I APPRECIATED and enjoyed David J Black’s piece on the petition regarding Edinburgh University’s David Hume Tower being renamed in the light of statements the philosopher had made regarding race (Was this great philosopher a racist? The National, July 20).

Hume’s view saw what we regard as the “self” as fictitious in nature: surely a standpoint that influenced Nietzsche’s thinking, who stated that: “The self is a fiction, invented so that we might have something to blame in others and have something of ourselves to carry on after we die”. This might usefully characterise some of the elements in the current mushrooming discussion around statues and street names. In this some might see the emergence of a false opposition between ill-considered, poorly-informed vilification, versus reactionary resistance to anything but the status-quo. It is surely, however, collegiate creativity that offers hope here, though – as I witnessed one weekend – division is rife.

Walking by the south-west end of St Andrew’s Square on June 13, I noted a relatively small number of Black Lives Matter protesters (around nine, though this was perhaps the aftermath of a larger gathering) opposite a group of around 30 white men in bike leathers, their fronts emblazoned with the word Tribe. Their presence felt menacing, and, without wishing to rush to a prejudiced view of their intentions, let’s just say that I didn’t get the impression that they were stalwarts of classical statuary, fresh from their latest National Trust visit. The Black Lives Matter protesters – all women – stayed socially distanced; the men kept together in a close-knit cluster that bristled with what felt reminiscent of the hint of something between a rock and a hard place.

This argument is live, and isn’t going to go away. Perhaps how quickly the replacement statue of the activist Jen Reid in Bristol was taken down is a measure of the feeling (and absence of thinking) this issue generates. However, I am convinced the removal of the Colston statue was evidence of a righteous, settled will; of “enough!”.

As to Elizabeth Lund’s petition, I’m glad that, as Black states, she relented on her suggestion of a homophobic dictator as a more suitable name for the tower once she was informed of the fact (and what would Hume’s take on that issue be, reason being the slave of the passions, according to Le Bon David?).

After some thought, as someone fascinated by David Hume for decades, and, in the late nineties a student there with fond memories of David Hume Tower, I signed Lund’s petition. Hume has his unquestionable place in the history of philosophy; his statue on the Royal Mile; his global reach; his avid readers. When I passed those protesters in St Andrew’s Square, I was reminded that across from where they were protesting once stood the building he lived in, and – I believe – died in, which sadly no longer exists. We should be careful how much of the bigger picture we lose when we jettison part of our collective story unthinkingly, yet consider whether what we hold on to with a conservation-minded consciousness does anything to anaesthetise our awareness of the lasting image of a white knee on a black neck.

I thought Black’s idea of a statue of William Fergusson, Edinburgh’s University’s first black student, staring over at Hume Tower was inspired and poetic. I believe imagination is what will furnish us with meaningful changes. However, for me, William Fergusson’s name should adorn that Tower. Think: his name would then have to be uttered each and every day by people in that square; typed in a million online messages. His name could go viral. Global.

The Dundas statue will soon have a plaque attached outlining his part in the narrative of slavery. Black quoted Hume’s racist remarks as sourced from a footnote. With the plaque on the Dundas statue the horrors of slavery will be reduced to just that. That is an egregious wrong, and I hope people will be moved to petition their councillors, make their voices heard, or perhaps simply lay flowers there with the message “slavery can never be a footnote”.

Monica Foe