This is important.

Once upon a time I was a school teacher. I’m not a teacher anymore, but I still believe that teachers are some of the most powerful people in the world. But education isn’t just about teachers, although they can and do change people’s lives. It may be a cliche but education is life long. A listening ear and an open mind are what’s required for real education.

In the last couple of weeks the world has been shaken up a bit more than usual by events particularly in the USA and the UK. Events that have forced people, including me, to stop and listen. To stop and think. Events that have made people talk. However talking is of limited value if that’s all that happens. The world needs action, and I have been encouraged to see some action happening in the last couple of weeks. There is more to do, and more to talk about. And sometimes stop talking and listen. Listening is key to learning.

I was reading this article in the Guardian recently. Half way down I got a little shock as I read the name of Henry Dundas. It’s a name that is familiar to me, as I have a china statue, made in 1805, of this man in my house. I inherited it from my grandmother, and it belonged I think originally to my great grandparents. There is a scrap of paper with a handwritten note in my great grandmother’s writing to say who this person is. But not what he was. I have never even really thought about it. To me this was a quite attractive small china figure that had been in my memory for ever.

Now I know who he really was. It’s shocking. I don’t know why my great grandparents had this figure, I cannot imagine it was because they admired him. So, what should I do with it? For now we have turned his face to the wall. Perhaps a museum would like it? Perhaps he should go to the bottom of the garden pond and rest among the tadpoles, newts and fish…

There is another interesting article on the BBC website here about how slavery was the foundation of wealth in Scotland, where Dundas was from. Slavery was basically the foundation of wealth in many cities the world over. It was sanitised and covered over by people like Dundas through charitable acts, schools and hospitals, art galleries – think of the Tate… Often though there were strings attached – shutting out certain sections of the population, access only for those privileged few.

Through education we can uncover this history, learn the full facts. Through listening to the voices of those who have in the past – and even more shockingly in the present – been silenced and shut away, we will realise the true extent of the oppression that denies justice to all.

Only then can change happen.

4 thoughts on “This is important.

  1. Dear Emily,
    Thank you very much for your post. I do see the difficulty about your Dundas figure (which grandmother was it, may I ask? Having made the mistake of thinking your lovely plate was from our shared grandmother a few weeks ago I wondered.) I agree that they may not have known exactly what he’d done in opposing the abolition of slavery, & it’s also possible that they were given the figurine by a family friend/relation, & kept it for their sake, sentimental reasons that had nothing to do with the subject matter. I think your suggestion about giving him to a museum is very sound – the V & A might be very glad to have him, & with suitable labelling he could have a future in education… Colston’s wretched statue (which could/should have come down ages ago – there’s been unhappiness & protests about it still being there for years & years) is going into Bristol’s museum & that seems like an aceptable move to the protestors.
    Antiques can be a problem, can’t they? We’ve got a little ivory carving of a monkey holding a peach – it came from Keveral, Aunt Elsie’s house (our maternal grandfather’s younger sister – do you remember her at all?) but of course now it’s unsaleable – (even if we wanted to, which we don’t), as it’s made of ivory. Part of all this is that people’s opinions & ways of thinking about things change, & can change radically, over time & I think all we can do is to take responsibility for what we do & how we act, & not worry too much about how our forefathers behaved because we don’t have the chance to ask them & so understand why they did/thought as they did. We don’t approve of Dundas – but we can’t know why our great-grandparents had the figurine. It’s done well to survive nearly 200 years, & may have been one of a series of figures, you know how lots were made of people like Nelson, Napoleon etc etc? I’m sure the V & A could tell you a lot more if you sent them a picture of it & asked for information about it.
    I’ve loved your recent posts on cake, doughnuts etc – I made doughnuts once, theyw ere a bit greasy & not as good as yours sound!
    Love & best wishes to you all (& Bravo on all your runs too.)
    Catherine xxxx
    Happy Birthday to Tom later in the week too, & to Simon rcently.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was born in Dundas Street, Edinburgh and spent the first two years of my life there. I’ve often walked past his statue in St Andrew Square and never knew about his shameful past until now. The history curriculum at school and university certainly needs revising to ensure that we are fully aware of all aspects of our past and not just the bits that reflect favourably.

    Liked by 1 person

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