Black Lives Matter protests must lead to genuine change in Scotland – leader comment

Demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd by an American police officer must be a catalyst for a concerted effort to eradicate racism

Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers performs during the Nice's Jazz Festival in July 2018 (Picture: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)
Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers performs during the Nice's Jazz Festival in July 2018 (Picture: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

It would be absurd to reduce the Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after the killing of George Floyd to a debate about statues and nothing more. For, while they are prominent symbols in our cities and can become focal points for demonstrations, the most important issue is about how people alive today are treated, not those memorialised in stone.

As Kayus Bankole of the award-winning band Young Fathers tells the Scotsman today, it is not enough to rewrite plaques on monuments or even remove a few, we need to address what is a serious blight on life in Scotland.

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Some might attempt to deny this country has a serious problem with racism, but they are unlikely to be members of an ethnic minority. They need to realise the limitations of their own personal experiences and the importance of listening to others.

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Bankole, who spoke movingly of the “constant and tiring” effect of racism on his life, said school pupils should be taught about the “horrors of our country’s deep involvement in crimes on humanity” to ensure they were aware of “the venom within the bite of those white men” and how it still resonates today.

His remarks echo those of Scotland’s Makar, Jackie Kay, who said in August last year that, while Scotland was very different to the 1970s when she was growing up, it still had not “changed enough as far as race goes”. In Scotland, she said, it still seemed “acceptable to keep on asking people where they are from in the way that you just don’t do with a black Liverpudlian, a black Brummie or a black Londoner”.

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And in the Scottish Parliament this month, Glasgow MSP Anas Sarwar listed professions in which he said no one from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) background held a key position, from government departments to academia and the judiciary. “Silence,” he said, “is no longer an option. Let’s have actions and not words.”

In addition to listening to people with first-hand experiences of racism, Scotland needs to face up to its past role in slavery, most importantly within our education system, because this knowledge can be used to fire the righteous anger of the young generation against the stubbornly persistent evil of racism and, hopefully, other forms of prejudice, because they all stem from the same rotten roots of irrational hatreds and ignorance.

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With knowledge and better critical thinking, we can eradicate this abiding shame and make life in Scotland better for everyone.

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Joy Yates

Editorial Director



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