Today marks the seventh month of our existence as The Anti-Racist Educator and I still can't believe how far we've come. Since the beginning, we have been seeking to increase our public outreach in order to engage as many people as possible and make a positive difference.
Our blog posts have been well received so far, but many people have requested videos and podcast episodes to be included on our platform because they are sometimes easier to engage with. While we have yet to produce our own videos, we have just completed the first episode of our brand new podcast: The Anti-Racist Educator. You can listen to the episode on Spotify and by clicking on here. Since we are a collective of educators who work on a voluntary basis, we do not have any fancy equipment for perfect sound quality, so the sound quality is definitely not perfect. But if you can bear with us, we will do our best to make improvements for the future episodes. In the mean time, below is a a transcript of the audio (equally useful for anyone with hearing impairments). Enjoy!
Episode 1: What is race? Is it still relevant in Scotland (Transcript)
Welcome to the first episode of The Anti-Racist Educator podcast. My name is Mélina and I am your host for this episode. The Anti-Racist Educator is a collective of educators of colour in Scotland working together to challenge racism in education. We are an online public engagement platform created by two teachers of colour in Scotland, myself and Hashim, and we have gone on to lead workshops and events on anti-racist education. Our mission is to help people gain a more critical understanding of racism in education in order to dismantle it. You can find our blog and glossary of key anti-racist terminology on the antiracisteducator.com and you can follow us on Twitter and Facebook to learn more about what we do and our future events.
At one of our public engagement meetings, we decided to host a workshop on discussing race and its impacts in Scotland and it provided us with material to create this first episode of our podcast. I apologise if the audio is not always very clear, but I will make up for that with voice-overs and a transcript attached in the description. At the beginning of the workshop, I asked each participant to introduce themselves and to explain how they racially identify.
Mélina: My name is Mélina and I am a South Asian woman – biracial, white and South Asian. My connections to education are through teaching: I am a teacher of English in a secondary school. I have been involved in anti-racism for the past couple of years through my research in anti-racist education, but I’ve also been involved in the trade union movement that has helped me to learn more about anti-racism in different fields.
Hashim: My name is Hashim. What am I? I don’t know. I am a person of colour – family from Pakistan, originally. I am a primary teacher in the Southside of Glasgow. What have I done in anti-racism? I worked a lot with migrants in Scotland, refugees, asylum-seekers and other migrants, trying to assist them with their daily life in Scotland. Also organisations like the Anti-Racist Educator – that’s how me and Mélina came together, trying to set it up.
The other participants also included Sangeeta, Meryam, Jolomi, Aneel, Eyram, Titi and Angela.
Sangeeta is a South Asian woman who works as an HR intern at Skills Development Scotland. In terms of anti-racism work, she’s been involved in supporting BME communities.
Meryam was born in the Netherlands, she is a Pakistani person of colour and she described herself as from Scotland. In terms of anti-racist work, she’s been involved in campaigning for the past couple of years.
Jolomi described himself as African. He is a student from Strathclyde and he uses his social media to challenge racism.
Aneel is Asian, his grandparents originally came to Scotland in the 1950s and 1960s. Aneel has got experience working for a few charities. Anti-racism is very close to his heart because of his work and his personal experiences of racism.
Eyram is an African student and a student representative at the University of Strathclyde and in terms of racism and anti-racism, she represents students and supports different campaigns against racism for students.
Titi identifies as Afro-Austrian, or Nigerian-Austrian. Titi is a representative in the Strathclyde university structures, she had the role of VP of Diversity in the Students Union at Strathclyde and she was also the NUS Scotland Black Students' Officer between 2017 and 19.
Finally, Angela is a black teacher who has been involved in various trade union movements and she cares deeply about anti-racism in education and everyday life.
As we can see, each participant had a different way of describing their racial identity and some found it difficult since we are never really asked to racially identify ourselves unless we are filling in a data monitoring form.
And then, for me at least, I also fall into the “other” category. My father is white and French and my mother is Indian, although she is now a French citizen. To me, French is my nationality and part of my ethnicity (in the cultural practices and norms that I identify with).
For me, my racial identity was formed by what others thought of me – people rarely think I am French when they first see me, they tend to think I am Indian, Pakistani or even Bangladeshi. That’s why I chose to racially identify as South Asian in this workshop.
Racial identities are difficult to really pin down and they tend to evolve. Some people who look like me might still choose to label themselves as white or French and reject their multiracial background.
Racial identities may change and evolve according to space and time: in the UK I may be considered Asian and in France, I would be called métisse, which means brown-skinned and often mixed race. By all means, we shouldn’t be policing people’s racial identities, we should let them decide for themselves. However, it is important for people to have space to discuss and reflect on the formation and evolution of their racial identities, and in this workshop, we gave space for people to do exactly that.
Now, dear listener, have you thought about your racial identity? It might be valuable for you too to think about how you choose to racially identify and why.
Mélina: I thought the first discussion point we could start off with is defining race, because a lot of us have different understandings of race. Recently a person of colour told me that to him racism has nothing to do with skin colour, as a response to our use of the term ‘person of colour’ instead of just ‘BME.’ How do we define race? Does it have anything to do with skin colour in Scotland?
Titi was the first to define race. She described it as social construct, a system of categorisation that was established to let some people gain wealth and get benefits off others.
Titi: race is a system of categorisation that is established to let some people get benefits off others. It definitely goes through skin colour but it’s not consistent. So in a certain place I can be classed as ‘white’ and in other places I will be the darkest person you’ve ever seen and they would discriminate against me. But that’s weird for me because I’m biracial, so potentially I have a lot of passing privileges that other people don’t have. In my personal experience, I was raised in Austria by an Austrian woman mainly and so my implicit actions are often like any other white person’s actions and nobody would assume that about me because they see a black face. So what does that mean and how do we understand race in terms of culture? Culture has something to do with it.
Aneel agreed that there’s a great deal of ambiguity when it comes to race. He said that race has a lot to do with how you are perceived and not always how you feel.
Melina: Yeah, I agree with the idea that race is fluid and it changes depending on the geographical area and also the period of time. So, for example, I’ve done some research in the US and, to the people I spoke to, race is only about skin colour – it’s the only thing that matters. And when we look at Europe, when people think of racism they also think about religion like the Nazis and their Aryan race as opposed to Jewish people – that had a lot to do with skin colour but also religion. So yeah, it’s difficult to pin down.
Eyram: I think it’s also about cultures of different people and the stereotypes associated to them. It could be because of what you are wearing and that can also be linked to cultures belonging to darker skinned people.
That was Eyram. To her, race is about skin colour, but it can also depend on cultural features that are associated to darker-skinned people.
Hashim: I think one thing that I was thinking about when you were discussing how fluid race was, I was thinking about white people converting to Islam. People who are racialised as white converting to Islam. Especially white women. Also white men – there’s two different things going on. But the way that the white women are talked about is almost as if they’re a ‘race traitor,’ like why on earth would you go and adopt this religion when you’re white? And a lot of it has to do with a Muslim man who has radicalised her. If it’s a white man, I guess there’s a whole other narrative around that. But especially when a white woman puts on a hijab, she is transformed into something else – just that piece of cloth does so much in of itself. I find that baffling.
Jolomi: For me, when I look at racism, it has a lot to do with the darkness of a person’s skin. Because this is a problem that was brought to us from white people. Initially, they were the ones who came over, they colonised us and they had power over at least 60-70% of the world. They were the ones in charge and they tried to bring their culture and everything on us. And eventually when these countries fought for their independence, I think it was a system that was put in place to make sure that even as we are independent, we cannot work, through life, culture and all that. So basically when something happens we might not be sure if it has to do with the colour of our skin but like she said as well, stereotypes also come in. But these stereotypes are also attached to the colour of skin. Because for someone to use a stereotype on you, you must have a certain skin colour or look a certain way for them to say certain things about you. For example, you must probably look brown for the stereotype of a Muslim or a terrorist or something like that, when you can actually be brown and a Christian but they’re often forgotten. So that’s why I think race has a lot to do with skin colour.
Jolomi rightly pointed out the historical origins of race that primarily depended on skin colour. In one of his essays on racism from the 1990s, the British Indian writer Salman Rushdie emphasised this point as well. He wrote:
“In short, if we want to understand British racism – and without understanding no improvement is possible – it’s impossible to even begin to grasp the nature of the beast unless we accept its historical roots. Four hundred years of conquest and looting, four centuries of being told that you are superior to the Fuzzy-Wuzzies and the wogs, leave their stain. This stain has seeped into every part of culture, the language and daily life; and nothing much has been done to wash it out.”
So for the purpose of this workshop, we focused on race as mostly based on skin colour and we accepted that religion and culture can overlap. When looking at the way white people face discrimination because of their culture, their accent – like Eastern Europeans – we considered it to be xenophobia rather than racism, just for the workshop.
The next task I set for the participants was based on some training I attended in the US, delivered by an organisation called Courageous Conversation. At the training, everyone had to figure out how much of an impact race had on their lives. So if you were to say race has nothing to do with my life, it has no impact in my life, you would say 0%. But if you think race has a very strong impact on your life, you would go for 100%.
I would encourage listeners to take part in this exercise because you too might learn something from it. Take a moment, sit back and pick a percentage before you listen to the participants’ responses.
Angela: Our lives, as individuals?
Mélina: Yes, as individuals. So in your personal life, how much has race had an impact on you. So 0%, or 100%, or anywhere in between.
Hashim: I suppose other peoples’ lives will have an impact on you anyway.
Angela: Is it impact in a negative way or a positive way?
Mélina: That’s a very good question! But I’m not going to answer that – I want everyone to come up with a percentage and then we’ll talk about that.
Eyram: Oh, so the percentage could be positive impact?
Mélina: I’m not saying anything – what do you think is the impact of race on your life? Once you have a number, just go for it.
Sangeeta was the first to reveal her percentage. She went for 62% and she explained why.
Sangeeta: I think it has something to do with being an ethnic minority in a majority country. As a diaspora, it’s part of your everyday life so you’ve got two identities. Personally I’ve just been impacted more.
Mélina: The first time I did this exercise I said 70%, so quite close to yours. Mostly because I was thinking, well I’m quite light-skinned – I’m biracial, my father’s white and my mother’s Indian. And also, I’m not always sure whether I’m facing racial discrimination or it’s because of my gender – being woman that has impact. Also, other things that go on in my life, like being young or being a French citizen in the UK – that has an impact. So I went for 70%. What did you pick?
Eyram also decided that 70% of her life had been impacted by race, but not quite for the same reasons. Race only became obvious to her when she moved away from her home in Ghana.
Eyram: I was thinking 70% as well because I grew up in Ghana and I moved to Scotland as a student. Before I moved to Scotland, it was like everything was OK. Everyone you see would look like you. And then you move here and it was totally different, you know… Even sitting in the bus. I never thought anything about race, I thought it was just me.
Mélina: What happens in the bus?
Eyram: When you’re on the bus and there’s that one seat next to you and then nobody wants to take that seat. Everybody would rather stand than sit next to you. Initially I thought it was just me. Then last year when a couple of people from Ghana, they also experience this. And I felt so bad, because I thought I had bad body odour or something so people didn’t want to sit next to me. But when the people from Ghana came and experienced the same thing, I realised it’s a thing. It made start to think about things differently.
Eyram was not the only one to notice that people avoided sitting next to her because of the colour of her skin. Angela was equally aware of this implicit racial segregation on buses.
Angela: Let me say 50/50%. And I’ll give the positives first. Like that reminded me, when you sit on a bus, everywhere is crowded with people and you have that space there and nobody wants to sit in that space – now at my age, I enjoy it. And come in the staffroom at school, nobody wants to be near my cupboard, where I put my things, so I have more space and I enjoy it. Yes, I have to be careful about what I say and what I do. Like when there is a please take and they are looking for someone, I cannot hide, because everywhere I go, some of the teachers see my face and they find me. So there’s nowhere I can get lost if there is a fire. The other day there was a fire drill – there was real fire in school. I was sitting down because I was so tired, I had just had a PE class of boys and when there was the fire drill, everyone was looking for me. I wasn’t there and nobody had seen me, so nothing can happen to me because they always will find me. Or the type of contract I have, I go to different schools for anything and sometimes I don’t like a school. So whenever something happens I complain and complain, so the next year I’ll be thrown out of that school. So that’s how I see it, I sort of use it to my advantage.
But come on the minus side, you have to work harder than everyone – twice as hard as everyone in the school for you to be recognised. Not just for you to be called or seen as good, just for you to be seen as the level of everyone else, of the worst even. And let’s say I’m looking for a house. I remember when we were looking for a bigger house as the number of our children was increasing and where we were it became very small for us. So we were looking for a house and not a flat. I remember the number of places I went to. There was always something whenever we put in a bid. There was a place where I put in a bid and the neighbours came together to make sure we didn’t get that house. So that impacted us in a negative way.
For the positives, now I would say at my age, I tend to enjoy it.
Mélina: It sounds like you’ve learned to use it to your advantage, so 50%.
Angela: Or you get used to something and you get yourself to enjoy it. Or you look for something as if read people’s mind. I don’t read people’s mind. It’s just that you’ve seen it before, you’ve seen it several times and you anticipate when it’s coming. Get ready for it.
Aneel: You shouldn't have to live that way.
Angela: Yes, you shouldn’t have to live that way, but when I’m talking to my children I tell them this is what is going to happen, expect that, and usually it falls into that. Like when my first son, he had a friend who lived in Manchester and he had a neighbour, a middle-aged woman. So on the first day we went to visit him, she came to say hello to us. From her handshake and the type of questions she was asking, I told him that woman is not good. They didn’t live there for more than three days because she was too much trouble and they had to move for that. So that type of thing maybe it helps. You shouldn’t get used to it, but life is like that.
From hearing Angela, it is clear that she was well aware that 100% of her life was impacted by race, but with experience and practice, she had learned to make it work to her advantage 50% of the time. Through her revelations of racism, from the subtle discrimination in schools based on the types of contracts she got, to the implicit racial segregation on the bus like Eyram had experienced, to the racial segregation in housing as neighbours joined together to prevent her family from buying a house in their neighbourhood, to the everyday racism she could detect in people’s attitudes towards her and her family, it is clear that racism in Scotland is very much a lived reality and a serious concern.
Hashim: I guess for me I was thinking where does race not play a role in my life? And the only thing I could think of is when I’m with family. It becomes plays less of a role. When I’m at weddings, when I’m at home. But there’s very few spaces really. I think it is really quite interesting being in Egypt – I used to live in Egypt and work there with lots of people from Britain and pretty much everyone else was white. And for some reason I just assumed I’ll be in Egypt, everyone’s not white it will be even easier to be there because they’ll have the experience of going through colonialism and stuff. So they’re not going to treat me any different from these other people. Or at least not worse than they’d treat white people. But I noticed in a lot of subtle ways like getting stopped by police and getting my passport checked more often and being asked things like ‘Oh, you must Arabic as a first language obviously.’ So all these questions that my white peers didn’t get asked. And then I think, now being a teacher, I think my percentage has gone up in the past year. It would probably have been 60% before, and now it’s maybe 65%.
Angela: Positive or negative?
Hashim: For me it’s negative, yeah. I find it hard to find positives about it, apart from solidarity with other people who are going through the same thing. Yeah, negative experiences at school are making me more aware of race, I suppose. I think every time I become more aware, my percentage goes up.
Aneel: I’d say 50/50. It’s awkward obviously because I feel Indian but I grew up in this country, I was born in this country and my parents were born in this country. Being Scottish is part of who you are as well. There’s that constant struggle between two identities – not being accepted as either which comes into play. That constant anticipation of what other people are thinking of, you know, leads to you developing a very well-warranted chip on your shoulder. And that leads to other issues – I don’t think there’s enough discussion around the link between race and mental health. From an outsider’s perspective it may seem like we’re paranoid but you’re right to be paranoid if you’ve experienced what you’ve experienced in your everyday life. I’m not going to say that I’ve grown up having constant problems with regards to race but it’s always been at the back of my mind with all the experiences I’ve had I’ve become more aware of it in my daily life.
That was Aneel. Unlike Hashim, Aneel felt race both around his family and around white people. This constant struggle of having two identities and not quite being accepted as either (Indian and Scottish for him) is something that many multiracial people and first, second and third generation migrants of colour have to deal with.
Hashim: For me, my percentage gets lower when I face explicit racism on the streets because I think that’s just one person and they’re just ‘bad.’ Anywhere else, if I go to a different place, people would act differently. But then when I went to school and I felt institutional racism I realised it was built in the system and it’s not just one person, everyone’s complicit. It makes me realise how much bigger it is. For me, anyway.
Titi: I don’t have, I can’t get my mind to pick a percentage but I would like to share I guess the more I expose myself to the problem and try to dissect what is happening in the world and how race impacts people or how we function within that system, the more I feel it’s impacting me. I compare myself a lot to my sister, because we come from the same family up-bringing. I think her percentage would be very, very low because she doesn’t choose to see herself or place herself within that structure of oppression. And I, constantly, every day of my life, wake up and oh – point, point, point, point, point (out racism). And I guess that’s the mental health aspect, but there’s also how much we think it plays a role. And she can walk – she lives in Vienna, so that’s way more racist than Scotland and I really think so. I don’t know, it’s still really racist here, but it’s a different racism there and when I go back, I stay for two days and then I get really angry and want to go back to Scotland. But she can walk around and be very happy in that system without even noticing, but I notice and it doesn’t have to do with anything but the consciousness I think.
Meyram: I can’t figure it out because honestly I wasn’t, growing up, I wasn’t as focused on it as I am now. Growing up, racism just wasn’t on my mind. And now I see it with my little brother, my little cousins, all the time, racism is so casual in school. White people are just naturally inclined to be racist because they’re just brought up that way. So yeah, I couldn’t make up my mind about a percentage.
Jolomi: Being black, coming from Nigeria, far away from home to another place, I’ve not got any special benefits because of my skin colour. I’ve only gotten problems and denials and rejections because of it in all aspects of my life. It goes from people calling me names on the streets, even homeless people that you’re in a better situation than, they still feel they’re better than you and they can still call you names and tell you you’re this and that. That’s just the little part – it goes deeper than that. Even into education, even into my sports life and things like that.
We go for try-outs for example in my university, because this is a problem I’ve had. Ok, it’s football try-outs and there with my brown friends, so many of us go there and they always pick a set of white boys to play every single year. And they tell us this has nothing to do with your race, these boys are just better than you. But deep down, they know that that’s not the truth. You know that they want to create a system that favours their own people and that’s how it is. That’s one other experience – even to have fun, you know?
You try to go to the club sometimes and they don’t let you in. And if you ask them ‘why are you not letting me in?’ They can’t give you a reason. And if you can’t give me a reason straight away why you’re not letting me in, then I have no other option than to say that you are not letting me in because of my skin colour. Because first of all, I am there, like everyone else, I have my ID, I have my papers, I have everything to prove that I’m not going to cause trouble and I just want to have fun like everyone else and I can’t go in. That’s a negative thing as well. And when you go back to your room sometimes, you go back to your house and you sit down and you think about these things, actually – like you said about mental health – actually, that has a very negative effect on you mentally.
Me, I’m not yet to see so much positive I’ve gotten because of where I’m from or because of my race. I would say it’s predominantly negative. But I can say the reason why leave a little bit of positive is because I know that, when I was coming here, I had my parents who told me that these are the kinds of things you are going to face and I was able to mentally train myself to behave in these situations so I don’t put myself into more trouble. And I protect myself in this kind of space, so that’s just how it is from my personal experience.
Mélina: Thank you, that’s really interesting. It’s again that idea of parents of colour always trying to equip their children to deal with racism, because there’s no way of protecting you.
Jolomi: Sometimes, if you’re not going to let them know before they come to this kind of place, it’s going to be a very huge shock and they might not be able cope with it.
Mélina: And so, for teachers, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to equip our students with the means to cope. But yeah, thank you. So this was an exercise I did in the US and basically in the US they realise that your percentage was probably between 0 and 5% if you are white. And the darker your skin, the higher your percentage was, so closer to a 100%. If you don’t live in the US and you come from another country, your percentage may be slightly lower. If your skin is lighter – so you might be a person of colour but your skin is lighter – your percentage will also be lower. So I think we’ve noticed a couple of these trends. And actually, that idea that you were saying, as you grow more aware of how racism works, then your percentage goes higher. And one thing that I find interesting is that race has an impact on you whether you aware of it or not. And its impact is not just negative – we tend to think of it as negative – but it’s also positive. So realising that, for white people, race often has a positive impact. So that’s still an impact. And you don’t have to know that it’s happening to actually benefit, or be at a disadvantage, for that impact. That’s what we’re trying to do with The Anti-Racist Educator, we’re trying to make people a bit more aware of race and how it operates in different spaces because every space has –
Angela: Make everyone more aware or make us black people more aware?
Mélina: Everyone – you will have people of colour who are not as aware of the ways race operates so a lot of us will have…
Angela: Have they seen the sun? They must hide their head under something.
Mélina: Actually, if I think of my education, so in school I was told that everyone is equal, racism is only what you hear on the streets. But you always think you’re given – well at least my parents didn’t warn me as much about racism, but I was always under the impression that racism was something really bad in the past, but today maybe out on the streets but it’s not really going to affect my life that much. I don’t know, it might depend on people.
Angela: Can I ask, as a teacher, how do you see the children, the people in school who are of colour, or say black, how do they behave in your class?
Hashim: As in, compared to other teachers?
Hashim: I don’t know, because people a lot of the time say it’s great that there’s a brown male in a primary school – there’s not enough of you in primary schools.
Angela: From the parents or…
Hashim: From parents and teachers – they would say that to me. You’re going to do so well for these Pakistani boys.
Angela: I find that, in schools, the black children in my class they usually behave worse than the white children. But how I understand it is they are trying to be part of the group.
Mélina: To cope, maybe?
Angela: Yes, to cope. They behave differently from what I get from their parents. Because some of their parents come in and tell me do this, do this. But in class, I even had a child who went to the head-teacher and reported that I am being racist to him because I told him ‘You’re wasting your time because if the other’s fail, they’ll get another chance. But if you fail, you probably won’t get another chance.’ That’s exactly what I told him and he went and told the head-teacher that I’m saying he has to work harder than the other boys to do well. So that type of thing – I wish we could see it the way that they are trying to be like the others, trying to be like their peers, trying to please those boys and those girls around them. They’re not doing it out of malice. So what I do is I usually phone their parents or I let their parents know what they’re doing.
Mélina: It maybe ties in the mental health as well, because you don’t have those positive role models. Like you were saying, for black people in a mostly white school, it might be a reaction to that, or trying to cope with their understanding of race.
Hashim: Yes, I suppose a positive role model can be positive in that sense if the teacher themselves is aware of what racism is and what racism looks like in reality. And if it’s a teacher of colour, is that even a term? If there’s a teacher who is a person of colour denies that race is a problem, then what’s the point of even being there?
Angela: That’s why I get worried when people deny that there’s any racism in their school. I really get worried.
A lot of us are taught that we live in a meritocracy where anyone can succeed and everyone has equal chances of success – we are rarely encouraged to question systems of oppression that exist and so it can be easy to assume that racism is not a problem. Angela is right to worry when people deny the existence of racism in schools. Having thought about it a bit more, I think Angela was witnessing a lot of pupils of colour trying to assimilate by wiping out their differences, doing their best to avoid drawing attention to their difference or trying to impress their peers to be accepted. This is a common experience that can lead them to remain silent about their experiences of racism and this in turn contributes to teachers’ assumptions that racism is not a problem in their school. A couple of tips for teachers with pupils of colour – listen to them and involve their parents in their education as Angela did. If you can, prepare these pupils with strategies to cope with racism. This can involve being honest and warning them of the challenges they might face but don’t limit their goals and aspirations. Be wary that they might take it the wrong way as it happened to Angela. Above all, it’s about gaining trust and this can be done by creating more opportunities in the classroom to discuss race more honestly.
Now, before we move on to the next section of this podcast, here’s a trigger warning for white people who may experience white fragility listening to the next part of the podcast. In the workshop, we made generalisations about white people that obviously do not always apply to every single individual white person. For the purpose of the discussion, we were speaking from our own personal perspectives and we were trying to identify trends, rather than vilify white people. I find it interesting that I have to point this out because when generalisations are made about black people, Muslims, or just all people of colour, I wish there were more complaints from white people about the unfairness of the generalisation and I wish there were more white people out there that remind others that people of colour also have individuality. White allies who already do that for us – please keep it up!
So for the next task, I got the participants to think about the positive and negative impacts of race. Starting off with white people, we discussed what we thought were the benefits of being white in Scotland. Sangeeta was the first to point out white privilege.
Sangeeta: Structural privilege. So just having better employment opportunities, better access to education…
Angela: Not being judged for – not being condemned for – whatever you did, whatever society thinks you did. Saying the verdict before you are judged. Not being judged before you are trialled.
Jolomi: Can I add something to what you are saying – I notice for people of colour, when it comes to the law, I would say white people have more fairness. People of colour are guilty until proven innocent. White people are innocent until they are proven guilty. And that’s why so many people of colour spend so many years in prison. You get better judgement if you are white. For you, you do not get that fairness of judgement because the jury, the judges, they are predominantly white people. In that situation, you are already thinking, bad things are going to happen. There’s no hope for you. There’ll be hope for a white person who did the exact same thing as you. The structural system has already given them that green card where they know that, OK, no matter what they do, they won’t have the same severity of how they are judged compared to us. Especially in the court.
Mélina: Yeah, and sometimes you don’t even make it to the court. I’m reminded of – I don’t know if you’re aware of the case of Sheku Bayoh, a black man who was killed by police officers. He died of police brutality in the streets and that was because the police officers perceived him to be dangerous, even though he had no weapons and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it had to do with his skin colour, as a black man. What might be the other benefits of being white?
Titi: Seeing yourself as an individual. So if I do something, it’s my talent, my prime. But if I do something as black woman, it’s ‘wow,’ black people feel proud. Black people dance well.
Mélina: That’s a good one. Ok, so let’s move on to the disadvantages of being white. Are there disadvantages of being white? What do we get, as people of colour, that white people don’t get?
Hashim: I think it’s easier for us to see all the different contradictions within everyday life. I guess that can be some advantage. We can see the historical injustices where white people can’t see it. We can see where things need to be changed where white people can’t.
Sangeeta: I think they can see them but they just choose not to.
Jolomi: White people are actually very open-minded people. They are very open to ways of living, religion etc. They choose to be close-minded when they want to. Unlucky for us, they choose to be close-minded about the things that happen to people of colour. They say ignorance is bliss – they don’t care, they don’t want to think about it, they don’t want to focus on it – they just want to continue with their lives.
Angela: But is it deliberate? Or just ignorance?
Jolomi: I mean it can be deliberate and it can also be due to ignorance. For example, when they raise their children, they aren’t telling their children ‘when you go to school you have to respect everybody, regardless of their colour.’ Recently, I actually talked to somebody’s children… Like when you look at babies, black babies see white babies and they’re going to play with each other. But then when they start growing older, their friends start telling them things like ‘don’t play with those black boys.’ I’ve been in church once, and I tried to shake hands with a little white girl as a sign of peace and she avoided my hand. Where did she learn it from? And she shook everybody else’s hand.
Angela: Probably she’s not used to seeing people with darker skin… I don’t know what to say but sometimes you see it and it hurts you. Like there was a child in a school in primary 7 who was going to be in first year. When they came into the school for the first time, and he said that his mum said not to talk to people of colour. So I said, ‘why did your mum say that?’ He said that we are not the same.
Jolomi: Sometimes they are taught that and sometimes it comes almost naturally. Because when you meet a lot of white people you can see when they have a lot of friends who are people of colour. We also have some of our white friends who are very good individuals – you can tell their parents brought them up to respect and love people regardless of who they are or the colour of their skin. But you also see some other students and you see how they talk to you, how nasty they are – you can tell this is not something that they just learn out of thin air. This is something you actually have to be taught that ‘oh, these people are dangerous – stay away from them.’
I have so many instances I can tell you about. I can tell you that even in the little neighbourhood playground park, we are playing football and these two white children are running and this mum was like ‘Angie, get out of there! I told you not to play with those black children!’ And I was right there! Right there, you know. And she says she has told her before, so that means she has told her that this is something you should not be doing. It’s not like ‘I’m telling you now.’ It’s ‘I’ve told you not to do this before.’ So this is something you’ll be telling your children constantly! And how do you expect these people to then grow up and change this mentality? Because if you look at us, we have our mentality because these are the foundations that our parents laid, the things that our parents taught us when we were growing up, every day and every year. Especially when you grew up in this kind of country, your parents have told you that ‘see, make sure to behave yourself in public, you know, you’re not going to get the same judgement if you misbehave. Your white friends are going to do this but don’t follow them.’ These are things that our parents told us while we were growing up. So if your parents told you the opposite of these things while you’re growing up, it will be almost impossible for you to change your mentality. So that brings me back to what I said about them choosing to be ignorant or sometimes it’s just deliberate. That’s how I see it.
Angela: If that’s how people bring up their children, those children will end up losing out because their world is getting smaller.
Mélina: Yeah, and their minds…
Angela: You can never put whatever is out there – you can’t put it back in the bottle.
Jolomi: If I say something very difficult to change. Like I learnt it from everybody.
Mélina: So that’s a really strong disadvantage.
Angela: If you go to the hospital now, they’re likely to be looked after by a black doctor, a black nurse. I remember one boy – he’s from Ghana – he said… We were talking about how people treat… Because I know there are some children in school, I can’t touch them as if I wanted to touch anyone. If you come near them, you are either smelly or you are messy or whatever… So I asked, ‘how do first years behave with you?’ And he’s well enough to notice that I’m black. My job is done. That’s good. So, some of them, they are the ones missing out. Their world is getting smaller. And if you go to any park, you see a majority of black or coloured children – whatever you want to call them – it means that the population is increasing and changing. So if people are ready or going to be teaching their children to be that myopic, they are losing out. Because they can’t get away from it. They are there.
Mélina: Yeah, I think that’s a great point. There’s definitely a disadvantage in not being able to cope with difference.
From Jolomi and Angela’s revelations, we can see how racist attitudes are still very present in Scottish schools: from not wanting to have any physical contact with a black person, to white parents telling their children not to play with black people, to racist hate speech like saying black people are smelly or stupid. Both Angela and Jolomi made some valuable points about the importance of anti-racist education for white pupils in schools. For white people, there is definitely a disadvantage of not being able to cope with difference as much as people of colour are used to, so anti-racist education can help in that respect. Angela gave another example of a white pupil in her class who did not want anything to do with Chinese people. She explains how she challenged his perspective.
Angela: To add to that disadvantage, there was one boy that I know, he was in my classroom and he said ‘Oh, Chinese – I don’t want to hear anything about them…’ Funnily enough when we were watching something with the overhead projector. So I said ‘Could you turn round and look at where that projector came from?’ and he said, ‘it comes from China.’ Even the pencils we had came from China. You can’t get away from it.
Mélina: That’s true, our future is going to be more and more interconnected. Are there any final disadvantages of being white that we want to mention?
Aneel: Everywhere you are the majority, it might be more difficult to develop compassion for the minority.
Mélina: That’s a really good point.
Aneel: So that can go for a white person living in a black majority country as well. If I’m talking from my own perspective, I feel compassion for people with protected characteristics because I’ve experienced discrimination when growing up.
Mélina: So you’re more able to connect with people who identity as LGBT+ perhaps, or women who face discrimination, people with disabilities – because you’re a person of colour you can understand what discrimination can really feel like.
Aneel: I know what it feels like to be left out or ostracised, or discriminated against, because of what people think of you. I think you develop compassion as a result. A definite benefit for being a minority, which I like to think we all have.
Mélina: I would add, in a way, the struggle makes our lives more interesting. We’ve got a story to tell. We’ve got lots of stories to tell.
Angela: And you are used to being discriminated against or working hard, or trying to be the best you can.
Mélina: We develop resilience perhaps.
Jolomi: You always have to give it your best and even that might not be enough. So it keeps you ahead of people. You are trying to work hard constantly to make sure that no matter what you can’t be put at a disadvantage.
Mélina: So white people might not necessarily benefit from that, not build that resilience.
Angela: You see it in the classroom now. There are some children who think because they think they are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, they don’t work hard. They don’t work hard enough. But you see all those Polish and Spanish and pupils from other countries, they are always ahead of the average Scottish boy. That’s what happens now. So sometimes you pity them… maybe it’s better that way, they have to work harder.
Mélina: A better work ethic perhaps.
Titi: For children, it’s also their imagination. So as a child of colour you have several cultures and influences when you’re growing with other people who are very different from each other. You’ll have more influences that just one specific group of people. Growing up as a white child you might not have the adapting skills, the flexibility and imagination I think.
Hashim: I guess I would definitely agree there are a range of experiences that people of colour have that white people generally don’t. Now if you’re in a place where you can find value in those experiences – if you can’t find value in it, then it’s very hard to realise that that is a benefit. For my kids – I don’t actually have many white kids in my class – but if I did, then I imagine a teacher would find a poem about a white middle-class kid going to the museum at the weekend like amazing and wonderful. But the same thing for a black kid or a Muslim kid who is brown about going to the mosque, or going to their cousin’s house, being like ‘you do that all the time, don’t you?’ It’s not as interesting to white eyes as the stuff that they’re most used to. That’s a more cynical point of view.
Mélina: So I think it’s useful to think of the disadvantages that white people have and then the benefits that we have as people of colour because, as you were explaining, we tend to devalue certain things. So if our culture is not really valued, then it can have an impact on our mental health. Trying to think about how race can also benefit us and how we can use it our advantage is really important. In schools, when I think of the curriculum having more diverse representations, positive role models that can help pupils of colour develop their self-confidence, their self-esteem. We want to be building on those things. Even for us personally, trying to realise ‘I am at an advantage because of my racial or cultural identity because I see things that white people don’t necessarily see.’ So when you’re going to a job interview for example, thinking about how your perspective is unique. Being a person of colour is an asset, despite all the signals we get from society telling us ‘no, you’re worthless.’
Angela: and your background as well.
Mélina: Yeah, your background, absolutely. Being people of colour, very often we’re multicultural, multi-lingual – there are so many other benefits that I think are important to remember.