As the Mayor of the London Borough of Hounslow, I was asked to attend and speak at the Black Lives Matter event taking place today at Market Place, Brentford today but during the current health crisis, I did not feel confident keeping physical distance. Had I have been there in body, what follows is what I would have said,
Welcome to the politically significant town of Brentford, because this is where, until the early 1800s, elections for the county of Middlesex parliamentary seat, covering 734 km2 from Staines up to Potters Bar across to Tottenham and down to Westminster, would take place.
At the 1820 General Election, only around 7,500 property owning males from a total population of around 1 million in the county took part in the vote.
It wasn’t until 1929 that anyone over the age of 21, male, female, poor had won (because we know it was fought for) the right to vote, an entitlement to participate.
Although, by then, the establishment, hierarchies and elites had begun to consolidate their own infrastructure, which in many respects is still maintained; access to it by outsiders remains pretty well regulated.
One of the highlights during my time as Mayor was early last October learning about the achievements of (the late) Jessica and Eric Huntley with the Friends of the Huntley Archive at a Black History Month event at Brentford’s Gunnersbury Museum.
The West Ealing based Huntleys not only pioneered improvements to black children’s learning through supplementary schooling but also founded the Bogle-L’Ouverture publishing house and a bookshop off the Uxbridge Road in W13 which was attacked with regularity by racists.
Their first publication in 1972 was, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Dr Walter Rodney. At that time, this was a rare modern perspective on the legacy of the four hundred years old imperialist sacking of that particular continent.
My own view is that progress can be made and lives can be changed if people want it to. To this effect we need to be equipped with a confidence that comes from knowledge.
I would expect, that a large number of people here today have, since the death of George Floyd or the removal of the late 19th century statue of the mid 17th century slave trader Edward Colston, have been conducting their own research, learning stuff never previously considered.
Many have seen criticism of Black Lives Matter protests, some of it appearing selectively focussed on sensation, small pockets of affray and violence. This is not what I have deduced (nor would I condone) because people of even just my generation have seen lazy reporting, on similar occasions, particularly on many matters of race during the past forty odd years of my own social and political awareness.
Not being there, I cannot tell how many citizens are present but would encourage peace, safety and comradeship here, now and beyond. Demonstrating for something you believe in is no shame but please keep a physical distance.
From Dr Rodney’s book, I leave you with my personal perspective on why I believe, today, that black lives matter too,
“to move slowly while others leap ahead is virtually equivalent to going backward”.
Don’t go backward.
Thank you all for attending and am particularly grateful to Brentford’s Sharidin Mumuni for her effort in encouraging this awareness. Have a good afternoon.