Scots need racism ‘reality check’, says trade union leader

Ude Joe-Adigwe.
 Picture: John Devlin.
Ude Joe-Adigwe. Picture: John Devlin.
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Scots need a “reality check” about racism and “stop pretending everything’s fine and we’re all equal”, according to a Nigerian-born Scottish trade union leader.

Ude Joe-Adigwe, regional organiser with GMB Scotland, said racist abuse is in danger of radicalising alienated young people and causing others long-lasting psychological harm.

Mr Joe-Adigwe, 51, who arrived in Glasgow as a five-year-old child after his family fled Nigeria and then Idi Amin’s Uganda in the early 1970s, said casual everyday racism is on the increase as a new wave of minorities – such as eastern Europeans – are being targeted by abuse fuelled by Brexit and austerity.

He describes himself as an “Afro-Caledonian” and recalls living in temporary homeless accommodation after his childhood home was burgled and daubed with racist graffiti. He was also attacked for 
having a white Scottish girlfriend.

“Having been through the worst of it, I can look back on it and see that people react in different ways,” he said.

“If it’s a ‘one off’ that’s liveable with. But when it becomes a normal part of your life and you have the resilience and strength to cope that is one thing.

“However there are a lot of young people who do not have the mental resources and supportive families and end up feeling alienated second-class citizens.

“They start asking ‘what can I do to validate myself?’ and we would be foolish and blinkered to discount someone feeling like a second-class citizen turning to radicalisation and Isis.”

Mr Joe-Adigwe said as a pupil at St Charles primary and then at St Mungo’s Academy in the city he took the attitude “up with this I will not put”. He went on to study at the University of Glasgow before entering the insurance industry and running a music promotion business.

Latest figures from the charity Show Racism the Red Card (SRTRC), which provides anti-racism education, show 37 per cent of children in Scotland say they have suffered racial abuse – up 19 per cent from last year.

Mr Joe-Adigwe said his father, president of the Development Bank of Nigeria and a prominent member of the Igbo tribe, had been a supporter of Biafran independence which led to him becoming a political refugee.

He said: “The remarkable thing about kids is that they don’t have a sense of ‘otherness’ but as I got older other children came under the influence of adults and that’s when the comments about my racial origins started.

“But even then, I was a reflective wee lad and loved the expression about us all being Jock Tamson’s bairns. By far the majority of people have been welcoming and friendly but there does need to be a reality check about racism and stop pretending everything’s fine and we’re all equal.”

Gavin Sutherland, campaign co-ordinator with SRTRC, said there had been a growth in hate crimes and overt racism UK-wide since the EU referendum vote.