When you think of the Black population in the UK, many draw their attention to its various bustling cities. From London to Birmingham, Nottingham to Bristol, these cities are known to have a higher demographic of Black British communities with many arriving during Windrush and the later years as migration increased.
While discussions surrounding Black Brits have often circled these locations, the experiences of those up and down the nation continue to be ignored, limiting the scope and opportunity for a diverse conversation on what it’s like to be Black and British today.
One woman looking to change that is Scottish student and podcaster Shirley Mcpherson.
“I am from Musselburgh, which is a little town outside of Edinburgh,” she says.
Shirley was born in Lesotho and moved to Scotland with her family when she was a child.
“Growing up in Scotland was interesting,” recalls Shirley. “I have great memories with my friends and family and I’ve developed a love for Scotland.
“Scottish people are hilarious – nothing beats Scottish banter. But being a minority here does come with it struggles.”
Living in the small town meant that Shirley wasn’t surrounded by a strong Black community. With a population of under 20,000, Musselburgh is situated in the western end of East Lothian, and according to a 2011 census, 2.8% of the population is from a BME background.
“The population is growing but not nearly enough,” she adds.
When looking to surround herself with people who shared her cultural values, Shirley’s family filled that gap.
“I am very close with my family. They are very strong people with high amounts of energy. This is how they inspire me as no matter what they face in life, they’re always strong and see the bright side of it.”
Some of the things Shirley has had to face are experiences many across the diaspora can relate to, from casual racism to microaggressions which challenged Shirley’s view of herself and the world.
“Colourism was a common thing in Lesotho so I felt I never fitted in as I was bullied in school. But moving to Scotland I faced the same issue but tripled as it was a race issue,” she says.
“It made me question where I fitted in, if at all.”
Grappling with her identity and place in the world inspired Shirley to co-launch Black Scot Pod, a podcast which specialises in having candid conversations about the experiences of Black Scottish girls.
“Both Suzie [co-podcaster of Black Scot Pod] and I felt that experiences of Black Scots were underrepresented,” she says.
“We both love listening to Black podcasts but on some levels, we couldn’t always relate. So we thought why not start a podcast and share our experiences in life.”
The podcast, which launched in June, has been celebrated for its wit and insight into the Black Scottish experience and was listed on Buzzfeed’s 14 Black British Podcasts To Listen To.
“I’m really excited about the future, and I hope that I can continue doing what I love on a bigger scale and pursue my other passions alongside Black Scot Pod.”
The podcast’s pursuit at defining what it means to be Black and Scottish continues to evolve and has served as a great source of inspiration for Black Brits across the UK, but also as a cathartic release for Shirley who struggled with anxiety during the peak of lockdown.
“Life amid COVID-19 has been stressful mentally. The unrest just gave me anxiety,” she admits.
“However, I can’t complain about lockdown. I like being anti-social every now and then.”
To deal with her bouts of anxiety, Shirley priotisies self-care even in the simplest of ways.
“Every day I’ll take some time out of what I am doing and just do something for myself.
“From sitting at home and watching anime with ice cream or taking a walk to my favourite place – anything that’ll make me happy.”