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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Bank of England museum to host slavery exhibition

The Bank of England’s museum will host an exhibition about slavery, Andrew Bailey said, as he rejected suggestions that the central bank had “gone ‘woke’”.

The display at the Bank’s Threadneedle Street headquarters will include portraits of former governors and directors linked to the slave trade that were taken down during the summer, the Governor said.

The museum has been closed since Covid struck but is set to reopen soon.

“We’re actually going to open up with an exhibition, a display in the museum, on the history of slavery,” Mr Bailey told students at the Cambridge Union.

He added: “Quite a bit of the material that we’ve moved is going to reappear in the public part [of the Bank].”

The Bank said in August it had removed oil paintings and busts of seven former leading figures at Threadneedle Street after establishing their links to the transatlantic slave trade.

Mr Bailey said the Bank of England had no direct links to the slave trade, but added: “Clearly some of my predecessors were involved in it.”

Explaining the decision to remove the portraits, he said: “If you’re a member of staff in the Bank of England from an ethnic background … should you be required to sit in a room looking at a painting of somebody who owned slaves?

“Honestly, we can debate this at great length. I think it’s better to do it in the public part of the Bank where we can explain it.”

Mr Bailey added: “It’s not because as some of the newspapers say we’ve sort of gone ‘woke’, whatever that word actually means. Let’s not make people sit in rooms and feel difficult because they’re looking at these images.”

A report commissioned by the Bank and released in July found that ethic minority workers faced “material disparities” at Threadneedle Street and were being held back by unconscious bias and microaggressions.

At the same talk on Thursday, Mr Bailey also warned that El Salvador’s decision to recognise Bitcoin as legal tender was worrying and risked harming its citizens.

“It concerns me that a country would choose it as its national currency,” he said.

“What would worry me most of all is, do the citizens of El Salvador understand the nature and volatility of the currency they have?”

Mr Bailey’s comments come after the central American nation announced plans for a $1 billion bond issuance, with the funds raised to be split between buying the cryptocurrency and building a new city near an active volcano.

The International Monetary Fund warned earlier this week that El Salvador should not use Bitcoin due to the instability of its price. The world’s biggest digital coin is known for its wild price fluctuations, having swung from under $20,000 to almost $70,000 in the past year.

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