12th June 2020

“I can’t breathe”. The last words of George Floyd who died brutally at the hands of police in the US. His name will not be forgotten. After the explosion of global protests, amplifying the Black Lives Matter movement, remembering a name is no longer enough.

Locally, Joy Duncan and others formed a new group, ‘Shetland Staands Wi Black Lives Matter’ to show solidarity.  Given the pandemic and the need to ensure there’s no opportunity for the Covid-19 virus to spread, a socially-distant walk has been organised on Saturday across all parts of Shetland.

It’s a privilege to live in the welcoming and kind community that I believe Shetland is. But there are pockets of racism here too and there is no place for that in any civilised society. We all have a duty to challenge and call out racism where we come across it.

Telling a so-called joke, not realising how offensive it is, can no longer be excused. I doubt if people who have in the past dressed up to represent black and ethnic minorities at local events ever intended to offend, but blacked-up faces needs to be a thing of the past.

From my inbox I know that people are asking for a change in the curriculum so young people in Scotland can be taught about black histories. Reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” in your teens is not enough. One person said to me this week that they thought slavery was something that only happened in America.

I’ve been to the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool several times. It pulls no punches as it sets out the history of the transatlantic trade as well as that of contemporary enslavement. The museum is a well-used source of education for the city’s schoolchildren, and can be visited virtually too. History cannot be erased, but it can be explained.

Last week at the Education and Skills committee we took evidence from School Leaders Scotland and the EIS. A lot of the questioning was about the practicalities of schools re-opening on 11th August and how this will work with physical distancing and “blended learning”. Not all schools have been closed during the lockdown. A few remained open for keyworker families and vulnerable children, although there has been a low uptake of the available places.

Some children in lockdown are living in domestic abuse homes. Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, recognises the long-term emotional damage domestic abuse can have on children, often limiting their lifelong opportunities. It was reassuring though to hear that the health and wellbeing of all our young people will be at the forefront as they return to school life. Whether that translates into the considerable resources needed to support everyone in schools remains to be seen. The scale and challenge of what is ahead should not be under-estimated.

Stay safe, stay home. Save lives.

We will get through this.

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