The battle against racism returns to Dunoon’s foreshore…

There is a rock about a hundred yards from where I live that has been decorated for about 100 years like this-

I have previously described some of the controversy that surrounds this rock (here and here.)

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.

5 thoughts on “The battle against racism returns to Dunoon’s foreshore…

  1. Pingback: Jim Crow rock re-painted. Again. « this fragile tent

  2. Stop making an issue over a ROCK. My uncle and many others connected to our family are african american, met my aunt in Dunoon via the naval base. the rock makes no difference to them. never has never will. making a issue over a ‘racist’ rock is rather sad, most people do not even know what it means i didnt until i was older, to be the rock was just a painted rock with no meaning. which is what it is to many kids and people in dunoon, if jim crow was such a big deal to people, it would of been removed MANY years ago.

    • HI Ade

      Thanks for your views.

      The issue is not the rock- but rather the use it has been put to, and the meaning of the imagery. Check out this information at the Museum of Jim Crow Memorabilia-

      How does this make you feel as a resident of Dunoon? (which I assume you are.)

      As for the issue of not knowing what the images mean, and what their history is- if you did not know that it was wrong to use other abusive negative ways of thinking about people of colour- such as ‘nigger’ or ‘coon’ then you might legitimately not be blamed for using such terms- but as soon as you DO know that these things have a dark and oppressive history, then it becomes your responsibility to decide whether the on-going use of such terms is OK.

      In this instance- as you say- most people seem to not be aware of the fact that the Jim Crow ‘blackface’ caricatures are the most likely origin of the decoration of this rock- this has been lost in folk memory. But as soon as you know this, you have to step back an evaluate whether this is a good thing for our community to be decorating our foreshore with.

      You say you are aware of this, and do not appear to be bothered by this. I (and many others) disagree.

      My more recent argument has not been to remove it- but to explain it. Let’s put up a board on the shore explaining the troubled rascist history of the rock. Then none of us can claim ignorance.



  3. Ah Jim Crow! Many a time I have been to Dunoon and got into the debate of the ‘racist rock’. Locally people believe there was a tradesman in kirn called Jim Crow and it advertised his business. But nobody has any records to confirm this. Wether you think it’s a racist symbol or not I can’t help but feel a bit awkward about the whole thing. You can’t deny when you see it could be misinterpreted as such.
    Head into Dunoon and the tea room on the high street/thorntons has a whole area of the shop selling golliwogs, I hadn’t seen these for years and thought they had become unpopular due to political correctness over the golliwog as an icon of racism of a bygone era.
    The decline of Dunoon from its golden area of famous highland game venue and holiday destination is a constant moot topic. But so is the feeling that ‘outsiders’ are not welcomed. Many you meet here revel in memories of the day the American troops left the area. Oh how they celebrated! However it seems like the area has been in constant decline since and the local economy is suffering. In response to declining tourist numbers in the past few years many of the shops and restaurants have closed. The high street abandoned and the waterfront a scruffy shadow of what it once was. Even the passenger ferry service to dunoon has been reduced significantly on reflection. The Cowal summer games and pipe tournament once the highlight of the local calendar is feared to be coming to a close in the next year or so.
    As an outsider who enjoyed the beauty of the area and have spent many times coming to Dunoon, I can only suggest the council and the community decide how they want to welcome investment or outsiders to the area. A little painted rock may be harmless to some but do they really need it? Id rather hope Dunoon has something else to offer.

  4. Pingback: Jim Crow rock hits the news again… | this fragile tent

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