We at Women’s History Scotland want to express our ongoing support and solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement. As historians and researchers, we support the aim of making the lives of black and ethnic minority (BAME) women in Scotland more visible, and recognise that BAME women’s lives have remained too often marginalised in Scottish history. At Women’s History Scotland we work to promote aspects of Scottish women and gender history both as a subject but also to highlight the work being done by women here in Scotland. We would like to encourage more work on race, ethnicity, and sexuality, as well as gender.
In response to Black Lives Matter we have put together information about some resources relevant to BAME women’s history in Scotland. We hope schools and researchers will find the resource a good starting point to find out more about BAME women in Scottish history. We are aware that there is likely to be a lot more material than this, whether personal accounts or organisational history, or ongoing research that we don’t know about.
This page will be a work-in-progress with resources added as we find out about new work and projects.
That racist hate crime remains a feature of Scottish society is underlined by the recent report by the Runnymede Trust on ‘Taking Stock: Race Equality in Scotland’. The report includes discussion of the challenges of embedding anti-racism in the classroom and how historical narratives around racism and anti-racism have been constructed.
In a seminal, identity-defining film, film-maker Stewart Kyasimire gathers together prominent black Scots from all generations to ask: what does it mean to be black and Scottish?
Tomiwa Folorunso’s powerful writing has been important in shaping our response and the creation of this resource:
‘The conversation, or shared experience of being black in Scotland, is often one of loneliness. We have had to work very hard to find communities and spaces where we can truly be ourselves. For a long time, we feel unseen, unheard and ignored and unsafe. Often entering spaces as the “only one” or one of a few, acts of racism and a multitude of micro-aggressions experienced become part of our norm. When we have needed it, solidarity has been nowhere to be seen, and allies quiet’.
Towima Folorunso, National on Sunday, 7 June 2020
Her article ‘Police brutality against black people isn’t shocking or surprising‘ can be accessed here:
In a short video for the BBC Social Folorunso shares what it was like growing up black and Scottish – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06nplrc
In this TEDx event in Glasgow Folorunso ‘explores her experience discovering her own identity and the barriers she has face for the lack of understanding of others. It is possible to be black and also to be Scottish’.
In another short for the BBC Social Folorunso highlights the lack of black Scottish history accessible online – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06pnf2y
Makami McCrum was born in Kenya but has lived in Scotland most of her life. Her activism has focused on issues around domestic abuse and support for black and minority ethnic and LGBT women. McCrum was one of the founders of Shakti Women’s Aid which supports BAME women experiencing domestic abuse. She has also campaigned for an end to Female Genital Mutilation.
You can hear her testimony from the British Library Sisterhood And After Resource –https://www.bl.uk/people/mukami-mccrum
Currently Chair in Multicultural and Anti-Racist Education and Co-Director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland (CERES) at the University of Edinburgh. Rowena Arshad was the Equal Opportunities Commissioner for Scotland from 2001-2008. You hear her testimony from the from the British Library Sisterhood And After Resource https://www.bl.uk/people/rowena-arshad
‘One of the things that’s interested me is my grappling between the ‘isms’, you know, because of, growing up in a situation where class was clearly an issue, because of money, economic issues, the stigma of being the child of a single parent, living like that, and so gender was a kind of tangential issue. Then coming to Britain, and I think the class and the race bit have moved in and out of each other over a period of time, and so it’s fluid in that sense’.Rowena Ashrad in Sisterhood and After
Rowena was involved in the Lothian Black Forum protests, along with Mukami. you can find out more in this in this blog by Henry Dee: ‘Fighting Denial: The Lothian Black Forum and Anti-Racist Protests in Edinburgh, 1989-1992’ on the Scottish Critical Heritage website:
Jackie Kay is currently Scotland’s Makar. She is a poet and author. See here for a full biography via the Scottish Poetry Library. In her autobiography Red Dust Road published in 2010 she writes powerfully of her experience of growing up in her loving family in Glasgow but also the racist incidents and attacks she endured at school, University and beyond. Most affecting is her search for a sense of belonging through seeking her birth parents in Nigeria and Aberdeenshire.
Find out more here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/26/red-dust-road-jackie-kay
In this interview Kay speaks of how individuals can inhabit multiple identities:
In a recent documentary for BBC Scotland entitled ‘Beyond Burns’ Kay also explores her experiences of racism and belonging in Scotland (from around 29mins) reading an extract from her poem ‘In My Country’. You can also listen to it here – https://poetryarchive.org/poem/my-country/
The documentary is described as follows:
‘The interrogation of identity and themes of belonging have always been at the heart of Kay’s work, and it’s a theme that has resonated with Scottish poets for centuries. Jackie candidly shares some painful stories and events from her past that have shaped her life and work, and this honest film never shies away from confronting the shameful issues of racism that stalked her growing up in Scotland.’
[at the time of writing (February 2021) the documentary was available for 11 months – https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000rs49/beyond-burns]
Saroj Lal (1937-2020)
Saroj Lal migrated to Edinburgh in the late 1960s from India. In Scotland, she raised her young family and worked as a school teacher. In 1980s, Lal became involved with the Lothian Racial Equality Council (LREC) eventually becoming its director in 1990. The first Asian women in Scotland to be appointed a Justice of the Peace, Saroj Lala was a feminist and worked tireless for racial throughout her life. After retiring, Lal was the chair for the Nari Kallyan Shangho which was set to support Asian Women in Edinburgh.
- Obituary in the Scotsman – https://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/obituary-saroj-lal-race-relations-trailblazer-feminist-and-equality-campaigner-2531576
- Obituary in the Guardian –https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jun/05/saroj-lal-obituary
Maud Sulter (1960-2008)
Award winning Glasgow born Maud Sulter was of Scottish and Ghanian heritage. Sulter was an artist, poet and writer who confronted history in her writing and her art. You can see some of her work in the Tate in London and the Scottish Parliament.
‘It is not possible to create a hierarchy of our artistic fields as we are living as Blackwomen in the aftermath of slavery and imperialism. Therefore we need to recognise our creative practises as survival and press for their development in that position. It is not used to sit back on our laurels and think OK, so we were there. We need to be here now and we need ensure that we continue to create in the future’.From interview with Maud Sulter in Spare Rib, 1991, February, p.7
- Celeste-Marie Bernier ‘Visualising Black to the ‘Branded, Raped and Beaten’ Body… the Life and Works of Maud Sulter’, Dangerous Women Project.
- Ardentia Verba, ‘Passion: Blackwomen’s Creativity, an Interview with Maud Sulter’ in Spare Rib, 1991, February. Accessible through the British Library
- Brochure for Maud Sulter’s Hysteria exhibition. 1991, in the archives at Glasgow Women’s Library https://womenslibrary.org.uk/collection-item/exhibition-guide-hysteria-photoworks-maud-sulter/
- Obituary in The Herald https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12460747.maud-sulter/
She Settle in Shields: Untold Stories of Migrant Women in Pollokshields
This was an oral history project to capture the experiences of women who settled in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow. It charts their experiences before coming to Glasgow and gave accounts of what it was like to arrive and settle into life in the city.
The book is available to buy from the Glasgow Women’s Library online shop.
This is an easily accessible project that records oral histories of the experiences of the South Asian and Muslim community in Scotland. They have an exhibition called GlaswegAsians at Scotland Street School with Glasgow Museums. The women’s testimonies are easy to find and have some important records of living in Scotland.
Films and Media
1745 by Morayo Akandé
A short film about two runaway slaves in Scotland set during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. It was written by Morayo Akandé who was inspired by advertisements in the newspapers for runaway slaves. Her sister, Moyo Akandé, stars alongside her in this important contribution to Scottish black women’s history.
Dr Valerie Wright attended a screening of the 1745 movie in 2017 and wrote about it for our blog.
Moyo and Morayo have also supported initiatives to broaden the school curriculum to encompass more teaching on race and diversity in schools in Scotland:
Dr Emily Munro, Moving Image Archive @nlskelvinhall
Thread of tweets on race and film in Scotland and beyond:
Her Century: Scottish Women on Film
Scotland, empire, and imperial legacies
The history of Scottish involvement in the British Empire has seen considerable growth in the last two decades. Some of the key themes in this history have been the empire as a sphere of opportunity for Scots in terms of imperial careers, emigration to the colonies of settlement, and the impact of empire at home. It has outlined forms of economic benefit to Scotland, from participation in the slave trade and in plantation economies dependent on the labour of enslaved Africans, the fortunes made by Scots in the East India Company and from the opium trade with China, and the importance of empire for the exports of industry, and for the manufacture of ships and locomotives. Studies of the impact at home have included forms of popular culture, imperial exhibitions, and the church-going public who supported foreign missions.
As yet there is limited research which has a key focus on gender; there are, however, many aspects of the experience of empire which were gendered, and deserve more attention from researchers. Historians such as Clare Midgley, Catherine Hall, Antoinette Burton and Julia Bush, have drawn attention to the ways in which white British women were implicated in the production and circulation of racialised stereoptypes of women in colonised territories, and indicated that even those who supported the anti-slavery movement, foreign missions, or the suffrage movement, were not unambiguously anti-racist. These critiques are equally likely to apply to white Scots women, as work on Scottish women’s involvement in Presbyterian foreign missions has indicated. Scotland too had its active participants in ‘empire societies’ such as the Victoria League, whose vision of empire was one of racial hierarchy, which privileged the white Dominions over India, West Indian and African colonies.
The uncovering of the role of Scots in the enslavement of Africans and how Scots entrepreneurs benefited from this, is an important step in the critical reappraisal of the Scottish experience of empire, and one that is getting a growing public recognition. Although it says little about women, the recent book on Scotland and Slavery, Recovering Scotland’s slavery past: the Caribbean connection (2015), edited by T M Devine, provides a framework for understanding this history, and may suggest ideas for research on women. As noted, we know that some Scottish women received compensation as slave-holders, and further research on this would be welcome. As David Alston has shown in his article on the children of enslaved and ‘free coloured’ women, the lives and experiences of some BAME women on Scots plantations in the Caribbean can be at least partially recovered. See David Alston, ‘A Forgotten Diaspora: The Children of Enslaved and ‘Free Coloured’ Women and Highland Scots in Guyana before Emancipation’, Northern Scotland 6 (2015), pp. 49-69.
There are also histories of enslaved women, which are not written with a Scottish focus, but may refer to Scots plantation owners, overseers, or slave traders, or which may provide models for further research. For example, Diana Paton’s article on Mary Williamson’s letter, discusses the complexity of connections between enslaved women and white men, as well as the complexity of historical reconstruction from fragmentary sources. See Diana Paton, ‘Mary Williamson’s letter, or, seeing women and sisters in the archives of Atlantic slavery’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (2019), pp. 153-170.
As our resource indicates, we are encouraging historians to render visible presence of BAME women and men within Scotland. This presence has taken various forms, whether as enslaved individuals, visiting anti-slavery and anti-racist campaigners such as Frederick Douglass (see https://www.ed.ac.uk/literatures-languages-cultures/research/current-projects/our-bondage-and-our-freedom) and Ida B Wells, and as migrants. BAME women were also present among the students who came to Scottish universities from across the empire and beyond – as the recent UncoverED project at Edinburgh University has shown: http://uncover-ed.org BAME students also attended other Scottish universities, which suggests that similar exercises could be carried out elsewhere.
As sources above indicate, within the immigrant communities from what came to be termed the ‘New Commonwealth’ and who settled in Scotland in the second half of the twentieth century, women have been organising to provide community support and to challenge racism for decades. This has provided the groundwork for more recent efforts to acknowledge and combat racism.
We at WHS believe that now is the time to begin a dialogue about developing a research agenda for historians of Scotland which includes and makes visible the lives of BAME women. We welcome ideas for future research.
A project at the University of Glasgow which compiled a database of advertisements for runaway slaves found in the newspapers. You can search the site which covers the whole of the UK. The film 1745 was inspired by these kinds of adverts. Here is an entry for Ann, an 18 year old black women who was reported missing by her owner Dr Gustavus Brown. Ann can be identified by her green gown and her brass collar around her neck: https://www.runaways.gla.ac.uk/database/display/?rid=2
A database by the University college of London which shows who was given compensation when slavery was abolished. It has an interactive map where you can check to see if someone who benefitted from slavery lived in your street. This is a good resource with around 159 Scottish Women are listed as beneficiaries.
Find out more here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
You can also watch a BBC programme based on the produced by the team and based on their research:
General resources for BAME History in Scotland
This website is based on the book It Wisnae Us: The Truth About Glasgow and Slavery by Dr Stephen Mullen, published by the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland on behalf of Glasgow Anti Racist Alliance (now the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights – CRER) in 2009. An exhibition and trail guide were also produced.
As the book is out-of-print and no longer available, it was felt that the important subject matter should be made available online for a wider audience. This website has been created by Jon Jardine, the designer of the original book, exhibition and trail guide. He has not taken a fee for this. Many thanks to all those who have agreed to provide this material online.
find out more here – https://it.wisnae.us
- National Library of Scotland have also created an archives list: https://www.nls.uk/collections/topics/slavery
- Glasgow Museums: https://glasgowmuseumsslavery.co.uk/
- Podcasts of a symposium on ‘How Glasgow Flourished’: https://howglasgowflourished.wordpress.com/
- South Glasgow Heritage Environment Trust – ‘The Stevens and Bellahouston Park’ https://sghet.com/project/the-stevens-and-bellahouston-park/
Arshad, Rowena and McCrum, Mukami, ‘Black Women, White Scotland’ in Alice Brown and David McCrone (eds), The Scottish Government Yearbook 1989 (University of Edinburgh, 1989), pp. 207-227.
Bressey, Caroline, ‘Geographies of Early Anti-Racist Protest in Britain: Ida B. Wells’ 1893 Anti-Lynching Tour in Scotland’ in Afe Adogame and Andrew Laurence (eds), Africa in Scotland: Scotland in Africa: Historical Legacies and Contemporary Hybridities (Brill, 2014), pp. 137-149.
Edward, Mary, Who belongs to Glasgow: 200 years of Migration (Strathclyde Regional Council, 1993).
Henderson, Shirley and Mackay, Alison (eds), Grit and Diamonds: Women in Scotland Making History 1980-1990 (Stramullion, 1990) – has several contributions on BAME women’s activism and projects
[Also, interview with Jacqueline Jenkinson by Tomiwa Folorunso on BBC ‘Time Travels’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p06mrjj6]
Shelton, Anita, ‘Black Women’s Agency in Scotland: A View on Networking Patterns’ in Esther Breitenbach and Fiona Mackay (eds), Women and Contemporary Scottish Politics: An Anthology (Polygon, 2001), pp. 47-54.
The Pass the mic scotland project was founded in October 2019, and is delivered by Talat Yaqoob who is a campaigner, consultant and co-founder of Women 50:50. Providing expertise and support is Michelle Campbell who is a local councillor, steering group member of Women 50:50 and experienced in media and public speaking. It provides a list of women of colour commentators from all over Scotland.