if you believe, as I do, that much needs to be done and can be done to improve equality then there are a number of steps that can be taken and can be started very quickly:

  1. We need to reform the Police and policing so that it is proactive in preventing problems than aggressive in solving them. Most members of the Police are good people. I work with them regularly but the systems that they enforce are manifestly unfair and unjust.
  2. We need to put more resources into inner city schools. At present resources are geared more towards middle class areas which get the ‘best’ teachers. I don’t believe that is always the case. Middle class areas succeed because parents have more resources themselves to help their kids. We need to put more money and the most inspired teachers into the areas with the most difficulties and provide the lap tops and the experiences for children from deprived areas that children see as their right in wealthier areas.
  3. We need to make people of colour much more visible in all areas of employment. Go into big stores in the City and people from minorities are grossly under-represented behind the Counters. Look at the Boards and management of those Companies and there is the same level of under-representation. This is a problem throughout industry and commerce.
  4. We need to review the way that we teach the history of our Country so that truth about what Britain has done throughout the World over the centuries becomes  a central part of educational experiences and destroys the myths which are so readily perpetuated by the far right.
  5. We need to have more people of colour at the top levels of our political Parties. My own Party has a long way to go to achieve this both locally and nationally.
  6. We should look at all symbols of our colonial past and work out how we can sue them to explain the faults of that past.

These things are long-term and even if started now will take some years to bring to fruition. There is one thing that we can all do from today onwards. White people like me need to be far more challenging when we see prejudice in action. The conversations about “them” where the falsehoods are peddled; the aggression on streets and in other public places toward people of colour; the graffiti on walls which we don’t deal with quickly; the discrimination that we see in the shops and other services that we use; the shares in companies that we or our pensions funds do not use to promote equality policies.

Frankly, it is of little use to say, “Well I’m not a racist” and then do nothing about it. There are so many ways in which we can, “bend the knee” in support of the ethnic minorities of our Country. Only if we all accept a responsibility to tackle racism will racism be defeated. The progress that has been made to date is totally inadequate. Now is the time to act.

Below is a motion to the January 2020 Council meeting on the issues which have come to the fore in the World in the past few days and which was moved by the Mayor of Liverpool with my support.

Council motion for Black History Month

Council notes that Liverpool is rightly proud of its rich history, its maritime past and its connections with all parts of the world, which can be seen in the numerous monuments and fixings that adorn the public realm. Statues of monarchs, prime ministers, war heroes, merchant philanthropists, botanists, explorers and a whole host of other notables can be seen from our city centre streets to our suburban green spaces and public parks.

Council recognises, however, that a significant part of the City’s history has been shaped by the slave trade. Many notable figures in the City have their origins in wealth accrued through slavery, while others played an honourable role in the abolition of slavery movement.

Council notes that the physical infrastructure of the City; paintings, monuments, street names and buildings are all an important part of the historical record which should not be concealed, ignored or secreted away.

Council recognises that its own democratic history includes many individuals who were associated with slavery, both as abolitionists and slave traders. Within the Town Hall there are many paintings that depict men who became fabulously wealthy from the slave trade, yet, there is no mention of their role in their description plaques.

Council also notes the number of street and place names in city which are named after prominent individuals, some of whom had a role in the slave trade. Council abhors slavery, modern and historic, and notes the City’s apology for its role in the enslavement of millions of Africans and the destruction of the communities they were taken from.

Council also notes how confronting the city’s past role in slavery signals to existing communities that Liverpool is a tolerant, welcoming city with respect for all.

Council therefore agrees that the City should accurately reflect how some of the wealth and prestige accumulated for the benefit of Liverpool was gained through the business of slavery. It is important to ensure that City visitors and residents are given an honest account of the historical role which our City and such figures played in history. Council therefore calls:

 · On the Chief Executive to commission additional information plaques to accompany the relevant portraits in the Town Hall with information about the true history of some of Liverpool’s merchants and notables.

 · On the Highways Department to commission information plaques to accompany street and place names explaining the origin of their names and their relevance to Liverpool’s historical slave trade.

· On the Highways Department to identify new streets which can be named after Liverpool-based abolitionists and BAME figures of note in order to celebrate our city’s rich history of fighting for justice for diversity.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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