The fight against racism must go on

Local historian Peter Ashan comments on the borough’s Black history and record on racism

Peter Ashan delivering a history tour, Credit: Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society

Growing up in Leyton l noticed that throughout my education little, if anything, was said about Waltham Forest’s very diverse working class, multi-faith, and multi-ethnic community. So I made a vow to myself that, if I had the opportunity to do so, I would challenge this silence.

Since the late 1980s, I’ve been an educator in colleges, adult education, museums and galleries, and community settings in Waltham Forest and beyond. I’ve had to deal with institutional inequality and ignorance while promoting the cause of equality. And l have had to experience pain and racism directed at me by the management of museums and colleges that I have worked at.

Recently, l was shocked to be expected to deliver a curriculum for a major museum that ignored people of colour, effectively discriminating against them. This was during a careers workshop that was meant to encourage young people from working class backgrounds to choose a career in museums and galleries.

I also remember being informed about the terrible experiences of a Black cultural worker within Waltham Forest Council, who felt their only course of action after battling racism in the role was to leave their job.

There is a lot of room for growth and change but there is also a lot that we can celebrate when it comes to the fight against racism in our borough. In September 2012, Waltham Forest came together to celebrate our diverse multi-ethnic and multi-faith community and protest the English Defence League who only offer hate.

And in the face of the brutal killing of George Floyd in the United States, residents joined the world in marching, campaigning, and taking the knee to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

In my capacity as a football coach it has been an inspiration to see the senior England male and female teams taking the knee against racism in football. More of course needs to be done; words alone will not make positive change.

I have seen and noted positive steps from the council that should be commented upon. Waltham Forest now has the connecting communities team who work hard to develop positive relationships between the council and the communities it serves.

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Within the council we also have the mighty Waltham Forest Race Equality Network that is made up of council employees who are committed to ensuring that the council stays on the right track when it comes to racial equality.

The council is also presently consulting the local community about the redevelopment of the Vestry House Museum’s local studies library and archives. I have already informed them that equality needs to be central to any redevelopment, so hopefully we will see a cultural site reflective of our diverse community.

And if you look carefully on the streets of Waltham Forest you will find blue plaques installed by the council as well as large scale artworks like the ones on Walthamstow Market that celebrate our diverse heritage.

During the Open House Festival, l had the honour of delivering a ‘Freedom Walk’ from Leytonstone Station to the Good Shepherd Studios which features an outstanding artwork inspired by the spirit of Carnival that was completed by Wood Street Walls and the local community.

The artwork is inspired by Paul Dash, an inspirational Black artist, academic and long-time Waltham Forest resident. Paul came to England from Barbados in the late 1950 and was active in the Caribbean Artists Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s and Black Artists Movement of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Paul is just one of a whole host of important Black residents who have made a difference to our borough and in my Freedom Walks I aim to highlight them.

We are all up against an economic system based on exploitation, where the 1% control the vast majority of the world’s wealth and resources.

Until this changes, the fight for equality will always be an uphill battle.

Throughout Black History Month, Peter is delivering history walks all through Waltham Forest. You can reserve a spot for his Walthamstow Freedom Walk on 15th October here

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