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by Khaleda Noon
17 March 2021
Comment: I suffered racism every day as a child in Scotland

Comment: I suffered racism every day as a child in Scotland

The first time I experienced racial hatred was when I was two years old and my poor mum – a vulnerable soul – married a violent racist.

If he hadn’t died three years later, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

I am Khaleda Noon and I am the founder and CEO of Intercultural Youth Scotland.

I’m half Scottish and half Arabic. My mum was born and bred in Perth and my father was from Kuwait. He was a pilot at the Scone Aerodrome.

It is often a bit of our forgotten history that many men from the Middle East came to train as pilots in Scotland at the small aerodrome in rural Perthshire in the early '70s.

It quite literally changed the face of the town and I am a product of that time.

As you can imagine, some people were horrified by this influx of exotic-looking men.

They may have appreciated the money that the new aerodrome residents brought into the town, but the so-called Fair City was unused to being home to people of colour and racism was rife. 

My father left when I was one year old, I didn’t know him, don’t know him, and I never got the opportunity to understand my Arabic culture, faith or identity.

So, I have a white mum, a white big sister and big brother, white cousins, aunties and uncles. I was the only brown one. The “black sheep of the family” or “the black pudding” as I was often ‘affectionately’ called.

We lived in Perth for a little while and then (when my mum married the racist) we moved to a tiny village up north in Aberdeenshire, where there were no black people or people of any colour – other than white.

I am Scottish, I grew up Scottish, my culture, my thoughts and my beliefs, my life is Scottish – mince ‘n’ tatties, Bon Accord cola, stovies, jam pieces. Scottish through and through, apart from one thing: the colour of my skin. 

I would like to tell you that it was all great, no problem here, but that is far from the truth.

And while others made their feelings about me clear, even I hated the colour of my own skin.

I suffered racism every day as a child from other children but mostly from adults. And that was even harder to escape when it came from within my own family.

I was different. I only needed to look at the faces of my own siblings to see that. I wasn’t reflected in their image.

And in Auchenblae, a tiny wee village in those days, I stood out.

Of course, it was a different era then, but I was surrounded by negative images about my colour in the media and on tv. Comedies where the person of colour was always the butt of white people’s jokes. 

Then of course there were all the subliminal messages. 

Think about it, simple everyday phrases like saying “you’re black” when you mean you are dirty. Like “black market”, “blacklisted”, “blackmail”, “the dark side”. All negative, right?

If you still don’t see it, then compare it with the equivalents of “fair maid”, “seeing the light”, “enlightened” and a “white lie”. All positive, right?

For me, this resulted in the overwhelming belief that being dark was inferior and being white was superior.

The result was that I hated my colour, my name, my thick eyebrows, black hair. My identity was Scottish, but I was not allowed or accepted to be Scottish. I hated me.

I don’t know exactly what years of self-loathing does, but I do know that hating being who you are or not feeling you fit in even within your own family, has its consequences.

I have grown up trying to understand all of this by myself and I have wasted years being angry and lost. People often ask me why I do what I do. They say I’m a force of nature.

But I am not a force of nature, I am a creation of my real-life experiences which is why I’m passionately committed to young people of colour.

Informal education saved my life and although I didn’t have the best start and I made some really bad choices, having one person believe in me gave me that little bit of hope and self-worth.

I know that the charity that I founded two years ago gives that to thousands of young people who may have nothing. And I am proud.

And to that teacher who said I would “amount to nothing”, you were wrong.

Yes, I was the trouble maker, that kid who was destined for failure, but I have created some groundbreaking work and because of this I have been invited to speak on expert panels.

I influence the Scottish Government and meet with politicians, but my biggest achievement is that I have designed and delivered a national charity that will nurture the next generation of people of colour to make a change and take anti-racist practice forward, knowing their rights, breaking down barriers, and taking their rightful place in society – not just having to fit in. 

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