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Damn, you’ve been (t)here: a dialogue between Black lives in Scotland to another

12 Dec 22

It was a great privilege to co-host the “Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland” book launch with authors Francesca Sobande and layla-roxanne hill and with Katucha Bento co-director of Race.ED. Thank you to all those involved.

Francesca Sobande and layla-roxanne hill book “Black Oot Here” is available to purchase from local book shops such as Lighthouse books.

Thank you to Anya Nnenna Uzo for this blog post.

 

Anya Nnenna Uzo
Damn, You’ve Been (T)here: A dialog between Black Lives in Scotland to Another.

After reading Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland by Francesca Sobande and layla-roxanne hill, I struggled to situate myself. I am new to Scotland. I think it is apt to say that I embody the assumption many try to put on to Black Lives in Scotland; not native born, child of an immigrant, and not really from here. Frankly, my therapist was the only other Black Scottish person I knew before coming here whose great-great-grandfather
was born and raised in Glasgow. However, needing to explain this precisely as it gets to a vital point of the book. Black Oot Here showcases the complex, (in)visiblised, and honest lives of Black people in, from, and connected to Scotland. Many of the people centered in its pages have had to qualify, hyphenate, or have others question the legitimacy of their Scottish identity.
As a person who is racially mixed (White/Igbo-Nigerian) and with a transnational family, this reality is a bit familiar. In the US, my father isn’t really American. In Sweden, my sister isn’t really Swedish. Despite them both speaking the language, obtaining citizenship, and adopting local values their blackness was pitted at odds with their national identity. This national gatekeeping does not just reflect others’ racist imaginations of who is and is not a part of the community but is indicative of a culture of denialism that may be playing out at large. This starting point is one of the things I
appreciate about Black Oot Here. There is no debate about whether or not racism, xenophobia, and anti-blackness exist in Scotland, but instead, the authors speak on how it manifests. Sobande and hill unearth how flagrantly racist imagery and instances are frequently brushed aside in Scotland as being ‘misunderstood’ or ‘not as bad as it could be in England,’ like the Jim Crow rock in Dunoon. While also looking at virtue-signalling agendas like The New Scots Refugee Integration Strategy 2018-2022, which fails to acknowledge the reality of racism as an obstacle for new refugees and
immigrants to this country, thereby portraying it as a ‘non-issue.’ These examples of racism to racial exceptionalism are demonstrative that racism is here in Scotland.
The immense helm Sobande and hill endeavoured to take up is reflected in the consideration given to the subject matter. They carefully articulate and occupy an intersectional Black Feminist space throughout the book that has been intentionally constructed outside oppressive and extractives norms of academia and the literary world. Sobande and hill transgress their literary voice(s) by speaking in community with the audience rather than speaking down to or as a figure of authority. In short, they do not reproduce the ivory tower dynamic commonly done within non-fiction literature and academia. They aim to honour all who participated in their Black Lives in Scotland survey and agreed to be interviewed during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and George Floyd protests. This care is demonstrated most notably in what photography they decided to show through the book. They choose images that do not perpetuate the fetishized and extractivist gaze that many Black people are placed in when others archive our living/lived experiences.
Reading this book during Black History month here in Scotland was formative, to say the least. There were echoing sentiments and solidarities that rang familiar to me, as if I were in the States, yet stories and voices were different. It showed me that diaspora is not the same story being told and retold but understanding that story in a new language and sequence. I had the privilege to supplement some chapters of this book with lectures sponsored by RACE.ED Network during the month. When I say privilege, I want to stress this regard. In the opening chapters, Sobande and hill document the meager and slanted educational experience many had about Black people in Scotland or the rest of the UK. Many did not learn about the Black History of Scotland, let alone the racism that exist(ed) here. Many, myself included (within the American context) rarely if ever, can learn about history for the first time not in a white Eurocentric context.
Learning about Claudia Jones and Kubara Zamani before Edward Balliol allowed me to question the conventions of what it means to be Scottish or British (or both, or neither).

What if we made this not a privilege but a requirement?

How would our conversations about who is and isn’t really Scottish change?

The lecture held on October 13th by acclaimed historian Hakim Adi about his new book ‘African and Caribbean People in Britain: A History’ focused on the histories of Black people in Britain spanning from the Cheddar Man from the Mesolithic Age to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. I believe Adi’s lecture harmonized and accentuated the significance of Black Oot Here’s place in the decolonial and historical canon. The throughline between the book and the lecture is that y’all been (t)here, y’all are (t)here, and y’all will be (t)here.

Images credit: Katucha Bento; and artwork by Michaelagh Broadbent, 2022.

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