I’m currently sitting at home on an unexpected days holiday - for Juneteenth. The high hiedyins of Unity wanted to give us some space to reflect as a company on the racial inequality in the world.
And I’m sitting here feeling guilty as all heck. Why should I, as a peely wally white guy, benefit yet again from black voices rightfully pointing out the utterly unjust situation that we (white folks) have put them through for at least four hundred years. Shamefully I didn’t even know what Juneteenth was until they announced it was a holiday, and I quickly scuttled over to wikipedia to read what actually happened on that day.
To try and shake just a sliver of my guilt I’ve donated my wages for today to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to in some way help towards all the good they do.
I also want to talk a bit about white guilt - why we should feel guilty, and especially the role that Scotland played in and profited from the horrors of the slave trade, and the ongoing problems with racism and discrimination that still affect Scotland today.
But the one thing the American dream fails to mention, Is I was many steps ahead to begin with - White Privilege II by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
The line above from the great “White Privilege II” song by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was in reference to America but it applies equally to white men everywhere. We’ve had a head start on nearly ever situation we’ve been involved in and didn’t realise because that’s just how things went for us. We’d been born white and thus benefitted from a racist system. We’d been born male which meant we benefitted from a sexist system. We’ve had job offers, higher wages, promotions, lenient police intervention, and the list goes on.
If we are assertive and egotistical we’re praised as leaders while the system has actively punished black people and woman for showing the same traits that are so valued in white men.
And the worst bit about all of this for me personally is that because this discrimination didn’t affect me personally in any way I was a passive ally to a broken system.
So I’ve got white guilt - specifically white man guilt - and it is right that I do. I’ve implicitly benefitted from a system that was rigged in my favour and I was too wrapped up in my own ego to realise.
Scotland and Slavery⌗
David Hayman made a fantastic program for BBC Scotland - Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame. In it, David goes into depth about all the horrible ways that Scotland directly benefitted from slavery (lots of people here owned slaves as a ‘good investment’), and also how Scots themselves disproportionately made up the staff employed in managing the slave trade (from the physicians on the boats to those doing the paperwork).
We Scots have to acknowledge the part our country played in this through education and introspection. In high school history, the lessons I was taught consisted of a walk through all the times we won against the English in war, how France is the Auld Ally and our friend, and then it skipped forward to the industrial revolution and the slum-like conditions the families lived in. The period of failed colonisation (see the hilariously badly planned Panama colony - including taking winter kilts to the tropics), the reasons we went into union with England (Scotland was so poorly managed we went bankrupt), and the subsequent involvement of Scots in the slave trade were all massive missing parts of my education.
Another fact that people aren’t taught here is that the racist and facist KKK (who truly should be considered a terrorist organisation I don’t even understand how they can exist) was founded by Scots.
It’s important that we get taught these lessons.
Scotland today is a country that is trying to be an outward looking and welcoming country. We talk about welcoming refugees and being open to people from all backgrounds and faiths. And yet two days ago our First Minister had to condemn racist thugs on the streets of our biggest city Glasgow.
Scotland has a long history of discrimination. At least where I’m from south of Glasgow, there have been multiple waves of immigrants in the past few hundred years that have caused discrimination to ramp up. My own family has heavy Irish roots - having fled either during the potato famine or when the republican movement flared up in Northern Ireland. There was a huge movement of Italians post World War II that settled in Glasgow and the surrounding areas. There are decent communities of incomers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Turkey too.
And each of these groups faced persecution. The Irish, being predominantly catholic incomers, met with hostility of the Orange Order and had derogatory phrases like “Fenian Scum!" hurled at them, the Italians were called “Tallies” and faced an anti-Italian fervour, and anyone who looked even slightly like they were from the Middle East or East Asia was called a “Paki”.
I was from a catholic family in a very protestant town, and before the age of 16 I was:
- Petrol bombed.
- Chased with Samurai swords.
- Had bricks thrown at me.
- Involved in many altercations of the fisticuff kind.
Every walk home from school was a gauntlet of ‘what would happen today’. If I wore the colour green on a day where the Orange Order were doing one of their nonsense ‘parades’ (they march and play flutes, followed by a rowdy crowd of drunk racists looking for a fight) I’d have to run - fast.
I have never once witnessed overt racism against black people here, but I’ve seen plenty of people who have had “Paki” thrown in their face in my time. I thought things here had got better, or at least I had hoped. But when you hear the things that the racist thugs above said it is clear we’ve still got a ways to go.
What Can White People Do⌗
There are some things we white men can do to help correct the historial wrongs we’ve inadvertently took part in:
- Make space for black and other under-represented groups. We need to put our elbows out and use our privilege as a way to pull others up.
- Push for diversity in hiring. This requires having hard conversations with your direct management, but also using company wide meetings that allow questions of the high hiedyins as an opportunity to ask about diversity.
- Try to seek out people who don’t look like you and engage with them. My twitter and social circles are predominantly white and male, and for too long I put this down to “Well these are just the people in the industry I know so…". This was wrong of me and I need to do better.
- Speak up when you see injustice in the world and your workplace. The white man privilege we’ve always had gives us a shield against most of the repercussions that under-represented groups would face if they speak out.
- Where possible donate to groups that help the black community.
- Arrest Brett Hankison, Jonathan Mattingly, and Myles Cosgrove for the murder of Breonna Taylor.
Let us try and make a better world for everyone, together. We’re all the better when we’re in it together.