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Community / ‘I feel such a lift of energy and support’ – anti-racism protest provides source of optimism

“I FEEL such a lift of energy and support, and I think people feel a bit more united for the cause. I think that’s incredible.”

That is the view of Mara Ival-Duncan, from Scalloway, after Saturday’s well-attended anti-racism protest which saw an estimated 2,000-plus people take part around Shetland.

Mara Ival-Duncan.

But the 19-year-old – who has been at the receiving end of bullying and offensive language in Shetland due to the colour of her skin – said she wished she had that level of support in the community when she was growing up because she “felt quite alone as a young girl”.

An estimated 2,000-plus people were involved in the Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter ‘virtual protest’ on Saturday, with the organisers going by the number of posters given out and the constant stream of photos being uploading to social media of people displaying them.

Some pick-up points ran out of posters, while in some instances people had printed off their own.

Mara, who grew up in Shetland before going on to study textiles at Edinburgh College, said after the event it feels as if people are a “bit more united for the cause”.

She said she was first treated differently due to her race while in primary school.

One side of her family is from Cuba, while her mother is Joy Duncan – one of the organisers of Saturday’s event.

“A lot of the experiences I had were small ones,” she said.

“Obviously living with a white mam a lot of people asked if I was adopted.

“The other half of my family is Cuban, which is the black side of my family, and a lot of people who said ‘you’re from Jamaica, you’re from Africa’ and just being really disrespectful and not acknowledging the fact that I’m not from any of those places.”

There was also another instance where she was “bullied in the playground with a Pakistani kid just because we had the same skin colour”.

“And I remember another Asian boy coming into our primary seven class and behind my back some of the boys would compare us and say they must be boyfriend and girlfriend and stuff like that,” Mara said.

Posters used on Saturday’s walks.

“I remember being really hurt when I found that out, because it was said by people who I considered my friends, so that was really hard.

“Coming into teenager age there was a lot of the ’N’ word being thrown about, usually in a kind of off the cuff statement, or along with the lyrics of a song, but still as damaging nonetheless.”

She added that at an Up Helly Aa event a couple of years ago the ‘N’ word was “directly said to me, which was probably one of the worst experiences I’ve had”.

Mara said she feels ignorance is largely at play when it comes to people not realising the offensive nature of practices like blackface.

A handful of Up Helly Aa committees have recently either banned it or have confirmed that ‘blacking up’ will not be tolerated at their event.

I think it’s a lack of cultural diversity in Shetland and just the lack of realisation of how doing these things can affect people,” Mara said.

She said the main argument from people defending the use of blackface was that they were just portraying characters, and not meaning to cause offence.

“Being able to understand that regardless of intent, it’s up to the people that interpret it…what their interpretation of it is and if they find it offensive then you just shouldn’t do it, and for the majority of the black community, that’s just the way it is,” Mara said.

Shetland Staands wi Black Lives Matter organiser Joy Duncan, meanwhile, said she suspects Saturday’s event was the “largest ever protest in the history of Shetland”.

A separate event organised by different people is scheduled for Lerwick on Saturday (20 June), with people invited to walk – while socially distanced – around Clickimin Loch in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.