Black communities on both sides of the Atlantic have the same fight for justice

Brian Pereira explores the historic links between Black people in the US and UK for Black History Month 2020

There is a school of thought that considers that what occurs to Black Americans has nothing to do with the Black community in Essex. But the communities have a long common history.

During William Wilberforce’s initiative against slavery, female abolitionists formed the Chelmsford Female Negro’s Friends Society that robustly campaigned for abolition within Essex in the 1820s. Anne Knight led door-to-door canvassing against slavery in the town from the 1830s onwards.

This was followed soon after by a tour of the county and the country by Samuel Ringgold Ward, whose parents escaped slavery when he was a toddler, fleeing from Maryland to New York. Ward gave lectures on the abolition of slavery.

What the events occurring on both sides of the Atlantic today emphasise is that the culture of treating the Black community as a race to be subjugated at will is not far removed from the days of slavery.

There is now a clear understanding of the fear Black people experience because some of those meant to uphold the law use it unethically against Black communities with apparent impunity, giving the impression that they have support to do so at the highest levels.

Brian Pereira

It’s made worse by the lack of employees from diverse communities in the upper echelon of police forces who if present could start to address the problems and help ensure effective and balanced scrutiny.

It is time to bring in legislation in order to conduct this scrutiny adequately. Banal theories of ‘unconscious bias’ are an excuse for these defenceless actions that have no merit in reality — no one can be biased if unconscious.

More diversity at all levels of the workforce, reinforced by legislation, can eradicate discrimination — UNISON is pushing for this with gender equality as well as racial equality.

We are fortunate that there are public authorities, including police forces, in our region that have not only said they want to change things, but begun to make provision to address issues. They now only require more of a focus.

Equality in the community can only advance by resourcing education that addresses issues of race from the very beginning and then at every level.

It must also happen within every public service in order to aim for a cohesive and more resilient society — not the divide-and-rule strategy that has brought about the Windrush scandal.

It is the persistent colonialist attitude by some of those in power that lost Britain its empire in the first place. Citizens from the colonies, who — out of loyalty — took up the offer to immigrate to help rebuild the country after World War II, found that they had to stand up to this undermining colonial attitude to attain equality as a human right.

In earlier centuries workers formed unions and built the Labour Party for much the same reasons. Thus the solidarity between trade unions and Black members was born.

History has led us. The time for change is now.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, not necessarily of UNISON Eastern. Main pic: protests outside the White House over the death of George Floyd, Geoff Livingstone/Creative Commons