One afternoon in the Spring of 2018, I was on a coffee date with a friend in Glasgow’s West End. A female customer, who was alone and sat a reasonably short distance away from our table, singled me out with abuse as I was the only Black person in the room at the time. She proceeded to refer to monkeys and asked me questions about Africa while discussing my ethnicity. It is worth noting that she was Caucasian.
She racially profiled me, my culture and belittled my heritage. I immediately felt sub-human or somehow below-par. All I could do was complain to the staff, finish my oat milk flat white and leave hastily with my friend; given the sheer awkwardness of it all. When I followed-up about the incident a few days later, I was informed that the woman was mentally ill and shouldn’t have been out by herself. The coffee shop also banned her from returning. I have never gone back to the café so I wouldn’t know whether they stuck to their word; however, I would have at least expected more than to brush a racist act under the carpet.
Another event in Glasgow involves a bizarre experience where I bumped into a group of people after a night out. They openly boasted that they had just been to a Black Face themed party. Other more minor interactions include a girl at a house-warming telling me that she had “never had a Black friend before”. Suggesting that my only worth to her is the colour of my skin, and not the content of my character. Incidents like these make me question whether Glasgow has fully arrived into the 21st Century. Whether society, in general, is in the 21st Century.
Unfortunately, these are just a few examples out of a myriad of times where I’ve been implicitly or explicitly racially abused in the city of Glasgow. I often had to deal with hoards of implicit undertones, which made me feel uncomfortable, subordinate and generally like a second class citizen. If this is just what I personally went through in the short space of time that I lived there as a student, I cannot imagine what my other Black & Brown peers who are permanent residents of the city have endured or are enduring in this very moment.
I have found that as a Black individual, I have continuously felt ostracised. It is of importance to note that there have been many more subtle incidents, like walking into a large lecture hall or seminar room and being one of the very few BAME instances among a sea of literally a hundred faces.
Whether it’s the staring when merely walking down the street, rude service at places of business or inappropriate incidents on nights out just like the one I expressed above. This heinous behaviour has to stop. The process of ostracising is not only within institutions such as various universities in Scotland; but also within the population of Glasgow as a city.
As a Black female individual originally from London, studying in Glasgow has been an eye-opening experience for me, both physically and metaphorically. London was a multi-ethnic melting pot, with every person you can ever imagine. I had never before been made to feel different.
For the first time in my life, I have never had to take a look at myself and compare my worth and value to white academic counterparts. Alternatively, I am thankful for the lack of diversity which Glasgow possesses as it has forged opportunities for young and empowered individuals to fight back by creating spaces specifically for young BAME individuals to gather and support one another. This includes music and artists collectives such as OH141, Forij and Peach.
Glasgow also inspired me to create a safe space for myself and others by forming Make Official Magazine or MØM for short, a small independent creative arts zine which runs on the contributions from various independent artists worldwide. Our ethos is creativity, authenticity and equality. MØM began in August 2017 as a way to fight inequality and promote inclusivity; for individuals that may have felt as lost and alone as I was. In a way, being excluded from the wider society forced me to make a space of inclusion not only for myself but for others.
It was also a refuge for me to battle the loneliness and isolation I felt every day as POC, by creating a community for creativity where like-minded individuals like me could gather. I do admit there are public governmental efforts towards developing a more inclusive society and population; as a way to end the racist narratives such as Glasgow’s well-known slogan plastered across the Glasgow City College building “People make Glasgow”.
Also, there was the March To End Racism protest which took place in Spring 2018. I believe, however, that Glasgow’s institutions and the city as a whole has a long way to go before they have fully arrived in the 21st Century. With the phrase “People Make Glasgow”; it is easy to wonder what people? I did not feel included in this seemingly inclusive rose-tinted narrative. Upon the initial news of the George Floyd police brutality related murder on May 25th and with BLM protests erupting in UK cities such as London and Manchester not long after it took Glasgow the best part of a week to plan a demonstration.
Although I realise that their way of easing the lockdown was slower than the rest of the UK, I have to urge this Scottish city to do better and act faster when representing and protecting its POC community. POC within Glasgow will be just as affected by the Floyd Murder as others are all around the world, so it is not enough for the city to be silent on this. It is not enough to treat racism as a “POC issue”.
My personal experience studying in Glasgow for the past four years has made me question my identity, my worth as a human being and in some cases, even my own sanity. It has made me question myself as a person. However, it has also made me take pride in my own skin colour, and beam in my melanin; even in a stifling social climate.
And now as I leave Glasgow with my Philosophy degree, I also leave with an extra sense of certainty that I love who I am; and most specifically the skin I was born into. To all my non—Black peers in Glasgow it isn’t my job to tell you how to do better if you feel as though this is not an issue for you as you are not personally affected; that is white privilege and part of the problem. However, this is also an opportunity for growth; try to see that an injustice anywhere is a danger to justice everywhere and more importantly try and walk in my shoes. An excellent place to start would be the BLM solidarity march planned for June 7th at George Square, Glasgow in honour of the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
And a final message to my Black and Brown peers, I’m standing by you and letting you know that you are not alone.
We can all be proud to be Black, even in Glasgow.
The Glasgow BLM march will take place on June 7, at George Square. Please join if you can.