Scotland’s first black professor accuses academics of racism in slavery row | Edinburgh

Scotland’s first black professor has accused fellow academics of discrimination after an explosive row over Edinburgh’s links to slavery prompted him to resign as chair of two groups re-examining the city’s history.

The row began when Sir Geoff Palmer – who leads two separate studies into the city and the university’s involvement in the slave trade – slammed Jonathan Hearn and Sir Tom Devine, current and emeritus professors at the University of Edinburgh, as members of a “racist university gang”. after Hearn published an article in the Spectator suggesting the city council’s review was likely to be “historically cursory” and Devine stepped in to defend it.

Palmer slammed Hearn and Divine in a series of tweets, which included their take on Sir Henry Dundas, a controversial figure whose landmark in Scotland’s capital was vandalized in June 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest.

Palmer and others believe that Dundas, Scotland’s leading Whig politician in the late 18th century, was unfairly credited with the fight against slavery in Scotland when he delayed abolition for a generation by delaying the tactics in parliament, and a revised plaque explaining this background was erected at the monument last year.

But in his recent article, Hearn argued that historians are still debating whether Dundas delayed abolition and that there was “considerable evidence to suggest that Dundas’ gradual approach to abolition – however unsatisfactory it may seem to us these days – was the only approach that would be politically successful at the time”.

After Palmer’s tweets, Devine called for his dismissal from the review groups, accusing him of “appalling racial slurs against those whose only wrong was to have a point of view different from his.”

Palmer told the Guardian: “I’ve been making the same arguments for a long time, but I think this moment has to do with this project, the fact that this work is gaining prominence, but some historians are upset that they’re not involved.

“This is a public debate and if some people ask for my dismissal without providing evidence, that is discrimination. If they can prove that I am incompetent and biased, I will step down.

Devine is understandably taking legal advice, but another prominent academic in the city, Britain’s first professor of black men’s studies, Tommy J Curry, said the row illustrated a naïveté in Scottish culture around the talks on race.

Hearn said that while he stood by his Spectator article, he had “no ill will” toward Palmer and would be “happy to engage in face-to-face civil public discussions about our disagreements. .. My main concern about this is that public history inquiries should be conducted in an open manner, respecting the diversity of viewpoints.

As the public consultation on the city’s review draws to a close this week, council leader Adam McVey has revealed it has generated thousands of ‘obviously racist’ responses from supporters of organizations from the right seeking to interfere with the process, saying: “The personal targeting of Geoff that I have seen is appalling. I’ve seen groups that have nothing to do with Edinburgh hurl name-calling and fearmongering about a process they clearly know nothing about.

He added that the review panel, led by Palmer, would now assimilate the thousands of responses to the consultation into a “thoughtful and mature response”, with the aim “to tell our city’s story more honestly”.

Curry, also a professor at the University of Edinburgh, said the response to Palmer revealed “a naivety of Scottish culture which wants to have the debate but is not used to having arguments about race where blacks themselves- themselves have the power to name racism in society”.

“It’s not a difference of opinion,” he said, “it’s about whether history should change based on the facts. We recognized that Dundas did not abolish the slavery and participated in trade.

Reassessments like this had been going on for decades, Curry said, “but there is also a well-established pattern of British academics who have no knowledge of the work of black or brown academics in a global context, so it all reads as a political threat. , with their only lens of understanding being the awakened culture of BLM”.

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