There’s also an extremely good piece about Mary Seacole by a chap called Tony Sewell in The Voice. Mr Sewell confesses that he is utterly mystified at the championing of this lady who helped out during the Crimean War. He says:
“I find our desperation to win the arm wrestle with Florence Nightingale a sad case of ‘black histrionics’. We want black heroes and heroines at any cost. We read what we want in Mary Seacole’s life and carefully miss some key facts.”
Among those key facts, according to Sewell, was that she did not have much time for “niggers”, took no notice of the issues of racial equality and was a sort of “Katie Price” of her age. It would be better, he says, to erect a statue to a bunch of black Peckham schoolkids who pass their GCSEs. Needless to say, Sewell is taking a bit of a battering for this on The Voice website, but he could not have summed up the case more eloquently – especially the last point. And I don’t suppose I am helping his case much by agreeing with him. But my argument is the same as Sewell’s – the championing of Mary Seacole is stupid, patronizing and knee-jerk political correctness which actually, in the end, devalues the contribution of black people to this nation’s history. Seacole has become British History’s token black; she is the modern equivalent of the situation comedy Love Thy Neighbour.
It is not her fault, of course, but Seacole’s position in the curriculum is misleading to schoolkids – who now view her as the key figure from the nineteenth century – and insulting to both whitey and darkie.