The recent rise of the killings of unarmed Black men, women and children by Caucasian police officers has sparked outrage and introduced a new wave of awareness around the world concerning racial violence. However, this fight does more than take lives. As with any conflict, it effects the psychology of all those involved or exposed – which includes myself.
Studying abroad in Scotland has revealed some of the effects of the racially tense environment of the United States of America. Growing up in Ghana, I had little use for the ideas of race, racism and diversity. It was not until university did I begin to really think about the colour of my skin and the colours of those around me. I increasingly began to wonder how my colour altered, if at all, how I was perceived by others. I questioned whether I had different expectations of people based on colour. And, I was afraid that I was going to be a victim of what seemed like inescapable institutionalized racism of the United States. As a result, I formed a “racial armour”.
When I arrived in Scotland, I put on my “racial armour”, ready to take on a new racial environment. As I rode the AirLink into the heart of Edinburgh I searched the streets for people that looked like me. In Scotland I was surrounded by more Caucasians than I had ever been before. Actually, 96% of the Scottish population is Caucasian and about 1% of the population identifies as Black while in the USA about 77% of the population is Caucasian and about 13% of the population identifies as Black. Therefore, in those beginning weeks, I was excited by every Black person I saw (and there seemed so few that I actually began counting). But interestingly, as the days and weeks flew by, I started to forget to take notice of the racial demographics of my surroundings. My ideas of race and racism were almost forgotten until my friend asked me “Have you experienced racism while studying abroad in Scotland?”
Before I put much thought into an answer, I was ready to say yes. But I had not. Remarkably I had seemingly removed my “racial armour” and with it the baggage of constantly questioning and wondering about race and racial tension. In that moment I realized that in the 96% Caucasian environment that was Scotland, I had been freed of the racial psychological warfare I was faced with in the United States every day. Scottish news was not plagued by tragic racial conflict. I did not feel persecuted or threatened by police. And I did not feel confined to certain spaces or communities.
I do acknowledge that perhaps I have just been lucky to go my entire study abroad experience with no incident. Nevertheless, I would like to believe that Scotland, even with its wanting diversity, can teach those suffocated by the ideas of race, racism and diversity so much. Being in an environment where people are not at the edge of racial divides, or in constant debate about racial rifts means when I look at the people around me I do not have to see colour. I am free to see the world beyond the colour of the people around me.