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EXCLUSIVE: Scotland moves towards diversity

Afro-Scot Eunice Olumide uses her music to examine issues like race. She says she rarely meets people like her, but believes that Scotland is becoming more diverse.

EXCLUSIVE: Scotland moves towards diversity


Eunice Olumide, or sweeTs, as she is known as the front woman of the popular hip-hop duo NorthernXposure, was born and raised in Edinburgh and uses her socially conscious lyrics to express the challenges she has experienced firsthand.

"Growing up in Scotland was quite a unique experience," sweeTs said. "The most difficult aspect concerning what I coin as the ‘Afro-Scot' is the rarity. Most of the time you can be completely misjudged and misunderstood, trapped in a dichotomy that is extremely unfamiliar to not only Scots but also to Africans."

The statistics underscore sweeTs' claim. Despite a presence of African heritage that predates the 15th century, Scottish residents of African or Caribbean descent represented less than 1/2 percent (around 5,000 citizens) of the country's population according to the 2001 census. The results of the 2011 census have yet to be released, but the percentage is believed to be much higher - an estimated 18,000 to 24,000 African and Caribbean residents, with about 17 percent of those born in Scotland.

Most members of the multi-ethnic community are from Jamaica, Barbados, and countries in South, Central, Western and Eastern Africa; and live in urban areas like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen. Although the African and Caribbean communities in Scotland are diverse and residents are determined to highlight their individual cultures and heritage, a majority of the problems they face are the same.

According to the Black and Ethnic Minority Infrastructure in Scotland (BEMIS), an organization formed to empower minority communities, they face misrepresentation, institutional racism and a lack of resources, all of which play a major part in undermining their development.

Established in 1997 by a network of black and ethnic minority organizations, BEMIS says it promotes inclusion, democratic active citizenship, recognition of diversity, human rights education, and wider representation, as well as works to "influence government policy at local, Scottish, UK and EU levels." The group hosts a variety of events to help achieve its goals including conferences, a film series, and even has a partnership with the Scottish Football Association.

However, though the number of black and ethnic minority non-profit organizations has grown over the past decade to include BEMIS, the African & Caribbean Network (A&CN), and others, many lack the resources to ensure their survival. Those who are supported, like BEMIS, which has been funded by the Commission for Racial Equality, have been acknowledged for helping to improve race relations in the country.

Commission Deputy Chair, Dr. Moussa Jogee, said, under BEMIS "Progress has been considerable...this progress clearly demonstrates the current absence of and the absolute need for an effective national voice for black and ethnic minority voluntary and community organizations in Scotland."

Private minority support groups have also recently received a major boost from the Scottish government through the One Scotland campaign, aimed to "raise awareness of racist attitudes, highlight its negative impact and recognize the valuable contributions that other cultures have made to [our] society - and make Scotland no place for racism."

An initiative of the One Scotland campaign is the Equality Fund that will fund projects that directly tackle inequality and promote equality. Applications for the Scottish Government Equality Fund 2012-15 are currently being considered and successful projects will be announced this year.

Meanwhile, despite the presence of few Scots of African descent, sweeTs feels that Scottish culture is moving towards celebrating diversity in everyday life. In 2009, for example, NorthernXposure was featured on the cover of the Edinburgh Evening News, one of Scotland's most widely read newspapers. "The article said ‘if the future really is multiculturalism...then NorthernXposure should be its ambassador'...This is rewarding and inspirational," she explained.

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