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St Andrews Anti-Racism Demonstration

Anna reports on the June 27th Anti-Racism Demonstration held on St Andrew’s West Sands Beach

On June 27th, members of the St Andrews community gathered on West Sands to demonstrate in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and against racial injustice around the world. Amidst the rainy weather, students and towns-people knelt on the beach for eight minutes and forty-six seconds to solemnly remember the time which passed as George Floyd was murdered by American police officers Derek Chauvin, J Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. The demonstration aimed to draw attention to the systematic racism inherent in our academic institutions, local and national governments, health care systems and justice systems. It demonstrated solidarity in standing with the Black Lives Matter movement and all people around the world who are demanding the right to live without fear and violence. It was a demonstration to actively resist racism in all forms, and a platform for students and towns-people to speak on ways in which they have encountered racism in the bubble of St Andrews. Several Scottish police officers were present at the demonstration, as arranged by organizers of the demonstration, looking on from afar as the demonstrators practiced social distancing by wearing required facemasks and standing in household groups in spaced out circles drawn in the sand.  

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Students and towns-people spoke on not only ways in which they have encountered violent acts of racism within the town, such as a lecturer of Asian descent being kicked and punched and assaulted with racial slurs in the streets of St Andrews, but also ways in which the University of St Andrews as well as local schools have failed their students by silencing Black History and Culture. Students from an array of disciplines, ranging from Maths to Neuroscience to English, spoke about the University’s failure to teach subject matter from Black People and People of Colour. Former students from local schools also spoke up about the education system’s blatant lack of Black authors studied in Literature classes and a failure in History classes to take accountability for the United Kingdom’s role in colonization and the slave trade. Students also called attention to the fact that the University responded to inquiries about the number of Black People on the teaching staff with BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) statistics. This failure to take accountability for the lack of Black People on the teaching staff was acutely highlighted in the lack of University presence at the anti-racism demonstration itself. The University and Student Association were notified about the June 27th demonstration, yet no one from either organization was present. 

Organizer and speaker Nakia Graham wrote about the event:

“It was encouraging to see the number of White allies that attended the Anti-Racism Demonstration, as well as how many students are coming together to address this issue. However, it was discouraging to see the University’s response, especially those in power, and the many roadblocks encountered when organizing the event.

This University has been around for hundreds of years and has lived through many human rights issues and abuses, yet it seems it is not used to being called out and is easily offended when criticized. St Andrews has not properly entered the conversation about racism or actively addressed racism on their own campus, often turning a blind eye. The few actions that have been made seem performative. This is alarming. I worry about if these conversations will still be happening a year from now and if changes will have been made. Additionally, communication has been poor and there is a lack of transparency that makes implementing change difficult.”

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Another organiser of the event discussed the difficulty with which the demonstration was arranged; The Student’s Association prevented Amnesty St Andrews and The Environmental Subcommittee from officially supporting the event as the Association had yet to put out an official statement regarding the Black Lives Matter movement. However, the strength and vulnerability demonstrated by speakers at the event acted as a beacon for change from within. Due to the difficulty organizing the June 27th demonstration, there are no plans for further events this summer. Yet, as one of the speakers in the community discussion asserted, this should just be one aspect of how St Andrews students actively resist racism in all forms and stand with all people who are demanding the right to live without fear and violence.   

 

*On publication of this article, a former member of the Student’s Association came forward to comment that the Union had put out instruction to all societies to suspend all non-online activities in light of Covid-19. As such, the Student’s Association were obligated to bar Amnesty St Andrews and The Environmental Subcommittee from co-hosting the event in order to adhere to their own policy. A failure to do so would have set a precedent for other societies to hold events, which could put themselves and others at risk. It was also alleged that an organizer of the event had pledged the support of the Environmental Subcommittee without the knowledge or approval of the rest of the subcommittee, and particularly the elected officer, which is unconstitutional according to the rules laid out for the Union subcommittees. The source went on to say that this “might seem petty, but it’s really important that we don’t have random people speaking on behalf of the Union”, as otherwise other, equally vital voices might be overshadowed.

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