Experiences: Moving to Scotland

Once upon a time I used to live in Scotland, somewhere near Glasgow.  My husband was offered a lecture post at one of the Universities. As someone born in London and having lived in London all of my life, this was my first venture into another ‘country’.  Initially my husband and I debated whether such a move would be good but of course, we decided to give it a try. What was it going to be like, I asked myself. What could I expect?

We found ourselves a smart flat that was in a four storey building.  We were told several times by the owner that the ‘block’ was mainly made up of elderly people and we should respect their peace and make sure that each time we emptied our waste, the bin had to be ‘dettoled’ and washed.  No problem, I told him. Maybe he thought we didn’t know how to be clean and respectful. We did what we were told and made sure we were on our best behavior.  Whilst my husband was at work, I would be home looking after our three month old baby and for most days I went out. I was curious about this new place and I wanted to know more. The more I went out, the more I realized there were very few black people in this area.

I would take the nearby train to Glasgow to browse around and shop.  I found that Scots were completely different to the Anglo-Saxons.  Very upfront or forward.  Wherever my son and I went, we were constantly stared at, and people would come up to me and ask questions as well as play with my son.  They were totally fascinated with this black child, like they had never seen one before!  But one day, I received a shock.  I decided that I needed some stamps from the nearby post office.  So I wrapped my son up and put him in the pushchair and left.  It was a cold, windy day and I remember struggling to push the buggy up the road, against this powerful wind.  I got to the main road and tried to cross but the traffic was too busy, so I walked to the nearest traffic light – which was right down the bottom of the road.  A good ten minute walk. Although on that day there was a lot of traffic, there were not that many people, except for a woman who was in the far distance coming in the opposite direction.  As I gradually approached the traffic light, the woman crossed over the road, still heading towards my way.  Just as I reached the traffic light to press the button, she stopped in front of me.

            ‘How do you cope being a black woman living in Scotland?’ she asked.  Totally dumbstruck by her question and frankness, I responded to her by saying that I coped pretty well.

            ‘Have you been here long?’

            ‘Just a few months’, I said. 

            ‘Where you from?’

            ‘From London?’

            ‘No, I mean, where you really from?’

            ‘I’m really from London.’  I answered, making sure my English was crisp and clean.  Like two bulls about to engage in a fight, we stared at each other, gridlocked.  She was shorter than me but stockier, her short hair was made up of curls which moved with the wind but kept being swept back by her hand; her jeans were tucked into a pair of cowboy style boots and the over worn three quarter length jacket was too tight for her.  The wind continued to bluster but I stood frozen in my shoes with my eyes firmly fixed on this woman.   It had been a long time that I had to give explanations for my existence and I was not about to start now.  And besides, the strange thing was that after many years of living in London, I was used to the fact that the English had gotten over their curiosity about us.  As I peeped down to look at my son, he was fast asleep and totally oblivious to what was happening.  She followed my gaze and commented.

            ‘A lovely wee lass’, she said, smiling.

            ‘It’s a boy’, I said sharply.  She continued to smile dismissing my annoyance.  I stepped back to move the pushchair.  ‘Look, I have to go….’

            ‘Do you know where I can go to see someone?  I’ve just been raped.’ 

            ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand….what do you mean?’

            ‘I’ve been raped!  Do you know someone that can help me?’  I don’t know what was more shocking.  The fact that she had been raped or the casual way in which she delivered her ‘experience’. I continued to stare and the large brown eyes behind the oval glasses looked distressed.  I could feel myself softening. I asked her if she’d belonged to a church.  She said she did but the priest told her to pray about it and wasn’t very supportive. ‘I don’t think he believed me. I said to him that I was scared I could be pregnant.’ Prayer was a good idea I thought but not exactly practical.  She needed help.  I looked through the plastic cover to see my son slowly rousing from his nap and wondered if I should invite her home.

            ‘Maybe you should check The Yellow Pages to see if there is a rape centre somewhere in town or go to another church, another denomination where they may have contacts…..people they know that can help you.’ 

            She raised her head up to the sky and the wind further tousled her curls about her forehead. She continued in thought as she stared across the road and then leaned over to my son.

            ‘Oh, look, I think we’ve woken him. Hello darling, how are you. Ooooh, you’re such a wee thing!’  She smiled like there were no problems. She stood up and looked at me with her wide eyes. ‘I’ll go to another church. That’s a good idea. I never thought of that one and if I don’t get any help, I’ll check The Yellow Pages..Thanks!’

            ‘Then there’s the Citizens Advice Bureau. I don’t know if you have similar in Scotland.’  As my thoughts were pulling together in giving advice, she was slowly walking away from me, repeatedly thanking me and commenting on the beauty of my son. I was about to invite her but the speed in which she left made me feel as though she anticipated that I wanted to ask but had doubts, so she spared me. Did me a favour. As I watched her hurry into the distance, my mind was still trying to make sense of the whole thing.  I waited for the traffic light to turn red and crossed over to the post office. There was a long queue.  I stood and waited along with the usual stares and whispers. My son was now awake but he seemed happy to amuse himself with the toy that dangled over his head. Some fifteen minutes later I collected the stamps and made my way home. My stomach churned as the seriousness of what happened to the woman hit home.  I wanted to turn the pushchair around and look for her.  I prayed that she would get help.

Some months later, my husband and I decided to leave and head back to London. Our ‘strangeness’ to others was just too alien for us. Their experience of people from a different race and therefore ignorance was too demanding in terms of us having to constantly give explanations of ourselves.  Of course, not everybody was racist and the elderly people in particular were very friendly but it wasn’t enough. There were still battles in London and always would be but my time in Scotland made me realize that parts of England had come a long way. It had grown up but still had not reached maturity. My time in Scotland and this experience happened back in 1988.  I know in the current Scotland of today, it has made great strides and progress.  I’m confident that Scotland will head to maturity sooner than we expect.

25 thoughts on “Experiences: Moving to Scotland

  1. Pingback: Experiences!! ~
  2. This is crazy! Peolpe who consider themselves superior but yet so ignorant to diversity. Remember, this type of thought pattern continues to breed racism and hate. I pray that the world change one day. God bless us all!

    • I know what you mean Colleen. But you know what – looking back at this experience, I realise that it is just ignorance and because it is that, pure and simple. The people I encountered, I hope they remember, then think and learn. Thanks for your comment Colleen.

  3. What a crazy and interesting experience you had! Having just moved to Glasgow myself, I was just looking up the demographic breakdown of the area and your’e quite right. Scotland has a less than 1% black population. I haven’t seen very many black people here myself and I’ve been here 4 times this year. I hope my experience is better than yours! (PS – that lady sounded a little, um, nuts).

    • Hi
      I’m sure it will be, as my time there was some years ago. Yeah, maybe she was a bit ‘off’ but when it happened, I guess seeing a black person for the first time, and my ‘wee’ son left her intrigued. I also think, looking back, she was probably a bit lost, disoriented and lonely. The ‘rape’ came across as real, and I got the impression that she had tried to speak to various people but was not receiving any support. I must admit I was dumbfounded as to what she should do, especially after going to the Police and her church. Although I wrote this story some years after leaving Scotland in the 80s, I’ve always wondered whether she was able to get help; if, she is alright? Thanks for your comments and look forward in reading about your time in Scotland.

      • You’re welcome! Sorry I didn’t realize your experience was so long ago (I was hunting a date). I was google searching “black people in Scotland” to see what popped up and your post did! Amazing. Thanks for writing it anyway and I do hope she found help as well! Looking forward to your fresh posts! #cheers

      • Am living in Italy but I want to relocate to Scotland and I search for black people in Scotland and your post came up..I really hope I can cope there ..Thanks for sharing your experience

      • Hi Maryjane, thanks for your response. Why do you want to leave Italy? It would be good hear your own experience. Has it been good experiences living in Italy? The thing about Scotland/England/UK, and hope it’s not too much of a generalisation, but Britain is a level headed country. Having lived in two countries and numerous cities, I am forced to realise there ARE positive things (lots of them) about the UK. The times we are living in are darker ie, I have just returned from London after spending four months and yes, racism is raising its ugly head more and more. I don’t recall a time when I’ve sensed insecurity all over the place however, I’m inspired by people of all sorts who are inspired to fight, stand up and defend those they feel are most vulnerable, and I don’t see them ever giving up. I imagine in the same way, there are loads of people in the States that are doing exactly the same thing against President Trump – making it extremely difficult for him to have his way. It would also be good to know Maryjane, why you want to move to Scotland?? Take care

  4. Thank you for this. I also Googled “black people in Scotland” and found this. I’m visiting Scotland by myself soon, and this reminded me that some people are just strange and racist and ignorant. I’m mixed- Black and Hispanic, but I’m going to mind my business like you did and keep going on with my day. Thanks

  5. Hi
    Thanks for your comment. I guess it’s just like any city in the UK, States, South Africa even. I’ve been fortunate to have lived in seven cities and two countries and you come to realise the adage my mother liked to narrate, and that is, people are people are people. And it is absolutely true! I now live in a country which is predominantly black and sometimes I can come across the same ignorance you mention. I’ve learnt not to be overwhelmed by it and have enough experience to realise that not everyone is like this. I believe in focusing on the good and leaving the bad bits behind. Yes, ‘mind your business’ as you say, but not too much as I assure you there is still lots of good out there. Don’t go there expecting ‘bad’ or that is what you will receive (I’m practicing Mindfulness Meditation so I’m learning quickly that whatever I put out, I will receive) whether it’s good or bad. If you have a blog, it would be good if we could read about your experiences. I wish you all the best. Take care.

  6. I am sorry this was your experience in Glasgow…my hometown. You did not mention the name of the area in which you settled. Glasgow’s population is incredibly diverse but communities tend to converge in certain areas so some appear particularly ‘white’. I have lived in three different countries and have experienced being approached by people with apparent mental health issues and it is alarming and concerning. “How can you speak French when you have a Scottish accent?” (Canada) Hey Morag do you have electricity in your caves? (England) You are a snob with that accent (Scotland). All unsolicited comments. What can I say? I too have felt like the outsider and yearned for the familiarity of home. I hope you had the opportunity to enjoy the sites and sounds of Scotland while you were there. Wishing you well.

    • Hi Linda
      Thanks for your comment. In fact we lived just outside Glasgow, a place called Cambuslang. But the experience I had occurred when I got the train and went into the city centre. And yes you are right. I lived in South Africa (Jo’burg), and not only were we discriminated just by whites but also at times, from some of the Africans. This I found weird as we were the same colour but it just made the point to me, that people are people are people. I also lived in other countries which are predominantly African but because I don’t belong to a tribe or speak the language I’m automatically considered a foreigner. I feel the lesson I’ve learnt after living in seven cities that every country has its pros and cons. The trick therefore is to find the best bits. Take care.

  7. I have to admit I was holding my breath until the very end when I realized this story is nearly 30 years old! Hopefully, things have changed drastically, especially with the rise of social media. Either way, I shall have to share my experience some day, granted I get the chance.

  8. Yes, it was a while ago that this happened. I’m re-reading it and I guess it is shocking. My mind goes over the experience, and I can still feel that wind and see her eyes. It’s also amazing that my son is in his mid-twenties and at Uni! I’ve not been back to Scotland since but at times I do pester my husband for us to do a few days in Glasgow – just to see the changes. But I do hope that things have moved on and that black people are no longer a spectacle. Thanks for your comment.

  9. I really feel your pain there and you wrote about your experiences so well. I can also see the other side, Firstly, we Scots really are only trying to be friendly and its the kind of thing I would have done many years ago, asking about where you come from “really” come from. its not that we are uneducated and Im sad you think that. Its just that not everyone is like you and has had the chance to travel or grow up in a multicultural environment. Everyone thinks the whole of the Uk is like London. Glasgow is impoverished and indeed now one of the most impoverished parts of the UK. As for the second bit about the rape, thats weird, and yet strangely familiar, its most likely a drug addict or someone trying to trick you to get cash or to fool you somehow, its an all too familiar story in Scotland and Im not surprised. Ive lived away from the country for many years now and everytime I go back I notice that all of the educated people have left and the people there now really are weird dysfuntional and “tragic”. Diversity is the one thing we all have in common, and many of us still need to realise that. Im so sorry for your story, but its a sign to remind you of your part to play in educating us, we need you to teach us, not judge us.

    • Hey Joseph!
      Thanks for your comment. I am sorry that you feel that I’m judging Scotland/Scots. I believe I say somewhere how the Scots were very friendly, as compared to those I meet/have met in my native London. I’m also not thinking of ‘uneducated’ but more of an instinctive thing, of their natural response to something they have not come across before. When I moved to Jo’burg South Africa, again the response from white people was to be surprised about how I spoke. They were intrigued but I accept, it was different to what they were normally used to. I wrote this a long time ago, and it was our second move, outside of London. Having lived in a number of cities and countries, I’ve gotten used to being seen as ‘different’ and asked lots of questions, I’m not so irritated by it as I was when in Scotland.

      As for the woman and her experience of being raped, I know some Scots who I’ve told this to, find it an embarrassing tale, but I don’t, as I felt it was real. She seemed genuinely lost; she didn’t ask me for money, she wanted to do something about it but what struck me (or disturbed me, rather) was the response of her church and she didn’t have anyone to help her – which included me. I felt bad. But then again, as you’ve said she could have been lying. It’s hard to say, because she asked, and when I could not provide much help, she went her way.

      And then Glasgow. As I say, this experience happened 28 years ago, and I’d like to think that Glasgow, in particular, has made great strides. I’m sure if I were to pay it a visit, it would be a lot more different today as compared to when I was there. Also, I’m sure it is more racially diverse and that the business of being black, is not such an intrigue for the Glaswegian. This article, out of all the others, I’ve written is very popular. I intend to ‘update’ it with perhaps a little more tolerance. Thanks for your comments, and by the way, what happened to your blog?

      • Hey, thanks for coming back to me… its good to hear from you……. my blog is at http://englishwithjosephblog.wordpress.com its so nice of you to share your story on the internet. I would love to hear more about your travels. I had a terrible time growing up in Glasgow in the 80s as a a gay man. I really hope it has changed but I doubt it has. Actually Im moving back to Scotland this year and Im already regretting the decision…. lets keep in touch.

  10. Hi there,
    I just read about your experience and was both shocked and moved. I am moving to Newham, Scotland in March from the United States and marrying a wonderful man who is originally from Oslo. This will be my first experience out of the country and I am very excited, curious and yes anxious about the whole transition as an African-American “Black” Woman. I understand that your experience was years ago but I am preparing myself for those types of interactions. I am not intimidated by these types of things and just want to be known by the content of my character and not the color or my skin…as we all do.

    Are there any words of wisdom or advice that you can give? I mostly will follow my hubby to be’s lead but I would like any of you all’s suggestions, warnings, comments, etc.

    Thank you all for sharing your experiences.

    • Dear mypatric,

      Thanks for your response. Yes, it has been seven years ago since I wrote this article and I’m surprised at the response it still receives.

      It is difficult to say what to look out for when moving to a new country. Having lived in seven cities and two countries, I’ve learnt that even living in a predominantly black environment, when someone the same colour as you, calls you a ‘bloody foreigner’, it sounds as though you are still being called a ‘nigger’. I realise that being a foreigner in a place where the indigenous population see me as ‘different’ can be considered a threat or looking at it from another extreme and that is intense curiosity.

      Like I said elsewhere here when I lived in Jo’burg, South Africa, my hubby and I was part of what I called the dinner party circuit, as white colleagues and neighbours ‘booked’ us well in advance to attend their dinner parties and functions every Saturday, months ahead. It was so weird as I never experienced this while living in my native country (London, England) but as I got older I just accepted that due to my skin colour, I considered it normal’ being kept outside the front door. Inviting you in, was something that did not happen.

      My experiences have taught me that as I have no control of what I’m likely to encounter or more to the point, what life is going to throw at me, is to have a positive attitude so that I’m able to pick the good experiences and to leave the negative behind. Or, to make sure the negative does not take a hold of me. I’ve learnt that people are people are people.

      I hope this helps. You should blog your encounters when you get to Scotland, as I would look forward to reading them. Good luck and have a good week.

  11. Northern England is like that too. Its very annoying, some white folk think that white folk are native to Africa, USA and Australia, then have the cheek to ask black folk how there got to England

  12. I’m glad I dropped by on your post. I believe racism is still found even in Australia where I grew up with indigenous children being part of the school system. I saw it in its most hurtful form when my dear friend John (who was a native Australian) and I went to see an opera at a theatre. (we were teenagers). The shocked looks and stares we had to endure back then ……..ie 1960’s….. were horrible and would not be seen today. I hope the same has evolved in Scotland. We have a long way to go as a human society before we can honestly judge all people by their inner humanity and have love and care for each one as we do for ourselves. I see this more and more in churches around the world – it needs to be everywhere!. Thanks for writing.

    • Thanks for your response Faye. I recall some years when the late David Bowie complained after spending some days there, that he was disgusted at how the Aboriginals were treated. He said he would never return. Also when I worked in a department store in the West End, London, I met and served Faith Bandler. I recognised her from a TV documentary I had seen. She was delightful and so humble, with a quiet spirit. So quiet, that I could not believe she was an activist. I also read recently that UN investigators having found that Aboriginals were maltreated (especially children by adult gangs) were hoping that the government would introduce measures that would protect the community. I found it hard to believe a country that was at the fore front of helping South Africa to get rid of its Apartheid, still have these problems with its own indigenous populations. Yes, we have to pray and pray and hope that such injustices are overcome.

  13. What an interesting read! Thank you for sharing your story. I found this article, like many others, by searching Black People In Scotland as I am moving to Scotland, Glasgow in September. I am very apprehensive about it as I am from Manchester but have lived in London for 5 years. I’m a mixed race woman, and I’m terrified of feeling emotionally isolated due to not being able to connect to anyone who looks like me. Like many others I was very relived to see the date in which you lived in Scotland and do hope there has been a huge improvement! if anyone has any recent stories/blogs please do share with me, as I am eager to hear current stories of a multicultural Scotland.

  14. Thanks Stefanie for liking this post. I don’t know what to say other than I’m chuffed that this is most visited post out of everything else I’ve written. When I wrote it, I had no idea that it would receive so many visits and it would be difficult to follow up as I no longer live in the UK. Of course, I pray that there as been changes since I wrote this. I know some Scots feel embarrassed about this story (especially when I meet and tell them) but my intention was never to write and shame. I like to write about experiences that surprise me or experiences that maybe I’ve had before but in another setting. It’s interesting you say that you lived in Manchester. I also lived there for three years and maybe I should write something about that. In fact I will – on speaking English and being complimented, when I felt I shouldn’t have. And just like my experiences of the few Scots I met, it was similar in Manchester, where I felt people were upfront. Completely different to London. Anyway, Stefanie, remove the fear from your mind and go with an open positive mind. I know places don’t remain the same and they can’t because change is inevitable. There will be bad but there will also be good. Have you tried contacting associations in Scotland on Facebook to see if it’s poss to make contact with people you’ll feel comfortable with? Lemme know how you get on. It would be great to hear your story. Good luck and take care.

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