An open letter on race and racism in Scotland

An open letter on race and racism in Scotland

We, the signatories of this letter, represent a broad cross-section of Scotland’s society. We
are activists, community workers, academics and educators. Between us, we have many
decades of experience in researching, teaching, studying and advocating for racial equality.
We have differing experiences and, in some ways, differing views on race and racism.


However, following the negative and irresponsible media coverage of the Resisting
whiteness conference held at Edinburgh University on 28th September 2019, we join
together to express our shared concern that understandings of race and racism in Scotland
are rolling backwards.


This incident is part of a broader trend that seeks to silence the voices of people in Scotland
who face colour based racism.


Press articles on the Resisting whiteness conference included claims that the format of the
event was ‘blatantly racist’. The basis for this lies in an untrue assertion that white people
would ‘not be allowed to ask questions’. In fact, the organisers had made provision for
white attendees to ask questions following the main question session. White attendees
were informed of this in advance and the reasons were explained with balance, tact and
sensitivity. This format was necessary to ensure that the discussion could be led by the
voices of people affected by colour based racism.


The assertion that this was somehow racist directly undermines those voices, and appears
potentially intended to drive division between people with an interest in anti-racism and the
wider public.


The current climate of resentment towards frank discussion of race and racism threatens to
undo progress on race equality in Scotland. This expands beyond attempts to police
legitimate work to challenge racial inequality, into the policy making arena.


Within public sector work on race equality, we see a worrying trend towards limiting
understanding of race to its basic legal definition. Everyone in Scotland is protected by law
from racial discrimination on the grounds of their colour, nationality and ethnic or national
origins, as is fair and just. However, it is blatantly unfair to suggest that the risk of inequality
and discrimination on the grounds of race is equally applicable to everyone in Scotland.


Unfortunately, as with the false assertions aimed at the Resisting whiteness organisers,
these views are sometimes put forward by people claiming to have anti-racist agendas.
There is nothing anti-racist about minimising the link between colour based racism and
racial inequality.


Evidence based policy approaches must take into account the history of racialisation and
current experience of discrimination which creates worse outcomes for people from specific
ethnic backgrounds in specific areas of life.


The solutions to these issues cannot be reached without open, honest discussion of how
racism operates as a social and institutional structure, fuelled by the protections and
advantages that people perceived as white have received over time and in the present day.


White people in Scotland have a vital role to play in creating the culture change needed to
eradicate racism. However, just as there is a time for speaking out and challenging racism,
there must be time for listening, learning and reflecting on the experiences of those who
face racism. These discussions may be uncomfortable, but they are necessary.


These discussions need to recognise that whilst discrimination and xenophobia faced by
white migrant groups must be tackled, for most of these groups, this will reduce over
generations. The perception of whiteness will eventually confer an advantage; at the very
least, the advantage of freedom from the impact of skin colour based stereotypes, prejudice
and hatred.


Scotland has developed many national strategies, policies and initiatives looking at the
disadvantage faced by those who experience racism and racial inequality. However, the lack
of progress on race equality in practical terms shows that this is not enough.


Routine attempts to silence voices seeking to discuss race, and particularly to discuss
whiteness, are holding us back.


We ask that those with influence – journalists, policy makers, politicians, educators and
employers – seek to understand race and racism beyond simplistic legal definitions. We ask
that this discussion makes space for listening, learning and reflecting on the realities of race
and racism.


Only then can we claim to be a nation dedicated to tackling racial inequality.




Aamer Anwar, Lawyer & Rector of the University of Glasgow
Adebusola Debora Ramsay
Adrian Lui
Andrea Baker Mezzo, Soprano, creator of Sing Sistah Sing!
Dr Andy Hancock, Moray House School of Education and Sport, University of Edinburgh
Anita Shelton
The Anti-Racist Educator
Benjamin Brown
Carol Young, Senior Policy Officer, CRER
Dr Chisomo Kalinga, University of Edinburgh
Dr Christine Whyte, Lecturer in Global History, University of Glasgow
Dr Claire Duncanson, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh
The Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights
Colin Clark, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of the West of Scotland
Colin Lee, CEMVO Scotland
Davidson Chademana, Trade Union Equality Activist, UCU
Professor Diana Paton, University of Edinburgh
Eleanor McKnight, Learning & Development Manager, Elite Linguists
Dr Emma Hill, Sociology, University of Edinburgh
Emma Ritch, Executive Director, Engender
Farah Akbar, Co-Director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland
Fariha Thomas
Franklin Jacob, Black Students’ Representative, NUS Scotland
Sir Geoff Palmer
Gillian Neish, Neish Training
Giulia Liberatore, University of Edinburgh
Councillor Graham Campbell, Glasgow City Council
Hannah Lavery
Hazel Gray, University of Edinburgh
Dr Ima Jackson, Glasgow Caledonian University
Jatin Haria, Executive Director, CRER
Jelina Berlow-Rahman, Berlow-Rahman Solicitors
Julia Davidson, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Julie Cupples, Professor of Human Geography and Cultural Studies, University of Edinburgh
Justine Atkinson, Festival Producer, Africa in Motion (AiM)
Dr Kanchana N Ruwanpura, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh
Kash Taank
Kaukab Stewart, SNP BAME Network Executive Member
Khaleda Noon and IYS Ambassadors, Intercultural Youth Scotland
Leyla De Amicis, UWS
Lisa Williams, Director, Edinburgh Caribbean Association
Lorraine Barrie, Manager, Glasgow Equality Forum
Lucinda Broadbent, Media co-Op
Dr Lucy Lowe, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Marlies Kustatscher, Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland
Mélina Valdelièvre
Dr Meryl Kenny, Senior Lecturer in Gender and Politics, University of Edinburgh
Dr Mike Orr, Co-director, Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland, Uni. of Edinburgh
Mohammed Razaq, Executive Director, WSREC
Najimee Parveen, Director, PATH Scotland
Naira Dar
Professor Nasar Meer, FAcSS, University of Edinburgh
Naseem Anwar
Nicola Frith, University of Edinburgh
Neil Davidson, School of Social and Political Science, University of Glasgow
Dr Nighet Riaz
Dr Órla Meadhbh Murray, University of Edinburgh
Pat Elsmie, Founding Director, Migrants’ Rights Scotland
Dr Peggy Brunache, Lecturer in the History of Slavery, University of Glasgow
Professor Peter Hopkins, Newcastle University
Philomena de Lima
Dr Pontus Odmalm, University of Edinburgh
Rachel Douglas, University of Glasgow
Dr Radhika Govinda, Lecturer in Sociology, School of Social and Political Science, Uni. of Edinburgh
Rashne Limki, University of Edinburgh
Raza Sadiq, Active Life Club
Dr Rebecca Marsland, Senior Lecturer, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Resisting whiteness
Richard Haley, Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
Rohini Sharma Joshi
Rosa Murray, University of Edinburgh
Prof. Rowena Arshad, Chair in Multicultural and Anti-Racist Education, University of Edinburgh
Safia Ali, AMINA – Muslim Women’s Resource Centre
Samuel Oludare Yerokun
Sanjay Lago, Performance Artist
Sekai Machache, Visual Artist
Shaben Begum, Director, SIAA
Shahzad Humayun, Chair, SCOREscotland
Show Racism the Red Card Scotland
Shruti Jain, Chair, Saheliya
SJ Cooper-Knock, Centre of African Studies and Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Teresa Piacentini, University of Glasgow
Dr Tom Boylston, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh
Dr Tom Cunningham, Research Fellow, History, Classics & Archaeology University of Edinburgh
Tommy Curry, University of Edinburgh
Tony Adams, Lecturer, City of Glasgow College
Trishna Singh, Sikh Sanjog
Zandra Yeaman, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights
(all signatories in a personal capacity unless otherwise indicated)