The recent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests across Scotland and the outflow of support for the movement online has been welcome. I won’t engage with debating whether or not racism exists in Scotland, it does. Look at the tragic death of Sheku Bayou, look at peaceful protests in support of asylum seekers and refugees being met by violence from the far right and look at the complete lack of leading black figures in Scottish society. It’s clear Scotland has an issue with racism and anyone denying that at this stage, has no interest in addressing it.
One thing that Scotland has lacked in its current attempts to tackle racism is a strong political movement in the mantle of Black Lives Matter. BLM represents a powerful call for human rights and equality. It is a movement that is hard to deny and oppose without being overtly racist. Discrimination against black people is often marginalised and not discussed. Mixed, black or black households in Scotland experience relative poverty at more than double the rate of white households and at a higher rate than any other minority group.
Many measures to counter racism in contemporary politics are built around the term BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic), which has some strength in creating political unity against a common enemy in fighting wider racism and inequality. It doesn’t however, speak to the uniqueness of anti-black or anti-Asian racism or Islamophobia. It instead homogenises experiences of racism. Economically and socially, black people living in Scotland experience some of the worst outcomes.
In a lot of debates surrounding racism in Scotland these experiences are marginalised and forgotten, with anti-black racism treated as a non-Scottish issue and more of an English one. This is done especially in discussions of Scotland’s role in the Slave Trade and British Empire. The influence of wealth acquired through slavery in shaping contemporary Scottish cities is not widely known or taught in schools. This influence is present in Glasgow’s Buchanan Street named after Andrew Buchanan a slave trader who owned plantations in Virginia. It is present in Edinburgh’s Melville Monument that honours 18th Century politician Henry Dundas who used his influence to delay the abolition of slavery causing the further enslavement of over 600,000 people.
A well organised, strong and influential Black Lives Matter movement, has the potential to counter and raise awareness of anti-black racism in Scotland. I hope that the significant momentum for ending discrimination and racial inequality created by the recent BLM protests develops and becomes a lasting and integral part of Scottish society moving forward. The BLM movement is necessary to create a progressive, welcoming and inclusive Scotland.
By Nelson Cummins