Detail from Stroud Anti Slavery Arch, photo credit to Radical Stroud
Detail from Stroud Anti Slavery Arch, photo credit to Radical Stroud

On the 9th June Stroud District Council issued a statement signed by all four party leaders. In it we – Labour, Green, Liberal Democrat and Conservative – we said that the council, and I quote:

“condemns all forms of racism across the world following the appalling death of George Floyd. In supporting Black Lives Matter, we recognise the historic and institutional injustice experienced by BAME people across the world, including in our own communities, and reaffirm our commitment to promoting equality and tackling discrimination.”

In the last few weeks our district, like the rest of the world, has seen protests, actions and debate, and public interest is demonstrated tonight by the public questions we have on the agenda.

In recent days, and again tonight, we have heard powerful personal stories of the racism which exists in our own community. We have seen racist graffiti on our streets. We’ve seen racist posts on all social media platforms challenging the legitimacy of black protests and denying that racism happens here.

This is not acceptable.

Let me speak personally and why it means a great deal to me to be in a position of power and have the privilege of speaking to you. I didn’t come to all of this in the last two weeks. As a child I was lucky enough to travel the world with my parents and made friends with children in all the places we visited. Racism was something I learnt about in the books I read but it was only when I came home to 1980s England that I experienced it for myself. As a teenager I was called racist names by kids from the town where I was born. This was just a tiny fraction of what some people experience their whole lives. I grew up, and thought it was history for me until a few years ago when I was a teacher in one of our towns and a former pupil of mine used the same racist words to describe me to my daughter. What progress had there been in forty years?

Therefore, speaking on behalf of the council, I say now that we condemn all racism against BAME people in our district.

We condemn all the ways it appears, on brick walls, on social media, and above all in the way black people, our friends, neighbours and colleagues, are treated. We condemn those who tell BAME members of our community that actually, no, all lives matter, or that actually, no, there is no racism here in our towns.

We have also seen an outpouring of support and solidarity, and many people wanting to know and understand more. We thank those in our community who have gone out to clean the graffiti, safely protest in our streets and call out racism online.

Tonight we are going to hear the council’s plan for how we as a district can start to repair and recover from the greatest health emergency we’ve ever known, even while we are still in this emergency and the end is not in sight. A report just out has identified racism as one of the reasons why BAME UK citizens are more likely to die from coronavirus. How we tackle racism and inequality in our communities must be an integral part of this work of recovery, with all of us working together to make our district a better place to live.

However, there are some specific actions we must take as a council as well as enabling others to fight racism in our district. Councillors from across our political alliance, Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats, have discussed how best to take some practical next steps and not just say fine words. I would especially like to thank Martin Whiteside leader of the Green group and the other Green councillors for some detailed suggestions. Let me summarise some key actions in three parts.

First, we must do all we can as a council to ensure we are an inclusive and anti-racist organisation with zero tolerance for racism and discrimination. We commit to reviewing existing anti-racist and anti-discrimination policies and practices, including training for members and staff and take action to strengthen these as required.

Secondly, we will work with everyone in our community, and especially our local BAME residents to amplify BAME voices in our district and to hear from them where best to focus efforts.

Thirdly, we must consult with the community on any street and building names, statues and architectural features that may be considered offensive and if actions need to be taken. And we must consult on how best to educate ourselves about our history, the local legacy of slavery, and the local historical contribution of BAME people to our district.

How we take these steps forward will need a proper engagement across our community, as well as public and private sectors. For those of you who are asking questions tonight, or watching from home, tonight is not the end of it, but just the start.

As I finished writing these words, which are for you, I realised that they are also for that fourteen year old I once was who didn’t share with anyone the pain she went through when she was told she didn’t belong in the place where she was born. Forty years on, there are children today in our district who are still judged simply because of the colour of their skin. It is time for this to end.

I hope I can join you all in playing a small part to make a difference.

I thank you all for listening.

You can watch the whole discussion on the YouTube LiveStream below (discussion begins at 6 minutes)

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