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by Khaleda Noon
15 June 2021
Comment: We can't rely on white people to tackle racism in Scotland

Comment: We can't rely on white people to tackle racism in Scotland

The voices of Black people and people of colour are lost amidst the carnival of white people clamouring to speak their anti-racism louder than each other.

Over the past year, the level of understanding around race and racism in Scotland seems to have risen – with constant reminders of the reality of racism in our popular and social media; greater (but still lacking) representation in mainstream film, music, and literature; and an anti-racist protest movement, including Black Lives Matter.

More and more, it seems, that white people are coming to understand that we live in a society structured by racism, something that we, as people of colour, have known for years.

What often seems to follow, however, are self-congratulatory discussions that end in no structural change, with white leaders profiting from the experiences of racism that we suffer. 

My colleagues and I at Intercultural Youth Scotland (IYS) have often encountered leaders and decision-makers who talk the talk in public forums and meetings with stakeholders only to do the bare minimum behind closed doors.

Worse than this, they continue to hold on to power that communities should have to lead themselves.

Any genuinely anti-racist work must start from the community, and the voices of people in those communities should take precedent over the dishonest performances of white allyship we so often see; performances which so often do nothing but accumulate symbolic capital for their own sake.

All the while, we have had to do a merry dance to have even a single word of ours heard by those that matter.

Even when we find ourselves in positions of influence, white leaders speak over us and we feel like we’re only there to make them feel like they are doing ‘the right thing’.

Even one conversation without the community’s involvement is too much. People must have the agency to lead change in their own lives and the humanity to guide what is best for themselves.

Continuing to engage with racism only as something that white leaders need to ‘do better’ to work against, rather than something that needs a structural response and a redistribution of power, will only limit our ability to respond to racism’s violence.

Seen in this way, racism continues to be just an issue of individual morality rather than a structure that needs to be radically changed.

For all the good intent and chat about working against racism, we need to understand that little will change until the system that holds it all up does too.

We at IYS try to introduce organisations to new ways of thinking and doing against racism, but we can only go so far if leaders stubbornly hold onto power.

There are those who really are doing the work to help empower ourselves and our communities to fight oppressive power structures. They allow those with lived experience to lead the fight, without forcing us to or starting conversations without us.

However, I often hear other people talk about centring lived experience, listening to the community, and reaching out to the seldom heard, without really taking the time to understand what this looks like.

What does it truly mean to ‘centre lived experience’ of racism if all decision-making power lies in the hands of the oppressor?

At IYS, we collaborate with the young black people and young people of colour we are advocating for; their experience is truly at the centre of everything we do, in our youth services and in our advocacy, and we are guided by this BPoC (black and people of colour) youth-led approach. 

Those who hold power know little of the experience of racism and foregrounding their voices over others’ serves only to reinforce the same power structures that have got us to where we are today.

The problem is not just in what is being said, but also in who is saying it. We cannot continue to do things because they are convenient. We cannot rely on those trusted by white leaders to do their bidding.

I am tired of repeatedly telling people the same thing, that white-led co-production is limited and does not capture our true experience. Slight changes or new ‘anti-racism resources’ are not enough, we cannot resource ourselves out of a racist system. 

So, once you’ve finished patting each other on the back, we invite you to join us in making some real change with and for our communities.

We need a movement for change across all of Scotland - one that centres BPoC young people, but that involves all of us.

Wherever you are in this system, overturning structural racism won’t happen without reflecting on how racism plays out around you, taking action to do something about it, and relinquishing power to communities and BPoC-led organisations.  


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