Growing bananas in Haringey

When discussion gets a bit shouty shouty, it’s usually time for a quiet listen.

Sir Geoff Palmer’s interview with Jim Al-Khalili is 28 minutes of utterly engrossing radio – at times shocking and funny but ultimately life affirming.

Best just to listen…… with a beer to hand.

I first listened to Geoff giving a talk about the panels he and his daughter had stitched for the Scottish Diaspora Tapestry. Six years later and his campaign for a new plaque at the foot of Henry Dundas’s statue in St Andrew Square has now succeeded.  He says the need is to take down racism rather than statues.

Part of the problem is that this history has been hidden for 200 years. St Andrew Square was (and still is) a private garden collectively owned by the surrounding proprietors. 

It’s only in the last 20 years that it has been open to the public offering a chance to read the two existing plaques. Funnily enough, they make no mention of slavery nor corruption.


Denial is impossible because of the preponderance of Scottish surnames in the West Indies.  This doesn’t reflect a cosy colonial co-existence (as I in my ignorance once naively thought) –  rather systematic rape, killing and brutality over generations.

You won’t find a more Scottish name than Kelso Cochrane. He was a 32 year old from Antigua who came to London intent on training as a lawyer. He was stabbed to death in 1959 by racist thugs. Two were arrested but no-one was charged or convicted.

Attitudes in police forces changed little – as the Met’s first black cop Norbert Roberts recalls here (9 mins).

And this continued. But the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 at least ushered in some hope. A high court judge was brought out of retirement to head an inquiry. Sir William Macpherson was first portrayed as a stooge or teuchter (as 23rd chief of the Macpherson clan).

But his team including John Sentamu, bishop of Stepney (and a former high court judge in Uganda) did a lot of listening. They found the Met was institutionally racist and made 70 recommendations which have had significant impact on police and race relations.

Not enough? Another inquiry chaired by judge Lord Bracadale is now looking into the death of Sheku Bayoh in Kirkcaldy.

Racism has many tendrils. It routinely surfaces in everyday life, depending on the colour of your skin, ethnicity, or what faith you follow. Listening is the first step to change.

And if you’re still puzzled by this post’s headline, you haven’t been listening.

Biographical notes: 

•             Sir Keith Joseph who sat on the Reading University interview panel later became Margaret Thatcher’s political guru.

•             Anna Macleod who interviewed Geoff at Heriot-Watt University was the world’s first female professor of brewing and biochemistry.

Categories: history on the web

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1 reply


  1. Digitally remastering Dundas – The History Company

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