Review: Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland

An immersive journey through the tapestry of Black Lives in Scotland

Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland, by Francesca Sobande and Layla-Roxanne Hill, Bloomsbury Academic £17.99.

Reviewed by Viana Maya

In the preface to the enthralling book Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland, I am immediately drawn into the open and heartfelt journey that authors Francesca Sobande and Layla-Roxanne Hill embarked upon during their collaborative writing process. What unfolds before me is a narrative interwoven with personal and global experiences. The authors reveal that their exploration of Black lives in Scotland was conceived long before the whirlwind events of 2020, which bore witness to the world’s struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and the dynamic surge of the Black Lives Matter movement. They had envisioned immersing themselves in archives and engaging in face-to-face interviews, but the confluence of crises led them down a different path.

As I delve further, it becomes apparent that Sobande and Hill describe their work as both “messy and mindful,” akin to a rich tapestry woven with the chaos and care that permeated their lives as they penned this book. They share how they cast aside any notions of perfection, allowing their personal tribulations and unity to shape the book. What emerged is a work grounded in diligent research – including survey responses, interviews, photography, and analysis of media and archived materials – but also brimming with the authors’ spontaneous reflections in response to the climate of the times.

What truly captivates me is the authors’ embracing of their work as a collage. It’s not a linear narrative but rather an amalgamation of considerations and ponderings that, while meandering, are deeply meaningful. Through their words, which they describe as mirroring the “chaotic yet care-full” backdrop of their lives, I find myself connecting with the text in unanticipated and profound ways.

Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland is not simply a book; to me, it feels like an odyssey. It challenges preconceived notions and portrays a simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar Scotland. While it might not encompass the full depth of the lives and history it delves into, it stands as a poignant testament to the importance of understanding and sharing the stories of Black lives in Scotland. Through the lens of chaos and care, Sobande and Hill have bequeathed to us not just a literary treasure but a reflection of the resilience and spirit of humanity. This is a journey I am eager to embark upon.

Let’s embark on an exploration of the book. As someone with a passion for dialects and a love for storytelling, I often struggle with academic books. Imagine my delight when, during a quest for UK-centric history books with a particular focus on Black narratives, the title of this book trapped my curiosity. 

A passionate collector of Black history literature, I noticed a glaring absence of stories rooted in Scotland. As an educator in antiracism and allyship based in the very heart of Scotland, the Scottish tapestry of experiences and history are paramount to my narrative. Dispelling the myth that racism is solely an issue for London, the rest of the UK or the USA is essential. Hence, procuring Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland was not merely an addition to my library but an imperative treasure for my own enlightenment and that of my clientele. If you are reading these lines, consider it a call to embrace this book as an indispensable part of your learning journey.

Let me guide you through the nuances of engaging with this literary gem. I often bypass the preface, seeking the book’s heart with keenness. I relish the experience of holding the hard copy whilst simultaneously absorbing the author’s timbre through audiobooks. This book, however, required a different approach—Laden, with a rich tapestry of concepts, terminologies, experiences, imagery, and voices.

I retraced my steps to the preface as I navigated the labyrinthine introduction. And so, esteemed reader, here is the guidance I extend to you: do not let the preface go unread. Within the preface, I found an anchor, connecting with the authors, understanding their alchemy, and appreciating the candid honesty of this wonderfully unstructured tapestry. It is not the conventional academic or historical narrative. Instead, it is akin to sharing stories over a warm hearth, with the rhythm of spoken word poetry interspersed with the vivid imagery of a documentary.

Once you have forged this connection and grasped the essence of the authors’ choices, immerse yourself in the book’s contents and the odyssey, they undertook to craft this final piece. Your experience will be rich and fulfilling. I was transported into the respondents’ souls, and the authors’ choice of qualitative methodology enveloped me in a symphony of stories.

Read to the beat of the authors and the voices within and let Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland weave its magic around you. As I turned the pages of this book, I couldn’t help but feel a personal connection to the stories within. You see, though my initial intrigue in Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland stemmed from my antiracist and allyship educational resource hunt, the tapestry of narratives within the pages painted a world where Black lives in Scotland were vividly human – brimming with dreams, trials, cultures, and experiences beyond just race and activism.

Reflecting on my own journey in Scotland, I am transported back to when I first moved here in 2006. Like many Black or African migrants, I found myself inadvertently treading a path well-worn by those before me. My first job at the Job Centre was as a care assistant in a nursing home. But my dreams were woven with thespian threads, and I wanted to be an actress. So, I returned to college.

My experience was a mixture of joy, excitement and being shadowed by stereotypes! “You won’t get an acting job in Scotland without a Scottish accent,” they said. I mainly experienced microaggression in the form of banter and disguised compliment. In the year that was meant to celebrate Scottish heritage, my creative essence was stifled as I was asked to create monologues based on the lives of grandparents in Scotland – a history I couldn’t claim. There I was, in a land that was becoming my home, yet feeling like a ghost, invisible and excluded.

The winds of life are unpredictable. They blew me back to London, and then found myself again in Scotland. This time, I was armed with resolve. I was ready to face the exclusion and would not be deterred.

As I navigated the paths of my dreams, I became involved in social and racial justice. With its rolling hills and storied history, Scotland is now my home. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never wear the mantle of ‘Scottish’ as those born here do. But what about those for whom this land is a cradle of generations? The souls who find themselves tethered to a place that sometimes feels alien. Through the eloquent words of the authors, I am reminded that not all Black lives and experiences are the same. This is one of the reasons I love this book. It gives space to hear the round voices of different, dis/connected and forward moving lived and living experiences of Black people in Scotland. 

In the pages of Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland, there is a symphony of voices, each with its own cadence, its own story. It reminds us that we are part of a rich, vibrant tapestry. Our stories, dreams, trials, and triumphs are threads that, woven together, create a fabric that is as diverse as it is beautiful.

In the book’s last chapter, the authors discuss the complexity of representational politics concerning Black people in Scotland. They emphasise that although commercial representations might not always show the radical transformative potential, they can still have a meaningful impact on the lives of Black individuals. So, we, the readers, do not close the book assuming this is the comprehensive guide to Black lives in Scotland; the authors invite us to view the book Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland as an ongoing dialogue rather than a definitive account exploring the various aspects of Black lives in Scotland, including history, contemporary experiences, and future possibilities. The text highlights that Black lives in Scotland are diverse and multifaceted and are influenced, but not solely defined, by racism, antiblackness and or oppression.

Within the book, the authors share some of the ever-expanding questions we, they, you, will continue to explore:

  • Do all representations of Black people need to involve explicit declarations of an activist intent to address anti-Black racism and interconnected oppressions to be understood as valuable to Black people?
  • How is the political potential of representations of Black people determined, and who determines it?
  • Beyond the language and idea of representation, what are some of the many ways that Black people in, from, and connected to Scotland are expressing themselves, creating, and reimagining the future?

To honour the authors in their style and form as I close the final pages of Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland, as voices within reverberate within my soul. It is a mosaic of tales, echoes of experiences, and whispers of thoughts that linger. The authors, Francesca Sobande and Layla-Roxanne Hill, have artfully woven a narrative that transcends the confines of data and numbers. In their poignant words, “there is often an expectation that concluding chapters include some pithy closing words…but the lives of Black people in Scotland cannot and should not be reduced to any single statement or commodifiable caption.”

They speak to a more profound truth, a longing not to capture something or someone but to question the analytical work of capturing and the desire to capture something or someone. The authors embrace an expansive representation of Black lives, celebrating the richness and diversity of experiences. 

As they insightfully reflect, “the relative dearth of disaggregated data on life at the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and class in Scotland means that the specific experiences of Black people are seldom meaningfully societally acknowledged”, and they contend that “our lives can never be comprehended by datafication processes that reduce realities to little more than percentages and bullet-pointed statements.”

June Evans’ words echo through the pages, acknowledging the love many African/Caribbeans have for Scotland, their home, despite racism and challenges. The authors pay tribute to the resilience, dreams, and contributions of Black communities in Scotland and challenge us all to create a future where these contributions are recognised and celebrated.

The book culminates with a selection of images open to interpretation and reflection, inviting the reader to connect personally. As the authors share, “how the images relate to all that is discussed in this book may be ambiguous or palpable, depending on your personal perspective and the ways that you have felt and interpreted the words on these pages.”

In closing, Black Oot Here: Black Lives in Scotland is not just a book; it is an experience, an immersive journey through the rich tapestry of Black lives in Scotland. It is a tribute, a reflection, and a celebration. The reader is invited to share in the collective narrative, engage, wonder, and wander through its pages. And so, with a heart full of gratitude for the shared world of words and experiences, I encourage you to embrace this book, and as you embark on this journey through the pages, let the stories resonate with you; let them challenge you; let them inspire you. We are all threads in the tapestry of life. Let us weave with purpose, with passion, and with empathy. 




Comments (3)

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  1. Derek Thomson says:


  2. Jim says:

    Beautifully written Viana. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not Scottish. In my book anyone who wants to call themselves Scottish can do so regardless of accent. My own daughter was born in Scotland but has a pronounced West London accent as she grew up there. She’s still Scottish! Thank you again for this well written review.

  3. J. Cudrup says:

    Sound like an interesting topic. Thanks for reviewing the book.

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