Professor Sir Geoff Palmer said making slave history a mainstream school subject was the way to change racist attitudes in the wake of the death of George Floyd, the black man who died after being pinned down by a white US police officer in Minneapolis, USA.
Speaking after taking part in a Black Lives Matter protests, Sir Geoff argued against the demolition of slave traders’ statues — saying their destruction meant atrocities of the past would be forgotten.
The academic — who was knighted for his services to academia and human rights – said education lay at the heart of challenging racism.
“Slave history has to be done properly in the curriculum and it has got to be examinable so that it changes attitudes. That’s what we need. It has got to be like maths and physics and all our other mainstream subjects,” he said.
He argued today’s racism could be traced to the treatment of black people as property and the sense of entitlement felt by slave owners.
“This was the epitome of entitlement and derived from people who were racist and who actually believe that black people were inferior to white people. The consequence of that is Minneapolis,” Sir Geoff said.
The emeritus life science professor at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh said rather than removing monuments of those who exploited slaves, plaques should be erected beside the monuments explaining the human cost of their behaviour.
“I feel that if you remove the evidence you remove the deed. That’s what I’m worried about – removing and altering the past,” Sir Geoff said.
The academic, whose mother Ivy came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation, said a “detailed plaque saying exactly what he did with no fudge” should be erected on the summit.
He said: "The past has consequences and if we take the past down we may forget the consequences."
Sir Geoff has been a member of a group charged with coming up with a form of words for a plaque to go alongside the statue of Henry Dundas, First Viscount Melville, in St Andrews Square, Edinburgh.