Over the last month we have seen a surge in discussion about race relations due to the worldwide protests taking place against the murder of George Floyd in the United States. Against the advice of the Scottish Government, gatherings took place in Edinburgh and Glasgow to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement globally.
However, how effective are these protests in addressing racial discrimination within Scottish society or do we even need for these protests to happen at all in Scotland?
Although the anecdotal consensus is that socially within Scotland ethnic minorities generally feel more welcome in society than in England, I don’t believe this comparative low bar is the level of aspiration we should set ourselves as a nation that champions equal opportunity for all.
Diversity and inclusion work within Scotland hardly passes what I would describe as the stage one of equalities work, where many are in denial that the system they are a part of could either be inherently sexist or racist. However, how else can the discrepancy in areas such as access to employment between race groups in Scotland be explained? As an example, in North Lanarkshire black men are three times more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts as published earlier this year in the North Lanarkshire Equality Strategy.
This leads me to stage two, where change can only happen when there is an acceptance that society has been conditioned to prefer men over women within roles of leadership and the same for our white colleagues compared to our BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) colleagues. Evidence of this is the lack of representation that can be seen within the Scottish Parliament, where there are only two BAME MSPs out of 129 MSPs – both who are privately educated. Whether unintentional or intentional, our unconscious bias is having an effect on the progression of our society to view all racial groups as equally competent for leadership roles within our communities.
This leads me to stage three, where the real work of changing our behaviours and systemic issues can be addressed. Until we can reach this stage of self-reflection, infrastructure within Scotland will continue to hinder the progress of BAME teachers, politicians, public sector workers, university lecturers and the list goes on.
There is no denying that Scotland is a positive nation for BAME communities to live, however there is still a long way to go before we can claim that black lives matter as equally as white lives within our nation. On the question of whether the protests are needed in Scotland, I certainly believe they have allowed for race equality issues to be brought to the fore for the better so we can have a more open, frank and honest discussion about how Scottish society can work towards a more inclusive future for all. I really hope we grasp this opportunity to take a long hard look at where we can improve our inclusive society as we progress to the new ‘normal’ and slowly recover from the covid-19 pandemic.
By Junaid Ashraf