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Letters / We cannot forget about this

George Floyd
Breonna Taylor
Trayvon Martin
Sheku Bayoh
Riah Milton 

These are just five of the many black people who have been killed through the injustices still infesting the modern day. How many Shetland folk can tell me they know these names and the systemic injustices which have caused their death?

Shetlanders may deem themselves immune from these behaviours, however, the groundwork for these horrific acts is there. We may not have murders; however, we do have racially motivated attacks and multiple incidents of verbal abuse and discrimination in the workplace which are not being addressed.

When the Black Lives Matter movement rose to prominence around the globe, the Shetland staands group made a push for racial equality within Shetland. While this garnered a shocking amount of support throughout the isles, our local council showed little interest in ending this abhorrent system we, as white people, have perpetuated. Whilst many, through lack of racial education, do not understand the racially unjust system we exist in and benefit from as white people. 

From correspondence with chief executive Maggie Sandison, she understands the impact racism has on non-white people within her community yet appears reluctant to change the way in which this is tackled. Well, if it ain’t broke, right? I was continuously referred to the Shetland’s Equality Outcomes Progress and Mainstreaming Report.

I will save you the read, it does show some positive thoughts in the right direction, however, it is extremely basic and gives very little specifics as to how racial inequalities are tackled within Shetland. In addition, the group which made this report? All white, cisgender and straight passing. How can we expect to fix the racist system we have cultivated as white people if we do not listen to the concerns of the non-white people within our community? 

I mention cisgender and straight people here for one important reason. Black lives do not matter until all black lives matter, this includes those who are LGBTQ+. Homophobic and transphobic remarks are all too common place within Shetland and are having a detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of all those unfortunate enough to grow up LGBTQ+ in Shetland.

I speak on personal experience here and I am still recovering from the impact this Island has had on my mental and physical health growing up as a queer child. I should add (for my mother’s sanity), I had a very loving and supportive family, however, the wider community was much less so.

This leads me to what we should ultimately tackle – education. When was the last time any worker in Shetland can reel off when they had a compulsory course (as part of their work/school etc) teaching them of the diversity of the workforce? Or, how not to discriminate, bully or taunt their peers for what makes them different? Exactly. How on earth can we expect to change if we are doing nothing to do this?

This pandemic has proved challenging for many of us, myself included. However, it is impacting the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) communities at a much higher rate than any other. We must act to change the racist system we have grown up through and benefitted from, at the expense of non-white people, to prevent even more senseless deaths in the future.

In a time where Shetland is struggling to attract young, working age families to the isles to work and grow their families, shouldn’t we be striving to cultivate a community which celebrates our differences and defends those who are being systematically trodden on?

The livelihood of the Shetland economy and its future depends on the community embracing the Black Lives Matter movement and providing an example of what it truly means to abolish racism from our lives. 

Just a little note for any All Lives Matter people – if all lives truly do matter to you, why are you spending your time arguing over terminology used to describe this outcry for racial justice, instead of demanding action on racism? This has exposed many Shetlanders as closed-minded bigots who are blatantly ignorant to the unjust ways of this world.

Black Lives Matter. Today, tomorrow and every day. We cannot forget about this just because we’ve lost interest. This isn’t an excuse.

Fraser Tait