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Do we need black people on our banknotes?

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Usually, when a new campaign to rectify our national failure to acknowledge black ingenuity in building modern Britain comes along, I support it enthusiastically. I’ve backed the critique of our statues, for example, which promote white supremacists as heroes and ignore people of colour; and of our curriculum, which promotes ignorance about the racialised nature of British history. I’ve seen the need for a museum of empire, and the importance of books such as Washington Black, which told the fictional story of a black inventor erased from the historical record.

But when I was asked to add my name to the petition calling for a black person to be the face of the new £50 banknote – a decision expected by the Bank of England this summer – I was hesitant. Not because I have any doubt about the strength of the argument. There have been 24 banknotes featuring a notable person since the first was issued in 1970: all have been white, and only three have been women – the last of these, Jane Austen, was chosen only after an extensive social media campaign and the threat of litigation.

The campaign for banknotes of colour makes an excellent case. Black and ethnic minority people have been in Britain for millennia and yet their contributions have been systematically overlooked. Born into slavery, Oluadah Equiano’s........

© The Guardian