Learning from history is a vital part of how we develop
- Credit: Eileen Wragg
District councillor Eileen Wragg writes in her latest column about the Black Lives Matter movement
There has been an upsurge in anti-racist protests worldwide following the brutal death of George Floyd who was asphyxiated by Police Officers in Minneapolis.
Demonstrations have reached the UK, with graphic images of protesters tearing down the statue of
Edward Colston, the Bristol slave trader, and rolling it into Bristol harbour. There had been peaceful attempts to have the statue removed for about thirty years, which failed, so it is understandable why the anger felt by many was ignited by the public death of George Floyd.
Closer to home, there is currently a campaign to prevent the sale of soft, black, brightly dressed cuddly toys from a shop in the centre of Exmouth. These were much enjoyed by children of previous generations and were comfort toys, so turning racism on its head. This reminded me of a black doll which I had as a child. I loved that doll, and was very upset when she went missing, only to be found broken in a pond in a garden in the next street. I recall that there was much consternation at the time, but only realised many years later that it was an act of racism. The fact that my parents had given me a black doll to love suggests that they had no such prejudices, and I remember that one of my Sunday School prizes was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, by Harriet Beecher-Stowe, whose writings energised the anti-slavery movement in North America.
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A family friend, Sir Geoff Palmer, who is Professor Emeritus at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh, has experienced racism since arriving in the UK in 1955 from Jamaica. Here, he was assessed as educationally subnormal, and some years later when attending an interview with a Minister of Education, was told to “Go home and grow bananas”. His reply was “What, in Haringey?”
In recent months Sir Geoff has been interviewed nationally regarding the protests, and he holds considered views which are thought provoking, and worthy of consideration. He says “I am descended from slaves. My ancestors looked at slavers and fought. The least I can do is to look at the unworthy images of slavers and fight for racial justice”. Also “The history of our slavery must be taught properly. It removes prejudices”.
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Statues were erected to be revered, but they can also be reviled. If the horrific concentration camps from World War Two had been destroyed, there would be little testament to their existence, apart from the dwindling numbers of survivors, and there are already Holocaust deniers. For all the good or bad parts of our history, we have to learn from it, or where will it stop? Samuel Pepys is a significant recorder of history, but should he be removed because he invested in Colston’s companies? Whatever actions are proposed must be carefully considered.