A timely topic as Old Joe is set to ‘take charge’

by Colin Campbell

JOE Biden will soon be the most powerful man in the world and the planet is united in unconfined joy that he will displace the Satanic scourge of Donald Trump, or George, as Biden calls him. Or so you’d think if you read the Guardian or watched CNN and other outlets.

I’m no great fan of Trump, particularly after his bizarre rants of the past few days, but I’ll miss him when he’s gone. Whatever other flaws he had, he was always the consummate entertainer.

But Biden is and will remain for many a sorry gaffe-prone relic of a choice for US president. He may serve his four-year term or he may cave in to the so-called “radical progressives” with an extremist agenda cited by his critics. Time alone will tell.

A student from Herriot Watt University contacted Inverness news and views in relation to articles that appeared here on the Black Lives Matter frenzy which engulfed Inverness three months ago. Imogen Stubbs posed a series of questions for a project she’s doing. In tribute to the new President-elect, we publish her questions and our replies.

Regarding your articles, do you believe the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to have been inappropriate or was it merely the involvement of Eden Court that you disagreed with?

When I came across the Black Lives Matter activity on our Ness Bridge leading into the city centre it was eyecatching and certainly newsworthy. We seldom see such an outpouring of strong reaction of that kind in these parts.

Many of the messages, on cardboard or torn up canvas, simply carried BLM support slogans.

However a considerable number were highly contentious. “White Silence Equals Violence” and “End White Supremacy in the Highlands” being among them.

These carried the implication that we were all guilty of racism unless we spoke out or took some unexplained action against it. It also implied that we were either too bigoted or stupid to recognise something that was staring us in the face.

The problem with that was in my view it’s not staring us in the face. The evidence that racism is a widespread problem here is very, very thin on the ground.

In one incident that happened around 20 years ago the home of an Asian family was smeared with racist abuse and it provoked outrage, as we reported on and commented on at the paper where I was working at the time. Nothing of that kind has happened since. And that was back then. All the evidence since suggests that the vast majority of white people here have, as elsewhere, become more sensitive and aware of racial considerations.

Calls for an end to white supremacy in the Highlands seemed to border on the absurd. We are at this time in particular aware of the emergence of white supremacist groups and even militias across the Atlantic. But it is difficult if not impossible to link the connotations of anything pertaining to “white supremacy”, however loosely defined, to normal daily life in the Highlands.

Some protesters I later learned also stood with placards outside Nairn police station. How the activities of a local cop shop could credibly be linked to police brutality and subsequent first degree murder charges against four police officers in Minneapolis was beyond me.

Eden Court, like Highland Council and the local MP, then decided to become involved. MP Drew Hendry publicly claimed to have received “hundreds of messages” from constituents demanding action be taken. This simply did not ring true. A black man is killed in an American city and hundreds of people demand the local MP should do something about it? No, I don’t think so.

This viral incident on social media then began to take on all the hallmarks of gesture politics and bandwagon jumping.

Before announcing they’d mount a special display of the placards and that it could become a permanent one, Eden Court declared they’d held a special management meeting because of the killing of George Floyd. What the hell for? There’s bad things happening in the world all the time. Do they hold special management meetings for these as well?

It has been a deeply soul-searching affair, apparently, and they said they had not done enough to combat racism and had emerged with the determination to strive to do more. What they didn’t explain was – how.

I questioned their professed “pride” and eagerness to display posters with messages as outlined above which I believe many people would disagree with or would consider offensive. A publicly-funded theatre has full discretion on matters of artistic taste but presenting a display which implied many people in the Highlands were guilty of overt or unthinking racism with no evidence to back that up seemed well outwith their remit or role.

A couple of weeks later I did a follow-up piece. After the Sunday display I looked online for anything further relating to the eruption of BLM support that had taken place over a couple of days. There was nothing, no planned meetings, no groups formed, no discussion. The MP, a prolific Twitter user, had not mentioned it again. The display went up at Eden Court, and there was – nor has been – nothing else from them either.

So to sum up, it seemed that many young people saw footage of what happened on social media, exchanged messages and literally rushed along to put up placards and posters in a display. And then went home and pretty much forgot about it. Eden Court and others like the MP felt driven to make gestures or statements in response, but then, job done, forgot about it as well. There has been nothing further relating to BLM up here since.

There were good intentions all around, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but they were shallow, superficial and fleeting, and driven entirely by social media, with its very short attention span. The protesters made their point of view. I believe, on the contrary that racism is not a very serious problem, as was implied, in the Highlands, and any individual or organisation claiming it is needs to back that up with evidence, rather than just an array of contentious messages on bits of cardboard and canvas deemed deserving of a fancy, and “possibly permanent” theatrical display.

Do you feel that in the Highlands there is a divide in opinion between younger generations and older? If so, in what way?

I’D say there’s a divide between people, say, over 60, and people in their 20s over a number issues, but that has always been the case over the generations. Many older people would, for example, have little or no time for the more extreme positions of transgender rights activists. It is worrisome that it is now deemed controversial to question any elements of the LBQTI agenda, as JK Rowling and others have found out. However the advent of social media and the Twitterstorm phenomenon has made it more pronounced.

Social media, obviously used much more by younger people, can lead to a herd mentality of condemnation which some latch onto without thinking things through. The statue toppling and demands for removal of street names and renaming of buildings of those involved in the slave trade two or more centuries ago was a case in point. That happened in a different era which no one alive today can genuinely relate to and it’s at least questionable what practical benefits hauling down a statue brings to anyone around just now. And once you start where do you stop?

Protesters defacing the statue of Winston Churchill was the point at which many older people, I believe, felt the BLM protests had got out of hand and felt alienated if not disgusted by them. And it’s telling how quickly all that flared up and how quickly most of it faded away.

From an older perspective, at least mine and others I know, it all seemed excessive and infused by copycat syndrome, much of it driven by social media. What else would have led to thousands of mainly younger people converging at the same time at Bristol Harbour to chuck a statue over the side into the water?

However the outlook of most of us has evolved and changed over time. For example, when I was younger it was commonplace to see bananas thrown on to a football pitch if a black player was playing. That is now accepted as just plain wrong and cannot be allowed to happen, and there is no division of opinion between age groups over something like that. The same applies to racial abuse which would get the same reaction from people of all age groups.

 Do you feel misunderstood by younger generations when discussing your views on the likes of Eden Court involvement in the BLM protests?

THIS is a tricky one to answer because it’s not a situation I’ve been in very much. In fact the only younger person I discussed the BLM protest with was a young relative, who is Asian. On the Sunday afternoon when it was held I asked him what he thought of it and he was the first I heard uttering the immortal words “All lives matter”, while saying he didn’t agree with the thrust of the protest. He disapproved of it, because he didn’t think it was relevant to the Highlands.

I should add that neither he nor any of the other Asian folk I know here, and I know plenty, has ever indicated to me or as far as I know anyone else that they’ve felt victims of racism. The most obvious cultural  difference between us is that they celebrate birthdays, weddings, New Year etc by putting on splendiferous displays of food. They are not offended by but are somewhat mystified by the tendency of Scots to celebrate these events by drinking so much.

Do you ever consider Inverness to be somewhat behind the times in terms of popular opinion.

HOW dare you suggest our fair city could be behind the times on anything! No, just kidding. We probably were a bit insular a few decades ago but now I doubt if there’s much difference between here and Aberdeen or Edinburgh or Glasgow.

We’ve got the superstores and shopping centres and theatres and leisure centres and any number of different groups focussing on their own special interests. We also have the drug problems and the booze problems at per head of population pretty much the same as anywhere else. There’s even a seemingly thriving sex industry, would you believe. And we also have a very large number of Eastern Europeans who have integrated and settled in very well. So if we were once behind the times, for better and for worse I reckon we’ve fully caught up with them now.

Do you enjoy living in the Highlands?

I lived in Edinburgh a long time ago as a student, and for a few years in London, and I prefer it up here now. It’s much less crowded, easier to get around, with plenty of open space to go cycling in. I gave up the car years ago, best thing I’ve done. And we cannot finish without mentioning this damn virus. In Inverness and the Highlands there’s a very low infection rate and right now that counts for a lot. Good luck with that in the capital and, as they say, stay safe.

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