Anger can manifest in many ways: a poem, a song, a protest, a movement. Anger can burst-through as something red but can quickly turn blue. I am an angry reddish blue as I write this article. This emotion is channelling itself into creative productivity. I am done with being mad (for now). It’s time to manifest this anger into a reproach of the racism and homophobia that still exists within the creative sector.
According to the most recent Scottish census, 4% of people in Scotland identified as non-white (Scotland’s Census 2011 General Report, October 2015). Although data on sexual orientation are less robust, the latest Annual Population Survey (2016) estimated that 2.2% of Scotland’s population identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual. These ‘small numbers’ still speak to real truth that we exist.
The Scottish Review of Book’s claim that it is too difficult to find talented BAME voices for their editorial team left me asking ‘How so?’ We are everywhere — we write, we critique, we edit, we produce, we submit all the time. Perhaps, the SRB were not looking hard enough (or looking at all)? Of course, this goes beyond one publication’s inability to find new voices. Instead, it speaks to a larger feeling of not being welcomed in established spaces.
If literary and cultural gatekeepers choose not to look, then those from marginalised or minority groups are left at a disadvantage. We are left to exist in invisible spaces. Our ability to enter the worlds of publishing, museums, magazines and theatre, is dependent on our ability to overcome biases, hostility and make ourselves known. But, even when we make it past the proverbial gates, we are still met with microaggression. When someone can write-off your successes as ‘tokenism’, what evidence can you show to prove your worth? When you are spoken about as a ‘funding requirement’, does this not strip-away your hard work?
As a queer writer of colour, I often need to manage self-care while pursuing writing projects — operating in a world that regularly fails to welcome my voice or represent my experiences. I speak with fellow marginalised writers, who are also conscious of the lack of spaces to share their work. There exists a fear that our work is too queer, too gay, too trans, too working-class, too black, too Asian, too distinct from the ideal ‘Scottish’ experience. Ideas of quality or the ‘right fit’ are expressed weakly, but when these criticisms are explored deeper is this merely coda for any departure from the accepted and canonical style of the white, cis, heterosexual voice? When writers of colour address themes of race and oppression, they are cast-off as too controversial or an angry outburst of race-baiting. Work that depicts queer acts of sex is categorised as pornographic (which ignores mainstream indulgences in works such as ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’).
So where do we go from here? How do Scotland’s writers, artists, poets and people use the creative arts to change the world? We must create our own spaces, which is no bad thing. Queer and BAME creatives are already putting in the work to help diversify Scotland’s cultural landscape. From 404 ink’s ‘We Were Always Here’, which promoted a glorious menu of Scottish and Scotland-based queer writers, to the establishment of The Scottish BAME Writers Group, an initiative from writers Alycia Pirmohamed and Hannah Lavery that meets regularly at The Scottish Poetry Library. Beyond writing, Poet Nadine Aisha Jassat’s Readers of Colour reading group promotes the work of marginalised women, trans and non-binary writers in a space that allows for fruitful discussion.
These publications and groups are disrupting Scotland’s creative sector and shouting-out that diverse voices exist! Marginalised communities are often self-starters, it is one of our strengths, but we still await the invite to Scotland’s settled arts and creative communities (should we choose to accept the invitation).
It’s time for Scotland to face the facts, we are here, and we aren’t going anywhere!