There is a rock about a hundred yards from where I live that has been decorated for about 100 years like this-
I recently came across another website run by someone I know in Dunoon, which was set up as a result of his concern about what the history and symbolism of the rock might mean…
He quotes someone called Dr Waters from the Institute of Race Relations as saying this-
“… there can be no doubt that the painting of the ‘face’, with its exaggerated red mouth, is a typically caricatured image of a black person, as popularised by the American entertainer T.D. Rice in the nineteenth century. […] I feel certain that black visitorsfrom outside would see this as somewhat insulting […] as a derogatory reference to their skin colour and origins.”
Last year someone took matters in their own hands and painted out the rock with some brown paint. They did a rather good job, and it was hard to tell that it had ever been decorated.
And as the local furore raged, someone else simply redecorated it as above.
Well, last night someone revisited the rock- this is what it looks like today-
Is Dunoon a racist town?
No more than any other I would say- although the largest ethnic minority here are the English, and we have a measure of anti-English sentiment like most places in Scotland. But narrow mindedness and prejudice are a feature of all our human communities and perhaps in small isolated towns like mine they can be long lasting.
There are not many black faces here. However, there used to be an American Naval base here until around 15 years ago, and there were lots of black American servicemen here then. Stories of race riots and segregated drinking are part of the local folklore. As are fond memories of the life and vitality brought to our community by people from African American origin.
Quite what these servicemen thought about the rock, I would love to know. Where they so used to such images that it was unremarkable? Were they told not to protest by their command structure? Or did it carry no racist meaning for them?
I hope that this latest act of direct action might yet highlight the meaning of ‘Jim Crow’ for Black Americans to people in Dunoon.
Because I think that we have should challenge prejudice wherever we find it- whether or not it is unintentional, or inherited from a previous generation with a different world view.