Today, 12th March 2019, the Coalition of Racial Equality and Rights launches an anti-racist poster campaign aimed at encouraging the public to intervene in racist incidents. The poster shows a white person shouting racist abuse at a Black person. A third person ponders what they heard and what they should do about it. In Scotland, we hear racism daily on the buses, in taxis, at libraries, doctors’ surgeries, sports clubs, museums and pubs. What do we do about it?
Earlier this year, Dr Punam Krishan, a GP in Glasgow, spoke out about the racism she faced as an NHS employee. On Twitter (@DrPunamKrishan) she recorded this incident:
Patient “I don’t want an Asian doctor”
Receptionist “she is Scottish”
Patient “she doesn’t look Scottish.”
Receptionist “what do Scottish people look like?”
The receptionist did not challenge the underlying racism of the abusive patient: that Dr Krishan identifies as Scottish is irrelevant. But the receptionist did support Dr Krishan, challenging the patient in the way they knew how to. Would we do the same? Would we do it differently?
Many people question whether it is safe to intervene in such situations. But how safe is it to be a Black and minority ethnic person in Scotland today? To what extent do we all have to take responsibility for a safe environment for people to live, work, socialise and play? This is not about paternalism or being a white saviour. As Barbara Kruger’s billboard stated in 1987, ‘We Don’t Need Another Hero’. Instead, we need collective responsibility for the toxic effects of racism in society. This poster calls on us to demonstrate this:
Talk to the person being victimised, not the culprit
Deescalate the situation, if you know how to
If things escalate, seek support from others, possibly the authorities
Always prioritise personal safety for both yourself and the person being victimised
Don’t play the hero, just show solidarity and support
In 2018, CRER raised concerns with the Scottish Government regarding their ‘Dear Haters’ campaign. The CRER poster campaign is different. The Scottish Government campaign addresses racists, ‘Dear Racists’, but it was aimed at a reader who is not racist. The assumed racists are other people, a different group of people, to the poster readership. The reality of modern Scotland is that racists are not a minority group. Racists are not uneducated, uncivilised and other to the general population. In fact, the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015 suggests that the more educated you are the more likely you are to be against affirmative action. The CRER poster campaign encourages everyone to take responsibility for racist incidents.
Many people raised in Scotland have grown up in an extremely homogenous society (Scotland is 96% white). This means that racism has been less visible to the average white Scottish person; many will have felt little need to consider it. The majority of Scottish people are unconsciously racist and therefore unconsciously participate, benefit from and perpetuate structural racism. The Scottish Government’s campaign does not challenge this, in fact, by painting racists as people other than ourselves, the campaign may well affirm the unconscious racist majority. Like many countries across the world, Scotland is structurally racist. Structural racism occurs when institutions and social practices advantage one social group (white people) and disadvantage another group (BME people). An example of this is the lack of Black philosophers taught in schools, or disproportionate stop and search of Black youth by police. The recent book, No Problem Here - Understanding Racism in Scotland, provides the evidence that people from Black minority ethnic backgrounds continue to suffer disadvantage across modern Scotland.
CRER’s poster campaign calls for all of us to recognise the toxicity created by racism in society, approach those affected by it, offer solidarity, and in doing so work on defusing racism in society. Racism is a problem for all of us. Intervening in racist incidents will not challenge entrenched structural racism, but it will go some way to fostering an environment in which deeper change is possible.
The second way the CRER poster campaign is different to the Scottish Government’s is that it does not defer to the authorities to tackle racism. The cases of Simon San, Kunal Mohanty and Surjit Singh Chhokar illustrate the need for the intervention of the authorities in certain cases. CRER recommend that victims report racism to the police, through third party reporting if needs be. However, consider the case of Glasgow GP, Dr Punam Krishan. Not all racist incidents can be challenged by calling the police. Sometimes there is no time. Racist incidents can be over in a moment. Sometimes an immediate intervention is required to support the victim and to let the perpetrator know there are others who will not allow them to continue abusing people in this way.
CRER’s poster campaign encourages solidarity and collective responsibility for racism in society. Calling the police after the fact to register a hate crime is a choice for each individual. We as bystanders can do something about it now. You can act!
 See Barbara Kruger (1987): https://www.artsy.net/artwork/barbara-kruger-untitled-we-dont-need-another-hero . The billboard challenged masculine heroic culture with a provocative image of children socialised into binary gender roles.
 Source: Scottish Social Attitudes 2015: Attitudes to discrimination and positive action: http://www.ssa.natcen.ac.uk/media/38903/attitudes-to-discrimination-and-positive-action-2015.pdf
 See Dr Punan Krishnan’s Twitter feed: https://twitter.com/drpunamkrishan?lang=en