Preston Black History Group and Institute for Black Atlantic Research Statement of Solidarity on the Killing of George Floyd

Preston Black History Group and the Institute for Black Atlantic Research condemn and deplore the mindless killing of George Floyd by white uniformed police officers from the Minneapolis police department on 25th May 2020. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and those who have been affected by the truly horrific images of racialised violence perpetrated by these officers. Words cannot adequately convey the sorrow that we likewise feel for the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the multitudes of Black men, women and children who have lost their lives at the hands of white law enforcers in America and around the world. These tragedies weigh heavily on the hearts and minds of Black communities, not least because they resonate painfully with the traumatic memory of slavery and its forceful legacy and prevailing structures of white supremacy. We stand in unequivocal, unrelenting and impassioned solidarity with those protesting against long histories of systemic racial injustice, colonialist violence and exploitation.

The coronavirus pandemic has also exposed the significant racial inequalities in global healthcare infrastructures, especially in the UK and the US, and recent reports have revealed that those from BME backgrounds are between three to four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than white Britons. These glaring realities force a necessary admission: that racism is not rooted merely in individual acts of hate and violence, but in systems, structures and institutions at the very core of our society.

PBHG and IBAR’s Commitment to Black History and Culture and Racial Justice

Preston Black History Group was formally constituted in July 2011, following years of operating as an informal group largely designated with the task of organising and facilitating Black History Month events annually. The newly constituted group set out with the aim of ‘Researching, Preserving and Celebrating Black History and Culture, a shared history FOR ALL’. There is a widespread acceptance within Black communities that our place and contribution to mankind has not been given the credit we believe it deserves. With this in mind, the Group set out to highlight, unearth and disseminate Black history, culture and achievements. We believed that the celebration of such stories would encourage the elder generation to recognise and take pride in their contribution to Black history and culture; the younger generation to see role models who looked like them; and the wider community to learn about the contributions made by people of African origin to society.

The task is not an easy one: when we look around at present structures and in most establishments and institutions there is a distinct absence of Black representation. We have worked with a number of groups, institutions, organisations and others on educational programmes to show our history and to challenge their employment processes. This is a long, slow process, but we are not easily disheartened.

We have delivered our educational programme to various bodies including Preston City Council, the Harris Art Gallery and Museum, Preston and West Lancashire Racial Equality Council, Trade Unions, Local Housing Associations, HM Prison Service and many others. We organise outings to various places of cultural and historical interest within Lancashire and beyond. These trips are all a part of our continuous learning programme for the larger community. The Group operates all year round, but the jewel in our calendar has to be the month of October, which opens with an event titled ‘Black To The Future’. This event shines a light on Black achievers largely from the local area, with the aim of sharing the message of Black success with a mixed audience including many who make decisions about employment. We will continue to campaign for equal treatment and equality of opportunity based on skills and qualifications and not on the colour of one’s skin and we re-state our aim of Researching, Preserving and Celebrating Black History and Culture, a shared history FOR ALL.

UCLan’s Institute for Black Atlantic Research was founded in 2014 to further the study of African Atlantic literature, history and culture, and to foster dialogues with local educational and community organisations working across these areas. At the start of this year, IBAR, in conjunction with the Making Histories Visible Archive, opened its doors to Black womxn practitioners from across the country striving to create, collect, nurture, curate and offer sustainable solutions for preserving the legacies of Black womxn’s art. The event generated important conversations, amplifying the voices of Black womxn creatives, nourishing the spirit of collaboration and celebrating an indebtedness to a multimedia archive of Black art and creativity. Despite the challenges that the current pandemic poses, we hope to continue to steer many more such conversations, whether virtual or in-person, in order to further our mission. We understand, however, that we need to go further.

We recognise the systemic and structural imbalances within academia and within the cultural and creative industries. The last report issued by the Higher Education Statistics Agency revealed that fewer than 1% of university professors identify as Black. We can and must work to change this. We pledge our commitment to working with our partners and with our wider membership in order to better serve the interests of Black minority ethnic communities both locally and globally. We promise to mentor and support the work of aspiring Black scholars and creatives and, wherever possible, lend space to their vision and, above all, we promise to centre African Atlantic voices, histories and cultures within our pedagogy and our scholarship. IBAR was founded with this very mission in mind, but although anti-racist and decolonial approaches remain at the core of what we do, the fight is far from over.

When the revolutionary General Toussaint Louverture, who led a slave revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) was captured by French colonial forces in 1802, he declared: ‘In overthrowing me, you have cut down in Saint-Domingue only the trunk of the tree of liberty; it will grow back from the roots, for they are deep and numerous’. Together, Preston Black History Group and the Institute for Black Atlantic Research will nurture the roots of antiracist activism in the campaign for liberty, justice and equality, and will work together to create enduring change.

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