Ongoing Histories of Racial Capitalism

Racial and classed injustice interlock in Bristol's history of inequality

Like many urban centres across the world, Bristol is a city of both great wealth and significant poverty; contiguous neighbourhoods are often starkly different in terms of their infrastructures, socio-economic demographics and education provision. Children across the city have widely uneven social and educational opportunities.

The geographies of inequality in Bristol need to be understood with respect to the city’s ongoing histories of racial capitalism. As a port city and centre of the transatlantic slave trade, the concentration of Bristol’s wealth today is inextricably tied to the enduring histories of dispossession and exploitation of Black people. Post-war migrants from South Asia, East Africa, and the Caribbean, and more recent migrant communities from Somalia have tended to live in the more deprived parts of the city, with poorer access to educational infrastructure and provision.

Racial and social class disadvantage continue to interlock in Bristol’s schools, as indicated by stark disparities in attainment by ethnicity and socio-economic status, with Black students in particular failed by the system.

There has been a long and powerful history of Black-led struggle against structural racism in the city, specifically to address the unacknowledged history of the city’s role in the transatlantic trafficking of enslaved Africans. The city’s enduring histories of racism came to international attention in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter uprisings and the push for a city-wide reckoning for racial justice and intergenerational repair continues, led by the Bristol Legacy Foundation.

The Repair-Ed project seeks to trace the education ‘debts’ of this divided city when asking what reparative justice for children and for education looks like.