A Black Londoner, Plopped Down in Whitest Scotland
For the first time in my life, people stared at me like I was an attraction at a museum — or even the zoo
Moving to Scotland for university was a huge culture shock to me. I grew up in South London in a town called Croydon, which is known for many things (most of them being crime-related and not at all pleasant), but the thing it is probably most recognised for is its racial diversity. Growing up, I was never a racial minority. The majority of my high school classmates were Black and Asian; my ethnic background was considered ‘normal’; I could go days without seeing a white person my age; and I could easily find people who not only looked like me but ate the same food I ate at home and spoke the way I do. I love South London so much and had no idea that my upbringing wasn’t the norm for every Black person in the UK. Until I got to university.
There’s this idea that Londoners are so obsessed with London and our own little bubble that our geography of the UK is terrible. And to be honest, the idea isn’t entirely wrong. London was all I knew; I couldn’t fathom a place outside of the town I had grown up in, which is why I wanted a drastic change. In my final year of school, I decided that I wanted to get as far away as I possibly could from London but still be situated within the UK. That faraway place happened to be a quaint micro-city in Scotland called Aberdeen.
A 10-hour train ride from London, Aberdeen is a place at the edge of the UK where all the buildings are made of grey stone (seriously, look it up) and people consume drinks like irn bru and desserts like a deep fried Mars bar. It is also a place where public transport runs on vibes and luck — unlike the super-fast and mostly reliable London transport; where people say, “Fit like?” instead of “Hello;” and where I could go days without seeing another person of colour.
When I arrived, I felt as though I had stepped through a door to a mystical land where things were the complete opposite to what I was used to. I remember on one of the first nights I spent in my dorm room, I was so overwhelmed with the homesickness I was experiencing that upon hearing a guy playing bagpipes outside my dorm room, I began to cry. I think it had finally sunken in that I was not in London anymore, and I’d need to find a way to fit into this new city.
Spoiler: I eventually grew to love Aberdeen and Scotland, but this was far from the case at the start.
I had never really had to code switch before. I had always been around people that understood the slang I used, the rhythm of my voice and the Nigerian memes and sayings I constantly quote. But in Scotland, people couldn’t understand me, and at first I couldn’t understand them either. I didn’t know Aberdeen had its own dialect, so every time someone would smile and say “Fit Like?!” I’d awkwardly nod, unsure of what to reply.
But apart from those awkward run ins with the language barrier, I also had to get used to microaggressions. For the first time in my life, people would stare at me as I walked around the town like I was an attraction at a museum — or even the zoo. I would go on buses and trains, and no one would sit near me either. I assumed at first that it was a thing of my imagination, but after speaking to other people of colour in Scotland, this was a phenomenon they were all too familiar with.
The microaggressions didn’t end there. In lectures on slavery and the colonisation of Africa, the entire lecture hall would be glancing my way, or worse, I had a guy say the n-word to my face. When he was called out on it, he started crying and everyone went to comfort him… That wasn’t fun at all.
Moving to Scotland, I realised I couldn’t fully be myself. Being myself meant drawing in even more attention and leaving myself open to traumatising microaggressions and experiences. I found myself starting to speak differently, and move in different ways. It made me anxious and depressed, so depressed I started taking antidepressants in my second year. It made me sad to think that this is how so many Black kids grow up. Drowning in this overwhelming sea of whiteness, unable to be themselves as they are coming of age, to the point where even when they escape these environments and come into adulthood, they don’t know who they were before they began to code switch.
Being one of few Black faces in very white spaces is traumatising in ways I can’t even begin to fully unpack. When I talk about the trauma I experienced in Scotland, I think people assume I must have hated my experience there. I love Scotland and have even considered moving there after graduation, but no place is without its faults. The issue wasn’t specifically Scotland or Aberdeen, but instead what happens to Black people when they are in spaces where people don’t make them feel safe or welcome. Everyone needs a safe space, and white supremacy has made it so many places are not safe for Black people to simply exist and be free of trauma or violence.
I hope that my stories can be a safe space for Black people to escape to and feel represented by.