November 2020
Changing the Future Chapter 1 Events
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How did we get here? Decolonise what now? Europe’s colonial past is still ubiquitous: in monuments and cityscapes, but also in memories, symbols and political battles. (Nicolaidis, Sèbe, and Maas 2014, 1) The decolonisation movement has taken many forms. For those who keep up with the papers, its most visceral manifestation has been the removal or defacement of historical symbols, such as statues. Perhaps the most enduring memory of the BLM protests in the UK will be that of the removal of the statue of Edward Colston (who amassed a fortune from the Atlantic slave trade and transferred some to charitable causes) and his dumping into the river in Bristol in June 2020. The moment was one of pure euphoria for anti-racist campaigners, for whom the statue had long been a flashpoint for anger and resentment. It was also a moment that sowed panic and unease among Britain’s elites, including our prime minister, leading to accusations that campaigners were somehow erasing history, or erroneously judging Colston by today’s standards. We have had our own version of this debate in Edinburgh regarding the Melville Monument in St Andrew’s Square. We can have it more locally still; Sir John Foulis’ family profited from the slave trade via Royal African Company investments. 1 More insidiously, I think, those who condemn such acts as ‘thuggery’ and ‘vandalism’ deny people of colour the right to reclaim history. Their contributions, their struggles and ultimately their oppression are erased in the service of a continuous project that is ‘Great Britain’: untouchable and irreproachable, built by white men such as Colston. These figures are eulogised as part of a glorious past invoked to justify political acts in the now (see ‘Global Britain’). Philanthropists such as Colston were transferring wealth accumulated by force, giving some to Britain’s ‘deserving poor’ as charity and aspired for immortalisation via plaques and statues. Why can’t we revisit the morality of that? We revisit who is edified in public spaces for political reasons all the time. This is not, therefore, about erasing history; people can read about Colston any time they wish. It is revising who, or what, represents Britain today. Our elites are secondly denying people of colour the right to write new histories. After all, Colston is now in a museum in Bristol, his story will be retold with new meaning, and we cannot doubt that 2020 is history in the making. I wonder whether much of this unease is down to a continuing mindset whereby people of colour cannot criticise British history, cannot enact British history, and therefore cannot participate in British history because their voices, or even their very humanity, are not equally valued or recognised. Continuing along this vein, despite the contributions of people of colour and that they have been in Britain for centuries (although this last point in my view is moot), they should still be grateful to be here. And if they are still essentially guests, then perhaps they are not really British? ‘So where are you really from..?’ This, to my mind, is the nub of the decolonisation project, whether this takes place in schools, universities, museums or on our streets and in our homes. Early African anti-colonial writers, such as Frantz Fanon (1952; 1967) and Albert Memmi (1990 [1957]) who I’ve tried to engage with in my recent work, understood how colonisation was not just a project of plantations, ports and outposts: it was a project of the mind. In order to justify intervening on the colonies, politicians and administrators first had to forge a shared mindset that the inhabitants, in this case in Africa, were backward - or more accurately savage - in need of Britain’s superior technologies, know-how but also values. This colonisation of the mind was internalised by African people themselves to terrible effect, detailed by psychiatrist Fanon (1952), believing themselves lowest in the racial hierarchy. Thus colonisation as a wider cultural and political project was no mean feat and it still has huge repercussions today. So this is not an academic debate confined to books and archives: it’s right here and now. People of colour are disadvantaged - as some of our contributions have attested to - at every step of their lives by tacit beliefs that they are not as bright, not as deserving, not as trustworthy, not as qualified, not as British, not as ‘us’. It is impossible for me to understand the weight of that for people of colour. I can only educate myself through reading their words and to try to do something about it. That’s what I’ve learned this year. It is not enough to congratulate oneself for not being racist. In fact, if ‘history’ has shaped how people of colour are viewed, I no doubt have subconscious biases that shape my own behaviour. But maybe I can do more to be anti-racist? That is why I have been proud to be a part of this project - making space for voices of people of colour in our community, trying to listen, trying to learn. I hope to be part of a spinoff project that revisits the history of our immediate locality to make visible our colonial history. Did people of colour help build the railway or work in the mill? Indeed, where did the money for our historical buildings come from? I’d like to revisit our history with fresh eyes. Who’s with me? 1 Foulis’ wife had a financial ‘interest in the african companie’ (Scottish History Society 1894, 248), which we believe to be the Royal African Company, in which Colston also invested. Thanks to Liz Beevers for this information. References Fanon, Frantz. 1952. Black Skin, White Masks. First Evergreen edition.. An Evergreen Book. New York: Grove Press.———. 1967. The Wretched of the Earth. Penguin Books ; 2674. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Memmi, Albert. 1990. The Colonizer and the Colonized. London: Earthscan. Nicolaidis, Kalypso, Berny Sèbe, and Gabrielle Maas. 2014. Echoes of Empire: Memory, Identity and the Legacy of Imperialism. Edited by Berny Sebe and Gabrielle Maas. Scottish History Society. 1894. The Account Book of Sir John Foulis of Ravelston, 1671-1707. Publications. v. 16. Edinburgh. Kathy Dodworth is a researcher at the University of Edinburgh and the British International Studies Association. The profits of slavery in our area In Colinton Kirkyard Patrick Gordon, Phoebe Anna Traquair and James Gillespie are buried in varying degrees of pomp. Leaving aside the first two just now, I am trying to research James Gillespie and dig a little beyond what we know about him and his posthumous foundations of a school and a hospital. He was a well-kent merchant in the eighteenth-century trading in Virginian tobacco and snuff. It will have been grown and harvested by slave labour before being shipped here and then ground in that mill we can all see backing onto the Water of Leith in Spylaw park. Its profits will have built the magnificent mansion which provides the frontage to the mill and the carriage in which he travelled to his High Street shop. To paraphrase the famous comment about his carriage..."Wha wad hae thocht it? Slavery bocht it." We need to acknowledge the fact. Our area benefitted financially from slavery and some of our big houses are evidence of it. Spylaw house and Woodville (now demolished) in Colinton, Woodhall House in Juniper Green and Larchgrove in Balerno are examples . In 1833 slavery was abolished in the British Empire and (astonishingly to modern minds) the owners, not the enslaved people, were compensated. Careful government accounts were kept and these have been meticulously researched and made available on Investments in Caribbean estates and their slaves were often seen as steady earners, like the insurance companies of yesteryear. They were given as marriage presents or in trust for orphans. They are recorded as the property of men because, of course, married women could not own property until the late nineteenth century. Professor William Pulteney Alison in Woodville got money for the 152 enslaved people on the St Vincent estate of Bellevue which he had held in trust for his sister’s orphaned children. Alexander Morison of Larchgrove had married, as a nineteen year-old, into the Cushnie family . With his bride he acquired a quarter share of the Windsor Castle estate in Jamaica and five years later built Larchgrove. Later he became a pioneer of psychiatry and left the property to the College of Physicians to finance an annual Morison lecture. A charitable donation and/or a form of money-laundering. James Gillespie of Spylaw left even greater charitable legacies on his death. He was a tobacco and snuff merchant who, in 1773, built his splendid mansion onto the front of his functioning mill. Both still stand as testament to his trade with Virginia where enslaved people piled up huge profits for the tobacco lords of Glasgow. Gillespie’s £12 000 established the well-known school and also a hospital for the godly elderly. Research is ongoing into his business. Until recently many houses paid feu-duties to the Gillespie estate. Even jolly old Sir John Foulis of Woodhall benefitted. He married his third wife, Mary Cunningham nee Murray, bought the estate and got his feet under the Woodhall table in 1699. Then he began to administer Mary’s 200 - pound sterling shares in the “African” Company… almost certainly involving the transatlantic slave trade. No doubt there are many other instances in our area waiting to be researched; but no doubt, too, we are still heedlessly profiting from the exploitation of others in a way that will seem appalling to future generations. Thanks to Val Wilson for drawing my attention to the Legacies of British Slave Ownership website. Liz Our Community A series of contributions from a variety of anonymous contributors The BLM movement to me is something that has been going on not just in the last few months or years, but centuries. It's about raising awareness on the injustices my people have faced and striving to get treated the same as others. Having to begin the race behind everyone else or facing more obstacles just because of your ethnicity, religion or gender. I feel that because we are in Scotland, in Edinburgh, people have this idea that discrimination and injustices don't exist, however this is far from the truth. Many of the staff at schools find it uncomfortable to talk about racism, and often dismiss it when you'd go to report an incident of another student saying something derogatory and offensive. If you have experienced discrimination, you will be familiar with the typical answer you'd get, it's something along the lines of "we'll handle it" or "we'll see what we can do". These amount to absolutely no action. It's not just students, it's teachers too. So many times teachers would call me a 'gang member' or 'gangster' or assume we were up to something bad. My school only had 6 or 7 black guys including me, 3 of whom were friends. Whenever we would be walking together or sitting at benches together the teachers would feel the need to stare at our every movement, or ask us where we're going, what we're doing or why we're together, the constantly assumed we were going to hurt someone or damage something. The main problem within the community is that too many people have their perception of others based solely on media portrayal, and that's not their fault, they haven't been educated. I believe to get past this there needs to be more education on racism and discrimination. And there needs to be change in how religion, politics and history is taught, to show what they see online or in the media isn't accurate. Anonymous contributor Black Lives Matter has made it more evident that people who share nothing in common with me except race end up being disadvantaged, targeted and slaughtered for the very fact of being black. I fight for the people thousands of miles away. And hopefully with the unity of people of all backgrounds coming together we can eradicate the disease of racism. Racism in Edinburgh is more subtle but still affects me the same way as being targeted and judged solely on your race rather than your characteristics or personality. It's disgusting. It can be seen when you are in a different community where people's first assumption of you comes by your race rather than you as a person. I'm blessed to have neighbours of all races, religions and nationalities and we have come to live in trust with one another, so I'm blessed to be in a street like that to be honest.I hope future generations can grow with others knowing that they will not be judged or targeted for their race and can live in peace with others of all races. All BME need to stand together to fight the issue of racism today, we can't have BME fighting BME or glorifying the idea of killing each other when there are other races all over the world already trying that. We need to unite to fight that. Anonymous contributor At first the BLM movement was good for increasing awareness for black lives, but the movement itself has been amazing for other cultures and standing up for all sorts of discrimination and the more BLM helps different people in society, the better. In Edinburgh if you're of a darker skin colour or from Africa/Asia especially among young folk, then in certain areas of the city you can encounter a few people shouting slurs and generally these people tend to be non-educated. Personally, I've had slurs and things shouted at me (things like terrorist, etc) and it's unprovoked which is always strange. Ideally in our future there would be no hate, no crime and people getting along and recognising others as simple human beings regardless of our skin colour, gender, faith, sexuality and so on. Change today needs to include educating the youngers as the biggest priority, racism isn't something you're born with, it's rooted in and usually at home so if schools can change these attitudes as kids are growing up it will make a huge difference. Also, there needs to be an emphasis on calling people out on their discrimination no matter how small it is, but this should be done by explaining calmly without causing an altercation. Anonymous contributor For me, I think that the recent Black Lives Matter movement has turned into a trend, because on social media I don't see many people taking it as seriously as you should, especially white people. Some individuals don't understand what black people go through, they just post stuff on social media because they've seen their friends post, not knowing the meaning of what it is that's going on and not educating themselves properly before posting. For example; the #blackouttuesday people who say the n-word on a daily and have not taken the time to educate themselves on what's going on, posted a black screen, not because they wanted to raise awareness but so they take part on the trend. As one of the only black people in my classroom you feel like teachers treat you differently to other kids, they constantly tell you what to wear and what not to wear. They'd say wearing a headpiece like a scarf or a durag is 'inappropriate'. Everyone looks at you when the n-word is mentioned in history class. It's your white friends singing or saying the n-word because they think you're okay with it, or because 'they have black friends and family' so technically it's okay. We've been kicked out of public places because in a large group of blacks and Asians we looked 'threatening', but If it was a group of white people it would've been handled differently. I'd like for teachers to actually educate pupils on the meaning of the n-word and make them aware of everything that goes on in the world. People don't understand how it makes us feel and they can never relate, but at least they can be educated on the matter. Moving forward I feel we need to see more minority doctors, lawyers, politicians and other people in powerful positions, to show the youth that someone from their background can succeed. Anonymous contributor Over the past two years, I have been fortunate enough to befriend a wonderful Syrian woman. What started off as a teacher/ pupil relationship has developed into a very close friendship, and one which has enriched my life. Our different languages, religions and cultures are matters to explore, enjoy and laugh about, rather than barriers to our friendship. Another friend asked if I would discuss with my Syrian friend her feelings about living in Scotland and this was the result. What do you like about living in Scotland? First of all, the friends I have made, like my support worker and you! Before I came to Scotland, I thought Scottish people might not want to speak to me because I wear a hijab and because I am a Muslim, but everybody is nice and friendly. People say ‘hello’ to me in the street. How do you feel about living in Scotland, rather than Syria or elsewhere? I have been in Scotland for just over two years. Nobody has spoken unkindly to me or anybody in my family in all that time. I have lovely neighbours. I have other friends who are not so lucky, especially during Ramadan when as Muslims, we must fast during daylight hours and so there might be more noise late at night when we are breaking our fast. Anonymous contributor 45 years ago, I had left my all-white school and graduated from my all-white university and was headed to Strathclyde University for my post-grad. I knew Glaswegians, and even had a Glaswegian girlfriend, but the idea of actually living in Glasgow was a bit intimidating. A list of my flatmates further daunted: Mohan Das, Banja Sirisarawan; Felix Labinjo, Ebenezer Okafor. However, I thought I'd at least have something in common with the last, Colin Bingham-Walker, even if he might be an posh English twit. Colin in reality was a very successful Jamaican businessman, driving a fancy Jaguar, and with a really infectious laugh. Living with those five people was great fun. I was the youngest and, although I had Inter-railed across Europe, I was the least exposed to immersion in other cultures. In that year I learned so much about different societies, attitudes, foods, religions, and more. And it was a revelation to find that Glaswegians in their home environment were not so different from us. On graduating, I followed my girlfriend to experience this Common Market we'd recently joined. Three years later I was working in Saudi Arabia and having a wild time. All that was missing was my girlfriend, so we married in Bangkok and met up with my old friend Banja and his family. We've now lived in 13 countries and visited more than 60 others. Plans to visit more are currently on hold so our next break will be to Bute, where one of the incidental pleasures will be to visit cafes run by onetime refugees now contributing positively to the local economy, and re-acquaint ourselves with Syria's excellent cuisine. We're very lucky to be exposed to so many cultures through our international festivals. Enjoy them here and then go visit their place of origin. Open your mind, open your heart, open your arms and embrace them. Appreciate the diversity life offers - even visit Glasgow. Russell Changes for the Future It is no longer 'popular' for institutions and corporations to idly sit back and watch their black fellow citizens be oppressed by every level of state authority. These very same corporations and institutions who were silent about the movement since its inception scurried to draft politically appropriate messages voicing their support for the cause. The fear of getting 'cancelled' by online communities was enough to send PR teams across the world into a frenzy. This timely show of support of companies to the cause becomes problematic as it positions Black Lives Matter as a trend that they can profit from and not a movement that demands change. Excuse me for my pessimistic stance regarding the altruistic ambitions of these multi-million-pound corporations. But saying 'Black Lives Matter' and acting on it are two very different matters. As conscious citizens we should push companies to act swiftly on their messages of support so that as a society we can collectively address this imbalance. This means we should not be merely satisfied with carefully constructed graphics or adverts displaying their support. Instead we should hold them accountable to their declarations of support. If we interpret 'Black Lives Matter' as a global phenomenon then we should demand that corporations who have profited from black exploitation to support black people across the world. The gaming company Sony who plastered the Black Lives Matter logo across their social media at the same time are benefitting from child workers in Congo being used to extract cobalt, a material vital to the construction of their electronic components. The fast fashion industry is particularly guilty of this as despite their messages of support companies like ‘Pretty Little Thing’ and ‘Fashionnova’ have been accused of stealing the ideas of black creatives and undercutting them from their profits. How can a company expect change from state institutions if they themselves are not willing to respect black lives? Under the guise of faux activism these companies have long evaded the consequences of their business practices. Even within these companies who claim to support Black Lives Matter, we see unethical business practices which discriminate against their black employees. Whether it be for the way their hair is styled or the clothes they wear, black people across the spectrum are continuously shunned in the workplace. These issues are not easily dealt with and will require change from consumer level all the way to the boardroom. The criticisms can be attributed to capitalism as easily as they have been applied to racism. However, within a capitalist economy, it is often the minorities who are left to fend for themselves. If organisations are really dedicated to making Black Lives Matter then they should correct the wrongs in their own supply chains before demanding the same of others. Until then we should support local black-owned businesses to enable them to reach the heights they should be reaching. Faraz The Black Lives Matter Movement is such a powerful campaign for increasing awareness of black lives and how we can put an end to discrimination against black people. Seeing all of the BLM protests, the strong media awareness and how many people are involved has showed me that we as a society demand change and won’t stop fighting till we succeed. The BLM movement impacted me as I became more aware. I realised how racial discrimination is affecting my friends and individuals on a daily basis, and how different their lives are to mine. To gain a stronger understanding, I educated myself and the people around me through reading posts on social media, articles, watching documentaries and signing petitions to help gain justice for lives that have been lost. I educated myself on topics such as the institutionally racist police system, systematic racism, white privilege and more which made me realise how horrible the world we live in is. My friends and I joined an equalities committee to help fight and prevent racism in my school. I’m extremely proud of them and happy that I can support them to create change. I hope that we can encourage teachers and pupils to stop any form of racism and discrimination they see so that school can be a safe space for everyone. I will never truly understand how black individuals see this world; however, I want to do everything I can to help them tackle racism as it’s not just their problem, it’s ours too. My hope for the future is that schools make it compulsory to teach black history - to educate the new generations which will shape our society into a better, equal world, as you’re not born racist, you’re brought into it. I also hope there will be more diversity within schools, politics, job industries, films and much more as I notice that’s something that definitely requires change. I want to live in a world where we are all treated and seen as one and where no one has to go through the pain of being judged or targeted for their race or the colour of their skin. Martyna
Equality in the Discoverer room One of our friends let us borrow the “Smeed’s and the Smoo’s”, which together we read as a big group. Throughout it created conversation around our differences and similarities. We began to discuss what made us different to our friends and what made us the same. And how together we should treat everyone equally. This sparked discussion about how we treat our friends and children spoke about being “kind” and “make them happy when they are sad”, as well as how we should let everyone join in the game”. The children then drew around their friends and had discussions about what their friends looked like and what made them unique. “I have yellow hair” “His skin is darker” “They have a red T- shirt”
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