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Hundreds rally outside main library days after racial attack

CW: anti-east asian racism

Approximately 200 people gathered outside the University of Edinburgh main library on Tuesday evening, just days after a University of Edinburgh student was abused by seven teenagers and physically assaulted. 

The demonstration was organised by Racism Unmasked Edinburgh, an organisation seeking to “raise awareness about racism and create a support network for people in Edinburgh”. 

Several speeches were packed into the demonstration which lasted just over 30 minutes.

Speakers included the Chair of Edinburgh City Council’s Equalities Working Group, the Treasurer of Edinburgh’s University and College Union, and representatives from Stand up to Racism. 

Welcoming the crowd, co-organiser Allie Haddlesey acknowledged that there had been a significant rise in racist abuse of people of South east and East Asian descent, since the spread of Covid-19, but stressed that “the only way to make meaningful change is to stand together“. 

This sentiment was echoed by University and College Union Treasurer, Vivek Santayana, who closed his speech to the crowd by emphasising that “fear doesn’t divide us”.

Councillor Lezley Marion Cameron spoke of her dismay at hearing the news of the attack, adding that “to people of all ethnic backgrounds, we want you to be safe, we want you to be welcome, we want you to enjoy and spread your culture with us”.

The organisers only arranged the rally on Saturday afternoon, just a day after Michael Nio, a fourth year History undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, was racially attacked by a group of teenagers outside the main library. 

The attack prompted an outpouring of support for Nio and criticism of the University of Edinburgh, who declined to specifically label the attack as racist or a crime, referring instead to an “appalling incident which we wholeheartedly condemn”.

Speaking to The Student before the rally, Amira – a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh – labelled the university’s response as “inefficient” and “hot air which fails to recognise the severity of the situation”. 

Dhruti, a fourth- year student blamed the university’s “structural mechanisms” for allowing such an attack, accusing the university of “standing still” and urging it to “reach out and talk more to students of colour”. 

The speech ended with co-organiser Haddlesey powerfully reciting a poem they’d written for the rally titled ‘The girl with many faces’ which they read out in tribute “to those who have had to internalise racism throughout their entire life”.

The end of their spoken word piece was marked by loud applause and cheering along with chants of “no place for racism” among the crowd. 

The crowd then moved to 50 George Square where plaques and banners were placed down around the outside of the building, with security pledging to protect them. 

In a statement for The Student after the demonstration, Haddlesley was upbeat.

 “I hope that the demonstration last night will inspire people to speak out who previously believed that they were isolated and alone. 

“I think the success of the protest signifies the power of community and we stand stronger together. This is a conversation that absolutely needs to be held, without fear of white people’s anger. 

“Racism Unmasked wants major institutions such as the university to offer paid roles to people of colour to lead training programmes and anti-racism initiatives. 

“This conversation needs to be lead [sic] by people of colour. 

“Equally, we want the university to issue a proper apology and really take responsibility for the failure to protect its international student. 

“The statement they gave greatly diminished their responsibility which is unacceptable, this happened on university campus with university security staff witnessing the event but not intervening or protecting a student. 

“The university denying that it perpetuates systemic racism will not make the problem go away or make people of colour feel any safer.” 

Both Police Scotland and members of the University of Edinburgh’s Estates Department attended the demonstration in a show of support.

The girl with many faces Haddlesey

I’m a girl with many faces, but none of them I’ve chosen. 

If home is where the heart is, then mine was always broken. 

On paper, you wouldn’t think so. I’m neat and I stay between the lines. 

Growing up, I chased the stars, always thinking – This time

This time, I’ll catch you and maybe I’ll be free. 

This time, if I catch you, I’ll finally believe. 

That this life that I was given, was no mistake.  

And I don’t have to earn it. 

But if I misbehave too much, if I’m too much, are they going to return me…?

See, I was only two years old when they plucked me from a file. 

My photo hangs up on the wall of a constant orphan line. 

My face is a badge of honour, a success, a victory. 

The only one who disagrees just happens to be…well… me. 

I don’t think I can explain it, because adoption is just “beautiful”. 

It’s a kind thing, it’s a right thing – everybody knows that it’s all a case of lighting. 

You take a brown kid, wrap them in cotton wool so no one will ever know. 

Erase their colour, cut out their tongue and expect them still to grow. 

But that kid watches as you rub away the lines. 

That girl learns to smile and pretend that it’s all fine. 

Because trauma is always valid, unless you think it isn’t. 

Brown kids getting saved seems like a profitable business. 

Adoption isn’t beautiful. It’s not something to be admired. 

I lost my home; I lost my name, and nothing will ever be right. 

I love my family and the love they always gave me, they made me who I am today, and nothing could ever change that. I love my mum she’s blonde and fair, I love my dad who still has hair. I love the lessons they’ve taught me, to discover who I am. But I don’t love what happened to me, and I don’t think anyone can. 

I don’t think I should be grateful for a wound that will never heal and a hole that will never fill. I don’t think we should just take the view of adoption being superficial. I don’t think adoptees should shut up and just get over a broken past. I will never be Chinese and never be white, so I will never pass. 

There is no place for someone like me, so my faces alter and change. 

There is no place for someone like me, in a world obsessed with race. 

Nobody knows about ‘adoption’; they only know the ‘white saviour’ view and when people like me talk honestly, we’re pushed down for being ungrateful. 

“At least you have a family” Because “your mum threw you in the dustbin” … “I mean she didn’t want you anyway”.  These are things that have been said to me, honestly, trying to lessen my pain. We need to change this conversation, because I’m sick of listening to people whose ignorance is louder. I need to start a conversation and not worry about white people’s anger. I need to have the space to talk about complicated and messy things. I need to say, I love my family, but I don’t love what “adoption” means. 

I don’t want you to tell me that I shouldn’t be upset and gaslight me into silence. My voice matters and when I speak, I try to speak with kindness. Sometimes good people do things and they have all the right reasons, but it doesn’t make the impact any less and you really should believe me. I’m the one whose lived this life, changing my mask every day. Whether I’m a daughter, whether I’m a friend, whether I’m a student… or on a date. I’ve gotten so used to changing to be the person you want me to present. But things are different, and things have changed and I’m learning to respect myself. 

I’m a girl with many faces, but all of them are real. 

You are a spectator not a judge, don’t stay if you can’t deal, with nuanced views and challenging traditions. I’ve waited all my life to speak and now it’s your turn to listen. 

Image: Racism Unmasked Edinburgh

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor