Pollock and Prejudice: How London’s influence impacts the lives of Edinburgh’s BAME people
Updated: Aug 1, 2020
Lucien Staddon Foster explores London's influence in Edinburgh and how University students should embrace multiculturalism as opposed to private school elitism in combatting bigotry and racism.
It's hard to miss Edinburgh's uniquely strong English influence, especially that of London. It is so powerful that some parts of Edinburgh are often criticised as being an extension of London in terms of influences, attitudes and the Status Quo. Whether it's the ever-creeping prices of a pint, the growing London-calling student diaspora, or a simple shift in tempo and ambience, the influence of one capital on another is as inescapable as a signet ring at a JMCC dinner. This influence, however, is both a curse and a blessing, particularly from the eyes of a BAME student. Allow me to explain.
“Whether it's the ever-creeping prices of a pint, the growing London-calling student diaspora, or a simple shift in tempo and ambience, the influence of one capital on another is as inescapable as a signet ring at a JMCC dinner. ”
Just 8% of Edinburgh's population identifies as BAME (1). A stark contrast to the multi-cultural powerhouse that is London's 35% (2). Assuming discrimination and prejudice decrease with exposure to different cultures, peoples and lifestyles, the heavy influence of London on our capital can bring a shift in attitude that better welcomes the BAME people who call Edinburgh home. However, London is also home to vast inequality, much of which acts along racial lines, and with it, comes specific harmful attitudes, perceptions, and ignorance. Unfortunately, those uniquely London-based attitudes can be spread to Edinburgh through its student intake and run the risk of becoming increasingly widespread, exacerbated by Scotland’s lower diversity.
As far as the University is concerned, there is already a poor track record when it comes to diversity. The University of Edinburgh takes in half as many BAME students as its Russell Group peers3, and many degree programmes see significant attainment gaps based on ethnicity (as much as 17.7% for my course (4)). Thus, a disturbing pattern against the potential satisfaction and success of BAME students is revealed and it becomes reinforced when student origin is considered. As of 2018, 34% of Edinburgh University students are privately educated (5), likely hailing from predominantly White and wealthy schools and colleges. Whilst the obvious issue here is over-representation, given that just 7% of the UK population is privately educated, another sinister situation arises, one regarding the students themselves.
There's a certain type of student I'm sure you're well aware of; you can spot them from a mile away. Charged with pride for their South London or home county independent school; they waltz through the streets with a swing of flairs and a flash of a signet ring, with a demeanour consisting of equal parts arrogance and insecurity. There is nothing inherently problematic about privileged upbringings or needing to be noticed wherever you go, and I have no quarrel with those of us with those traits. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental common denominator for those matching this caricature. Beyond their work with foreign children on their gap year, they have likely had little to no real contact with BAME people. Think about their schools; you can probably count the pupils with a complexion darker than the façade of Appleton Tower on one hand. When the time comes for them to connect with one another in the fine establishment of Pollock Halls of Residence, they often bring with them harmful bigotry fuelled by a lack of diversity in their home lives.
I'm sure if you spoke to any BAME friends of yours they'd return with countless examples of discriminatory acts and attitudes they have encountered during their time here. As your friends aren't here, I will lead with some personal examples of mine.
"When the time comes for them to connect with one another in the fine establishment of Pollock Halls of Residence, they often bring with them harmful bigotry fuelled by a lack of diversity in their home lives."
To preface this, allow me to tell you about myself. I am of mixed heritage, equal parts Black Caribbean and White English. I came to the UK when I was tiny and have lived here ever since. I am very obviously not white but just about ambiguous enough to throw a few White Brits off the scent.
During my time at Edinburgh, specifically, when I was in halls, I have been subjected to all forms and flavours of bigotry. And more times than not, the culprits have been from the very social group I have been talking about. I have been questioned on whether I've been involved in knife crime or whether I know any Black person they can pluck from their memory. I have been praised for "how well (I) speak for a Black guy". I've endured three complete strangers pulling and running their hands through my hair on the middle of an ATIK dance-floor. I have even been called "Tropical Boo" by another stranger in a club, who I am sure meant well but it comes across as nothing but a fetishisation of my ethnicity. So why then, do some from the most diverse parts of the UK harbour such bigotry and disrespect? I certainly don't have all the answers, but I am truly concerned about the president it may set in Scotland's White-dominated spaces. The "posh-boy banter" that's so prevalent in wealthy parts of the South, from which Edinburgh draws many students from, oozes with toxicity regarding ethnicity, race, sex, gender, religion and sexuality; and as a result, Edinburgh runs the risk of adopting such a culture. That's not to say Scotland doesn't have its own issues in regard to these, which it certainly does, but a specific type of prejudice and behaviour comes creeping in on top due to Edinburgh's strong ties to England's capital.
"I have been questioned on whether I've been involved in knife crime or whether I know any Black person they can pluck from their memory. I have been praised for "how well (I) speak for a Black guy"."
During this time of demonstration and solidarity with BAME communities, we must recognise our own issues and the nuances behind them if we hope to transition further towards equality. At Edinburgh University, I believe a start can be made by addressing the negative influences of the capital and its surrounding bubble of affluence, and in its place, the positive aspects must be adopted. Such that, we embrace London’s multi-culturalism rather than its elite. Through this, we can reduce the toxicity and hardship that plagues both our UK-based and international BAME students. If the White-dominated private schools don’t address the toxic behaviour that’s often so rampant within them, it is our job to make sure that culture has no place in Edinburgh.
1, 2 Equality Evidence Finder Scotland
3, 4 EDMARC 2019 – Student Report
5 Higher Education Student Statistics: UK. 2018/2019 Statistical Bulletin