James Heappey Weekly Column

The death of George Floyd in the United States has brought racism into sharp focus on both sides of the Atlantic. Around the country, tens of thousands of people have protested as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I wish they weren’t protesting, given the risk of re-accelerating the spread of Covid-19, but I understand the depth of feeling and the desire for urgent change. It’s also clear that only a fraction of those who are protesting do so with any malice. 

Unfortunately there is no escaping that the behaviour of the thugs who have attacked police and defaced monuments has detracted from the legitimate message the vast majority of protestors were wanting to send.

The tearing down of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol has been a huge headline in the national and local news and divides opinion on whether it was an acceptable thing to do.

The statue represents a period of our history that is a stain on Bristol’s past. Black Bristolians are rightly affronted by these daily reminders of their city’s role in the abhorrent trade in slaves. It is reasonable to ask that they are removed.

The Colston Hall has changed its name for this reason. So too has a local school. The council have been debating what to do over this statue for years and we should all be questioning how it’s taken so long to sort out.

However, none of that excuses statues and monuments being torn down or defaced. We live in a democracy and the way to affect change is through national and local government not the rule of the mob.

One of the most striking things about the Black Lives Matter movement is the challenge for us all to be more positively anti-racist. That means that we shouldn’t simply say that we deplore racism but that we should actively speak out against it and challenge it whenever we see or hear it.

However angry you may be about the violence and vandalism perpetrated by a small number of protesters, those who were peacefully protesting are angry too. Challenging ourselves to be more positively anti-racist doesn’t seem too much of an ask. Especially if it can heal the divide that has shown itself so painfully over the last week or two.