Shetland has always been a welcoming place. Historically, Shetlanders have extended the arm of solidarity to those in need. Perhaps one of the most relatable examples in recent times, is the heroic effort of the Shetland Bus.
Our community united together in support of our Norwegian neighbours. Shetlanders took a stance in the face of a regime that was determined to dehumanise and target minorities and those on the margins of society. By the very creation of the Shetland Bus, Shetlanders actively defended the principle that every human is equal – regardless of race, religion, or gender.
Shetland is a far cry from a little rock in the Atlantic Ocean. We have a proud history of extending our reach, offering the hand of friendship and welcoming those who choose to call our shores “home”.
However, we cannot assume that we are immune to global change and that we don’t need to move at pace alongside our international community. I believe many of us will have profoundly felt the events in the news these past weeks. It’s hard to hear about such injustice and not take a moment of self-reflection surrounding our own lives and attitudes towards inequality.
There has been wide coverage of the blackfacing that historically happened at UHA. Like many of us, upon reading the comments on the various posts, articles and links, it became clear to me how far we must travel on a journey as a Shetland community in terms of mindsets and attitudes towards keeping traditions that are unjust.
I hold dear to the belief that many of these comments are not said out of hatred or malice but instead from a lack of understanding of the historical context surrounding blackfacing. We need to be bold and to have positive dialogue on this, to educate and inform one another. After all, this is the only way we can move forward and be better.
I welcome the news that UHA will now make a move away from blackfacing. It is needed and it is time for change. I also hope that this move will be the beginning of further positive change for the festival. UHA is a festival that many are rightfully proud of. It celebrates some of the best aspects of Shetland: creativity, community and collaboration. But there is room for improvement, as was demonstrated last week.
This is not a piece to deepdive into specific arguments for the Lerwick UHA to be open to all genders. Those arguments are well versed and will be made again, no doubt . However, inequality and exclusion of all forms need challenging and UHA is no exception.
Many of us want to see a festival that welcomes and includes all – regardless of who you are, where you come from or your gender.
Let’s ask ourselves how we can raise the standard and shape a festival for a new generation. We have the choice to create a festival that is a fairer, stronger, more inclusive version of its past.
We have the choice to create a festival that exceeds expectations and champions Shetland on the diverse and inclusive international stage, not by tending to the embers of times gone by but by igniting and growing a new, brighter festival.
A festival that burns as bright as we can make it, for all.
A welcome like no other.
Hannah Mary Goodlad