VP Zahra interviews Yemurai Muchena, a black woman in STEM about her experiences of growing up in Scotland
Interview by Zahra Khan - VP Diversity & Wellbeing
This Black History Month, our intention has been to reach out to our Scottish Black community, provide them with a platform to engage with our students at City of Glasgow College, with the hope of truly highlighting what life is like for our Black community, especially here in Glasgow.
I spoke to Yemurai, a Black woman in STEM, who moved from Zimbabwe to Bishopbriggs, then again to Dundee, where she obtained a BA Physiology, before returning again to Glasgow.
“I was born and raised in Zimbabwe till the age of 9 when my family relocated to Glasgow, Scotland where I have lived for the last 16 years. I studied for my Bachelor’s degree in Physiology at the University of Dundee and I am currently working as a sales representative for an orthopaedic medical devices company.”
I asked Yemurai what Black History Month means to her in 2021 and she said, in her experience, we don’t really have much of a Black History Month. She went on to explain her first experience of Black History Month: “I feel like living in Scotland, we don’t really have much of a Black History Month so to speak. The first experience I had was when I went to Dundee University. It wasn’t much about Black history though; it was more events like Afro-beat nights at the union, club nights out.” It all seemed very performative and nothing to do with the decolonising agenda or black history.
For many people in Scotland learning about Black history is something done introspectively, in order to be more understanding of society. Yemurai elaborated: “Black history month is something I learned for myself. I have a younger brother and sister - My little sister is very woke*. In her 4th year of university, she reached out to me to integrate researching our history, and Black History Month, into our relationship, and so now we do. As a whole, Black History Month in Scotland has been inconsistent, in my experience, which is quite sad.”
*The term “woke” comes from the BGM (Black and Global Majority) community in America that refers to an awareness of the social and political issues affecting African Americans around racial prejudice and discrimination. This has gone on to spread amongst the BGM community to signify those who are aware of these issues.
I asked about here exposure to Black history in school and Yemuri said, “In my high school there were about 1200 in every year group, times that by 4, so around 6000 students in this one school in Bishopbriggs and there were only 4 black people. The curriculum never covered Black History Month, or anything cultured. The only thing I ever learned about black people and African people, or anyone that related to me was during history was when we learned about the slave trade. That was the only experience I had before uni.”
Now imagine you didn’t learn anything about history at school and the first thing you are exposed to as a child about your place in history is slavery, your people were slaves. When in actual fact before colonialism they were kings and queens, farmers, doctors and scientists!
What does BLM mean to you?
I asked Yemuri to talk about the BLM Protests held across the world, but more specifically Glasgow. She said:
“After the movement began, I was able to engage with my friends and have open and honest conversations with them, for not supporting me; not being there for me and not trying to understand anything to do with my background; the fact that I’m black, the fact that I need to endure institutionalised racism and my day to day and how I feel. Being at BLM, it had a good energy - We were all united for a good reason. There were amazing speakers talking about their experiences, not even just about racism, but about growing up in Scotland. We need more of this!
Black people have always been trend-setters, and I appreciate people being more inclusive, but it’s hard to tell what’s genuine and what is just a check-box exercise. I’d love to think that everyone has the right things in mind to behave inclusively, but going off of past experience you can’t help be suspicious and safeguard yourself.”