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.
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.
• 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.
• 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?
• 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.
• 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.
• 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?