I actually paid to go on a tour the other day, which is almost unknown in the high season. Still, I was intrigued by the premise and coughed up my £20 to go on an alternative tour of the National Portrait Gallery.
The premise of the tour was intriguing and so I coughed up twenty quid and joined a few others in looking at pictures in the National Portrait Gallery. This museum is mostly full of DWMs (dead white males) but there are a few non-white people portrayed there and we stopped in front of almost all of them. There are also a few women and one woman of colour, Mary Seacole, who I have written about in the past (http://diaryofatouristguide.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/the-black-florence-nightingale.html).
Our guide was Alice Procter who proudly wore a t-shirt saying ‘MUSEUMS ARE NOT NEUTRAL’ and who proceeded to illustrate the dodgy pasts of people we normally regard as heroes or heroines in British history but who were implicit in the development of the trade in human beings – aka slavery. This began when the Elizabethan sea captain John Hawkins captured a Portuguese ship full of slaves and, instead of freeing the unfortunate victims, simply sold them on, thus starting the lucrative trade in human flesh which has tainted our history.
Even stories of the abolition of the slavery trade are dominated by narratives of the efforts of white people such as the abolitionist William Wilberforce and the judge William Murray, Lord Mansfield, who ruled in 1772 that our laws did not recognise the concept of one human being owning another. Even the film Amazing Grace about Wilberforce was virtually devoid of black actors.
My normal reaction to these revelations is to shrug my complacent shoulders and say, ‘That was then, this is now’. If we judge our ancestors by the standards of the today, our descendants will judge us by the standards of tomorrow and we will surely be found wanting. Maybe foreign aid will look like imperialism in a hundred years while abortion will seem like genocide to future generations. We can only try and lead our lives as well as we can and hope not to be judged too harshly by our grandchildren.
Still, it was interesting to gain a new perspective. Tourist guiding is generally a small ‘c’ conservative profession and we are sometimes guilty of painting a rosy picture of the past rather than the explaining the truth. This was a good corrective from Alice, although I will probably continue to print the legend. Your tips are usually better that way.
For more on Alice’s tours go to: antiuniversity.org/Uncomfortable-Art-Tours-1