Leading the way: Brighton and Hove takes first step towards becoming an anti-racist city

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Photo credit: Mo Kanjilal

Last night Brighton and Hove took a significant step towards becoming the first local authority in the country to declare itself an anti-racist city. Green councillor Amy Heley’s Notice Of Motion to pledge the council to become anti-racist passed unanimously after a passionate speech where Councillor Heley read words from Brighton Black Lives Matter. Is this a fleeting moment of change, or are we going to see a real dismantling of power structures and a rebuilding towards a fair and equitable society for everyone?

Brighton is a city that has a history of standing up and showing leadership in being open and inclusive. Ever since 1948, when Oswald Mosely gathered the far right at The Level and the people of Brighton turned out to protest and halted the event, that spirit has continued the fight against the far right. It’s the city of Pride (the festival held here every August), it’s the city of visitors from every country, it’s the city that welcomed everyone in 2002 to Fatboy Slim’s Big Beach Boutique. It’s the city where anything goes.  That’s the reputation worldwide of Brighton and Hove.  

Is that the reality, though? Anyone who visits from London usually notices that the city is very white. Anyone who works here knows who leads most businesses. The council is dominated by white people, with just one councillor of colour, despite 10 per cent of the population in the last census being from ethnic minorities (the next census is due in 2021). The racism people face in this city is not always overt, it can be covert, and pointing it out can be met with denials or gaslighting.

As the Black Lives Matter movement grew in the UK in recent months, the city council did respond. They started by declaring that they would light up the i360. They forgot that the sponsor of the i360 is British Airways, who are complicit in the government deportation contracts, and Jimmy Mubenga’s death. They forgot that Sussex Police has one of the worst records in the country for stop and search of people of colour. These facts affect not just those living in the city, but visitors here too. 

Do people in the city know what the wealth of Brighton is built on? That Brighton’s transformation from a fishing village to a fashionable town of Regency architecture, and more recently to a city of technological innovation, was originally built around slavery? How do we move forwards if these facts are not acknowledged?  To create a better future for everyone we need to accept that our society is built on white supremacy, and that inequality continues to affect the lives of people of colour. We need to rebuild to make a fair society for everyone and achieve equity for all. 

There are many grassroots movements here working on many different issues. We have seen communication and collaboration with the joint aim of driving real change. People of colour from across the city started a petition to ask the council to declare Brighton and Hove an anti-racist city, in response to the council’s pledge to become an anti-racist council. The petition reached the required 1250 signatures for a council meeting in two days, one of the fastest growing petitions the city has ever seen. 

The petition was backed up by specific requests for action, and supported by people across the city, working in many different sectors. This grassroots movement does not use the traditional style of one leader, to drive this change. The movement is ‘leader-full, not leaderless’. It is about wholesale and structural change for everyone, so that we can strive for Brighton and Hove to be a place where anyone can achieve their potential.

After a long council meeting running from 4.30pm to midnight, the motion passed unanimously to move the petition to a committee to progress next steps, and a Community Advisory Group is being set up to involve people of colour in the community. With local Green MP Caroline Lucas supporting the petition’s requests, with the change in the council administration from Labour to Green and with the new committee chairs, there is a growing movement of change here. The city council passing the motion to be the first city publicly to declare itself to be an anti-racist City is an important and visible first step. 

Brighton and Hove is certainly showing it has the spirit to lead the way. Now let’s see some action.

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