‘Everyday Racism’ is a series of ten environmental portraits exploring
instances of micro-acts of racism. The exhibition is a collaboration
between people from minority ethnic backgrounds in Glasgow with
experience of racism and photographer Karen Gordon.
The photographs, and the stories that accompany them, raise
awareness of and challenge us all to an open conversation about
racism in 2019. The exhibition tours across Glasgow 2019/20.
I was visiting a professor for an interview. We had never met before and, as the relationship between a student and professor is very important for one-on-one lessons, we were getting to know one another and asking questions. In the middle of me speaking, she reached over and touched my hair, completely unprompted and unapologetic.
As a South Asian with a beard, I look very much like a Muslim and people assume I’m religious. Generally it doesn’t matter much but something I often experience is that people will be friendly and polite when I first meet them and I think everything is OK. This is until they see me at the bar with a drink and hear my Irish accent, their demeanour can change entirely and I find they accept me much more enthusiastically and are far warmer towards me than they were before.
I call it the quiet walk home. If I walk in the street at night, the street empties but it can happen at any time. Donning a hoodie should not be associated with any particular intentions apart from forming a protective layer between the wearer’s head and a light breeze. However, when I or other men of colour put on the said article of clothing, sold worldwide by many popular retailers on the high street, we are met by a particular perception that instantly incites a wide range of reactions from dirty looks to clutched handbags. The association of the hoodie with violence and/or crime has worked toward solidifying this stigmatised response – it forms a convenient proxy tool to racially profile and/or trigger a set of assumptions about who the person behind the hood really is.
To receive funding for tertiary education in Scotland a migrant, asylum seeker or refugee has to meet a complex set of conditions based around residency, residency status and country of origin. This means many people, who wish to develop their skills so they are better equipped to contribute towards Scotland’s economic growth, are excluded from tertiary education due to economic barriers, such as myself. The inability to access funding for education can cause stress, promote discrimination, and can encourage institutional racism. It can also discourage the student from participating in other education programmes because of low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
Traditionally speaking, we associate going out to pubs and clubs with feelings of relaxation and enjoyment. Growing up Scottish Asian in Glasgow, however, this wasn’t always the case for me and many of my peers. Often, we were rejected entry from these places by bouncers offering vague reasons for their decision making. Even if I did make it inside, the threat of racial provocation from fellow revellers, which in particular venues was inevitable, became exhausting. The aggravation of being provoked or rejected was not worth the hassle and from my mid-twenties onwards I actively decided to avoid pubs and clubs.
I am humiliated at the airport most of the time I am travelling. I live in Glasgow and every time I arrive at Glasgow airport I get singled out. Often by a plain-clothes policeman who takes me aside (after standard passport control) and questions me about why I’m in Glasgow. I’m always singled out, I have even tried different outfits to no avail. To be honest, I don’t really get it: I book the flights a long time in advance, I do the majority of my trips regularly via Glasgow airport. I don’t understand why I have to be humiliated in this way every time I come home.
I was out with my friend to a local art gallery. We both are Pakistani and visibly Muslim as we wear headscarves. I’ve attended this gallery several times before with my photography friends for photoshoots and have previously not had any problems. As we went through the gallery we decided to take our phones out to take pictures of each other with the art pieces. We noticed some others were also doing the same but with their DSLR cameras. After a few moments a lady who worked there walked over to us and said we were not allowed to take photos. Confused, me and my friend asked why and the lady wouldn’t give us a specific reason. It was slightly frustrating as we could see others with their cameras but we were the only ones being told not to use ours. And that’s when the realisation hit, that we were the only ethnic minority taking photos and the atmosphere had changed. The gallery which I had once seen as relaxing, became a place of discomfort.
As a guy who’s lived in UK for the best part of my life, I haven’t really seen myself as “being different”. Perhaps it was because there weren’t that many travellers on the day or maybe it was because I was with another non-white (different ethnicity to mine) at the time. But I do recall the gaze I received that day. I’ve never felt more self-conscious and paranoid about the looks people gave me. Through this medium, I hope it will spread awareness of some of the feelings that the non-whites face in the UK on a frequent basis and try to work towards removing everyday racism-biases all together.
I walked into a lift at the airport. It was a lift with many people trying to squeeze in – there were passengers, airline and airport staff. Just as the lift doors were about to close, a man tries to squeeze in, he realises there is not enough space for him. He makes eye contact with me, and says: ‘You! Stop staring at me and make some space’. I freeze. Within that period of time which was probably no more than a second or two, I try to think of a suitable response, but I can’t. I look around me to find a bit of space I could move to, and consequently create space for him. I realise that I can’t, due to people’s luggage taking up space. I say out loud ‘I can’t move, people’s luggage is in the way’. He smiles at me, in a way which over the years, I have learned to recognise as dislike mixed with feelings of superiority. I look around at the faces of others, no more than a few centimetres away from me. No one. I am alone in a crowd of people, with my skin a few shades on the wrong side of White.
When I started out as an actor, I applied for loads of jobs requiring Scottish actors. When I got an audition slot, I’d turn up in plenty of time, prepare anything I needed and give it my all. I’d even be complimented on my performance at the time. I’d wait a few days and ask for some feedback. Sometimes it was down to interpretation but, there’s one bit of feedback that I found really irritating after a while: “You don’t have the right look”. At first, I didn’t mind but, I began seeing the same faces in audition rooms, strike up conversation and keep in touch. It was the same note they had. It’s a bit of a running joke amongst Scottish/Asian actors because it’s something that keeps coming up in “Scottish” castings for us all.’