Tackling deep-rooted racism will take courage | Letters

John Munro on his slave-owning ancestor, Martin Wright on corporate irresponsibility in India, Peter McKenna on class awareness, Jane Darling on black and white history, Brian Keegan on anti-Irish racism, Dorothy Chang on ‘yellow history’ and Barbara Hibbert on following the models of Holocaust education

Neville Lawrence is so right to say that “black people are still treated as second class in Britain” (Neville Lawrence: black people still second-class citizens in Britain, 9 June). I was 70 before I realised with a shock that all my life I had subconsciously regarded all people of colour as inevitably second class.

I was listening to a speech by an imam, and slowly it dawned on me. I was a liberal-minded white chap, churchgoing. I was in tears, and finally managed to get up and apologise to the imam. I fear that perhaps over half the nation feels as I did. It’s not just the police. It’s ingrained – from 400 years ago. My great-grandfather employed slaves on his Virginia tobacco plantation. As a Jew, when after seven years he released them, fellow owners burned his barns down and he fled to Cuba.

But now at 90 I still worry sometimes over growing immigration, and the vast gap between rich and poor that one day must surely come to the boil.
John Munro
Arundel, West Sussex

• We should not be concerned with racism only in our own country. Big (mainly western) companies are dumping toxic waste in mainly low- or middle-income and non-white countries, causing illness and death. The worst example is the pesticide plant of Union Carbide Corporation, now taken over by Dow Chemical, in Bhopal, India, where the poison gas leak of 1984 is to this day compounded by toxic contamination of the water supply. Women are particularly affected, in their health, by being widowed, and by having to devote their lives to caring for children born with toxin-induced disabilities. When they applied for compensation, a Dow PR man said “$500 is plenty good for an Indian”. There is much talk of corporate responsibility: this should be put into practice by detoxifying the site and restoring what is left of their lives.
Martin Wright

• The world of drama and acting is dominated by rich, privately educated white people (Drama schools accused of hypocrisy over anti-racism statements, 9 June; Gbolahan Obisesan: give BAME talent trust and theatre will thrive, 9 June). Including a proportionate number of rich black people would leave privilege largely intact. Many middle-class white parents throughout the country go to any lengths to ensure that their children attend a “good” middle-class white school (New UK teachers’ union chief: ‘Institutional racism in schools has got to be addressed, 9 June).

These same people are often the most prominent in offering lip service to campaigns against systemic racism: their performative support diffuses and deflects from their particular privilege. Action on systemic racism will have to include class awareness if it is to be effective.
Peter McKenna

• While I support the view that black history should be taught in schools, I am not sure that it should be termed “black” history (Calls grow for black history to be taught to all English school pupils, 8 June). It is white history as well. It is the history of empire and colonialism. It is a history of supremacy and oppression.

It is not just history either. Slavery is alive and doing very well for those who are still trading in human bodies here and across the world. I believe that we should be encouraging children to look at why and how people can become supremacists. We have a number of leaders of nations who are supremacists. History can show us whole galleries of supremacists whose beliefs have led to the slaughter and subjugation of millions of people.

We need to be taught to think about how these acts can not only be conceived of, but how it is that people can allow them to happen. George Floyd’s murder was an illustration of this phenomenon. How did those policemen come to believe that that act was OK?
Jane Darling
Hythe, Kent

• I am sure all Guardian readers welcome the call for black history to be included in the schools history curriculum. But let us not forget those of us who grew up in the 1960s when the rented-sector advertising said no blacks, Irish or dogs. So let us also include the appalling period of history when Ireland was part of the UK between 1801 and 1922, my forebears language was systematically destroyed and over a million of the 8 million population died of starvation.
Brian Keegan

• I am Chinese, which means I come under the “minority ethnic” part of “black, Asian and minority ethnic” (BAME). Our often sorry history under British imperialism and colonial rule is seldom mentioned. It needs also to be included in the curriculum. Not to do so would seem like another example of institutional and systemic racism. If black history is to be mandatory, then yellow history should be too.
Dorothy Chang

• Is it time for an educational programme to be set up to teach the realities of the Atlantic slave trade, following the models of Holocaust education? Could there be educational visits to the forts on the West African coast, in the way that there are to Auschwitz? Are there philanthropists willing to support such innovations? Would the government provide funding?
Barbara Hibbert


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A rewrite of the history syllabus is long overdue | Letters
Letters: Calls for more inclusive teaching in schools have been ignored for years, writes Marika Sherwood, one of the founders of the Black and Asian Studies Association. Stewart Fergusson reminds us of Gove’s response to an expert review. Plus letters from Maria Goulding, Alan Jenkins and Belinda King


14, Jun, 2020 @5:30 PM

Article image
Tackling racial injustice through education | Letters
Letters: A national museum of slavery might not be the answer, writes Sean Creighton, Dr Carol Fox speaks of the struggle to implement a more diverse curriculum, while Prof Stephanie Marshall tells of the changes at Queen Mary University of London and George Lambrick calls for more action to redistribute ill-gotten legacies


16, Jun, 2020 @5:25 PM

Article image
It’s vital to teach black British history in schools | Letter
Letters: Marika Sherwood on why this missing history must be put on the curriculum for students and teachers


13, Jan, 2020 @5:41 PM

Article image
Cambridge University is right to explore links with slave trade | Letters
Letters: Graham Gosling highlights the achievements of former students in ending the slave trade, Eric Banks says the historic plight of the working classes should also be studied, Michael Cross has a plan for profits, while Angela Sherlock takes issue with the ‘pilgrim fathers’ story


03, May, 2019 @3:56 PM

Article image
The debt that Britain still owes for slavery | Letters
Letters: Mary Ruck on the forced labour endured by Kenyans during the 1950s state of emergency, Dr Charmian Goldwyn on today’s inequalities, Fawzi Ibrahim on the downside to reparations and James Heartfield on Lord Palmerston’s acknowledgment of Britain’s debt to Africa. Plus letters from Norman Miller and John Pelling


12, Jul, 2020 @4:21 PM

Article image
We must go further than toppling statues | Letters
Letters: Readers discuss the growing movement to remove monuments of slave traders and white supremacists, and what must be still be done to tackle the scourge of racism


11, Jun, 2020 @4:55 PM

Article image
Removing the statue of Black Lives Matter activist Jen Reid was a mistake | Letters
Letters: Jon Bloomfield on claims that the statue is an appropriation, because the artist is white, Lyn Howard on what the empty plinth now says, while Clive Sykes has a suggestion


17, Jul, 2020 @3:59 PM

Article image
Britain’s despicable history of slavery needs teaching and commemorating | Letters
Letters: Guardian readers respond to Afua Hirsch’s call for a London memorial to the victims of slavery


24, Oct, 2019 @5:05 PM

Article image
We can’t ignore how slavery has shaped Britain | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to Olivette Otele’s article about how the culture war is impeding truthful reflection on the country’s difficult history


24, Aug, 2022 @3:58 PM

Article image
Oxford’s Rhodes statue and the bogus argument against its fall | Letters
Letters: Martin Platt says history not censored by the removal of monuments, while Richard Pantlin of the Oxford Zimbabwe Arts Partnership expresses his disappointment over Oriel College’s decision


24, May, 2021 @5:14 PM