2007 - 2021

Positive Actions for Change in Scotland

Eunice Olumide suggests three actions to change the dynamic for more pro-active anti-racist action in Scotland, including a change to the curriculum and  a Black Heritage Museum.

Like me, many have been horrified by the recent conflicts in America, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, fanned by hundreds of years of oppression and systemic racism. It is easy to think that this does not happen here but in fact statistics and personal accounts prove otherwise. When Black parents have ‘the talk’ with their sons or daughters, it is often about what to do when you are racially abused, attacked, or assaulted. It can be argued that much of the discrimination and racism faced by BME groups is due to the poor levels of education on the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and how each nation benefited economically, culturally, and socially.

The current national curriculum also does not highlight the many prominent Afro-Scottish, Caribbean, and Black British figures who have contributed significantly and positively not only to Scotland but to the UK as a whole. This has led to racial profiling, physical and mental abuse, knee-necking, and to BME groups being less likely to be recruited after achieving a degree.

Is Racism Real? a 2017 report by the TUC notes that:

“For many years trade unions have consistently campaigned against all forms of racism and discrimination in the workplace. The TUC believes that racism is real in our workplaces. The report shows that BME workers face many forms of racism and discrimination such as: verbal abuse; racist comments and jokes; bullying and harassment; physical violence; being singled out and treated differently; or discriminated against.

Our findings show that:

  • More than a third (37%) of Black or minority ethnic (BME) workers polled have been bullied, abused or experienced racial discrimination by their employer.
  • 19% have experienced discrimination such as being denied training or promotion.
  • 15% have experienced verbal abuse and 16% of BME workers have experienced bullying or harassment at work.
  • 43% did not feel able to report their experience of discrimination to their employers and 38% did not report incidents of bullying and harassment.”

The horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, brutal subjugation, dehumanisation and subsequent lack of historical archive or reparation represents one of the most tumultuous and disgraceful stains in the history of our collective historical heritage as human beings. For me racism is not calling someone a name; it is the aftershock left in the wake of such a profound system of degradation over hundreds of years, by which one group controlled another and continues to castrate them socially, politically and economically – therefore governing and limiting their potential both then and now.

The British government paid out £20m to compensate some 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of their when slave-ownership was abolished in British colonies in 1833. This figure represented a gigantic 40 per cent of the Treasury annual spending budget and, in today’s terms, calculated as wage values, equates to around £16.5bn. Just a few of those individuals to have befitted include, former Prime Minister David Cameron, Douglas Hogg, authors Graham Greene and George Orwell, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the new chairman of the Arts Council, Peter Bazalgette. The biggest single pay out went to James Blair an MP who was £83,530, the equivalent of £65m today, for 1,598 slaves he owned on the plantation he had inherited in British Guyana. John Gladstone received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned. The slaves were paid nothing.


After much consideration, my focus is on positive change. Some of the ways that we can move forward as a nation right now include:

  • Reforming the curriculum: I am calling for a commitment and pledge from policy makers for pro-active anti-racist action. In recognition of these historic times, a meaningful step that can be taken is the implementation of a thorough and robust account of Afro-Scottish Caribbean history through the national education system. This would negotiate, rectify, and recognise those real-life events and contributions that continue to shape and support our society today culturally, socially, and economically. Sign the petition here.
  • African Diaspora Business Support Fund Charity: A vehicle for companies and individuals who have directly benefited from TAST to help entrepreneurs and businesses from BME backgrounds who have demonstrated real business acumen and prowess to grow their existing trades and achieve economic stability. Check out the fund here.


Eunice Olumide [email protected]  and follow at @euniceolumide

Comments (14)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    This change would mean that Scottish history would be opened up in a very positive way. High time it was implemented.

    1. james gourlay says:

      I agree.

  2. Martin Meteyard says:

    It was great to see her interviewed at length on BBC Scotland’s ‘The Nine’ last night (6 July).

  3. thom cross says:

    I made the suggestion about ten years ago in The Herald that the old sugar warehouses in Greenock should be turned into a Scotland and its Atlantic History Museum covering the Caribbean and African enslavement as well America both enslavement and native genocide including atrocities in Canada. This museum would also include the Highland Clearances with its narrative of forced Atlantic emigration. However without diluting the focus on black enslavement there is a dire need to re examine Scotland and the Empire and tell the truth around Scottish exploitation of India, Edinburgh and the opium trade in China as well as the injustices in Africa, Australia and NZ. Imperialism has a Scottish dimension that needs to be told. But let us begin with Scotland and its Plantation History. (Sugar Cotton and Tobacco)

    1. thom cross says:

      Please see my What is Owed July 1st in Bella.

    2. George Gunn says:

      Great idea, Thom.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I have read and can recommend Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection edited by TM Devine. As I recall, Devine offered an apology for the failure of historians like himself to engage with this history in the 2-part television documentary Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame, available now on BBC iPlayer:
    I have witnessed racist speech in my workplace, although it was not directed at anyone in particular. Someone will tell a ‘joke’ containing borderline race-hate material, register your stony expression and not repeat it. I did not report such a single instance, but I would have likely reported a repeat, especially if witnesses were available.

    That so much reparation was paid to slave-owners should make the case for reparations clawing back these immoral earnings, indeed we can abolish hereditary privileges across the board and redistribute wealth to redress long-entrenched injustices. But I agree, education comes first. How can we be a democracy if the electorate is not informed about our historical relationships with peoples around the world? If you want a cultural introduction, see Official Les Blancs by Lorraine Hansberry | Free National Theatre at Home Full Performance on YouTube. I only learnt about some of this history during my university year studying North-South relations in international politics. It made me kind of angry that this history was being suppressed and distorted. Even recently the work of Caroline Elkins on the British gulags in Kenya were being denied, thanks to British government destruction and concealment of records, records which when partially released backed Elkins’ research.

    There is an interesting point made by Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, about European ‘civilizations’, which he describes as a loaded term to create academic one-upmanship in comparing European to African cultures (his preferred term). When you think how European cultures actually behaved, from epochal slavery through world war to poisoning the planet, I think he has a point. And the multi-spectrum violence that Black Lives Matters highlights can hardly justify being called civilized.

  5. Cathie Lloyd says:

    Back in the 1980s the Institute of Race Relations produced three books and other materials suitable for anti-racist teaching materials. It seems a long time ago now, the books focused on the UK in a way that didn’t refer much if at all to Scotland. However I think they’re good examples of work which would be adapted and improved on for our use today.

    These calls for a decolonisation of the curriculum are not new, there have been many years of resistance to teaching history in an inclusive way. Lets work to make it happen now..

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    While I am in agreement with the sentiments expressed, I feel the evidence being referred to( which is valid evidence) and the terminology indicates a BRITISH perspective, and makes no specific references to the Scottish context. Of course, Scotland, like most mainly white, European nations had significant involvement in slavery and other colonial atrocities and, for people like myself, apart from a fairly unemotional account of ‘the triangular trade’ and an account of the abolition of slavery, there was little in the history and literature sections of the curriculum in Scotland ( which is not, and never has been ‘the National Curriculum’ as that phrase is used in the British/English media) which dealt with these matters. But, it also omitted much of Scottish literature and history, too.

    I recommend the contributions here and earlier by Mr Thom Cross. The issue of oppressed and brutalised peoples is something which has been hidden in many countries by the ruling cliques.

  7. John Learmonth says:

    It was a shamefull part of our history but at least the ‘British’ or more precisely the Royal Navy stamped it out worldwide.
    I don’t hear anybody asking Black Africans(who traded the slaves) or Arab Muslims (the Arab slave trade started in the C7th and involved greater numbers of people) which continues to this day (slave markets are up and running in Libya RIGHT NOW)to apologise for their role though.
    Why the double standards?

    1. Wul says:

      Would you be more concerned to learn that your father was a serial killer than a man in Libya?

      Why the double standard?

      1. John Learmonth says:

        But my father was a factory worker who never ‘oppressed’ anybody. His ancestors were agricultural labourers. Pretty sure they never ‘oppressed’ anybody either…….never mind being ‘serial killers’. Sorry but we’re not ‘all guilty’.

        1. Wul says:

          John, you asked why people who are concerned about acts of oppression in the UK were not as concerned about “slave markets” in Syria. You suggested this is a “double standard”.

          The point I was trying to make was that we are quite naturally more concerned about events closer to home, which affect us directly, than events far away.

    2. SleepingDog says:

      @John Learmonth, of course the Royal Navy has its own long history of practising enslavement, through the Royal Prerogative of naval impressment. When it applied this to USAmerican sailors (to fight France) in a period continuing after the 1807 UK slave trade abolition law, it provoked a war in 1812:
      Wikipedia says 9,000 US citizens, PBS says 15,000 US sailors between 1793 and 1812. It appears that the British Royal Navy never renounced the use of impressment until the 20th century.

      And the British were happy to keep their puppet Sultan of Oman in slaves until they replaced him in 1970. So much rubbish has been spread about the British ‘abolishing’ slavery everywhere (when in fact they British establishment tacitly and materially supported the Confederacy) that the work of historical correctives has hardly made a dent in some demographics (at least kids have been exposed to critical material in Horrible Histories).

      As I have mentioned before, it would be very helpful to find a work summarizing forced labour in the British Empire.

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