Fairer Scotland

Challenging racism in Scotland – Guest blog from Danny Boyle, BEMIS Scotland

October 18, 2019 by No Comments | Category Community and Place, Justice

“Tackling racism and building connected communities is not a side issue. This is one of the most important things in society. We need the science of data – but we need the science of stories too”

BEMIS Scotland held a thematic conference on prejudice motivated by racial and religious hatred earlier this week. Our intention in instigating this conference in 2018 and continuing it in 2019 was to explore alternative ways to tackle prejudice and hate crime beyond the criminal justice system.

The Police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have a very important role to play in holding perpetrators of hate crimes accountable for their actions but they cannot arrest and prosecute away racism or hatred of communities identified by their ethno-religious characteristics.

After listening to experts and conference delegates BEMIS Scotland developed and identified 8 key action points[1] that we thought could help progress additional methods to tackling prejudice and building connected communities in Scotland.

At our conference we decided to hone in on cultural recognition via a panel discussion on creating an ‘Inclusive National Identity’ to try and elaborate on ideas and initiatives that might help advance understanding on how this could help tackle prejudice and build connected communities.

The ‘Inclusive National Identity’ panel discussion involving Khaleeda Noon (Intercultural Youth), Dr. Tommy J Curry (Prof. of Black Male Studies / University of Edinburgh), Jeanette Findlay (Irish An Gorta Mor Committee), Asif Khan (Scottish Poetry Library) Harriett Campbell (African Caribbean Womens Organisation) and Professor Duncan Morrow (Independent Advisor on Community Cohesion) identified some challenging but progressive insights, observations and action points.

Professor Morrow outlined that if Scotland wasn’t able to have an honest and interrogative self-reflection on its colonial and imperial past and how this has affected communities in the present then we would fail in our efforts to truly tackle prejudice and build connected communities.

What followed was an invigorating conversation on the nature of Scotland, Scottishness, lived experience, self-identity, racism and cultural miss-representations. For Tommy, Khaleeda, Asif and Harriett their personal experience of colour based racism in Scotland included being threatened at their place of work and being told they can’t truly be Scottish.

With professional hats on they forensically analysed the lack of cultural funding for black and ethnic minority arts organisations and individual artists, the lack of profile in democratic and decision making institutions of ethnic minority people and the lack of understanding of ethnic minority communities cultural assets by key agencies and funders.

Jeanette Findlay from the Irish community An Gorta Mor Memorial committee outlined that while her experience of racism was evidently different given that it was not based on the colour of her skin that her community also had experienced isolation, expulsion and hostility from the idea of an inclusive Scottish national identity.

This experience was also reflected by Scottish Gypsy Traveller delegates like David Donaldson. Despite being in Scotland for centuries they were still faced hostility in being acknowledged as “included Scots” and had challenges with socio-economic disadvantages.

So where does this leave us in our quest to progress and inclusive national identity?

Far from being despondent about the gravity of the issues raised and their apparent incompatibility with the top level strategic goal these are precisely the conversations and discussions that we need to have. In our schools. In our race and equality organisations. In our trade unions. In our communities. In our local authorities and in our Government.

For BEMIS part we now pose ourselves three key questions.

1) How do we enable Tommy, Jeanette, Khaleeda, Asif and Harriett’s stories to be told in an appropriate way that gives them and others like them the platform to engage and speak on their own behalf and help shape Scotland?

2) How do we engage local and national arts funders, local authorities and government to ensure that the communities and individuals from ethnic minority communities are invested in and supported?

3) How do we engage the broader Scottish population in conversations on colonialism, racism and representation in a way that is worthwhile and doesn’t have the unintended consequence of increasing tension?

These are challenges that we embrace and challenges that we want to progress in conjunction with Government, political parties, communities, individuals and organisations.

Hate crime awareness week is the perfect time to instigate these difficult discussions and shows that the focus of the week and events are already moving beyond a narrow focus on reporting crime to a broader discussion on the nature of Scotland.

This level of discussion and the policy response it will drive is indicative of a society that is slowly, in little ways that will become bigger, advancing the cause of race equality and the idea of an inclusive national identity in a responsive and creative way.

Challenging racism is not just good for racial minority communities but society as a whole.

[1] 2018 conference report: https://bemis.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/hate-crime-conference-2018-learning-outcomes.pdf

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