Jean Johansson says we ‘should be ashamed of the racism that exists in Scotland’

Her own teenage memory of racism still makes TV presenter Jean Johansson emotional.

But The Place In The Sun and Animal Park star has been reduced to tears hearing the stories of others and what they have had to endure in a Scotland that prides itself on being tolerant.

That’s something the bubbly and straight-talking host said she has discovered is simply not true.

Jean said: “After making this documentary, I was shocked and appalled by the racism that exists in this country.

“From a little girl too afraid to go to school for fear of abuse to a shopkeeper who employs a white person behind the till to make the community feel more comfortable –we should all be ashamed.

“Making the program has made me realize we have gone backwards and have a long, and perhaps impossible, way to go to fix things.”

Working in McDonald’s as a teenager, Jean was branded a black b****** by a vile customer who spat in her face.

Shocked and ashamed, she never reported the racist assault to the police nor did she tell her parents for fear of causing them distress.

It was the first incident Jean, 40, experienced while growing up as the daughter of a Scottish father and a Ugandan mother in Port Glasgow, Inverclyde – but it wouldn’t be the last.

Jean Johansson with her son Junior.

Racism has followed the TV star throughout her adult life, with prejudiced people attacking her on social media because of
the color of her skin – some even posting swastika and Ku Klux Klan pictures.

Her experiences prompted Jean to make a documentary about the racism faced by black and ethnic minority communities in Scotland – and her findings are going to shock viewers. The programme, which goes out tomorrow night on BBC One Scotland, dispels the rhetoric that Scotland is what Nicola Sturgeon describes as “an open, welcoming, diverse and inclusive” nation.

From a teenager who was forced out of school by racist pupils and teachers to the rector of Edinburgh University whose car was sabotaged by racists, Jean’s findings are both distressing and shameful.

She said: “People who want this open-armed utopia that Nicola Sturgeon describes are going to need to work for it because at the minute it does not exist.

“Yes, Scotland was appalled by the murder of George Floyd and got behind the Black Lives Matter movement and, yes, we should be proud of the Kenmure Street protest but no way are we all Jock Tamson’s weans.

“I hope Nicola Sturgeon watches the program and realizes she needs to change her rhetoric – we all do.” Jean, who is married to Finnish ex-Rangers star Jonatan, 44, said she was protected as a child but has experienced both subtle and blatant racism throughout her adult life.

She said: “I am delighted to say my six brothers and I experienced a racism-free childhood. In fact, I had no idea I was mixed race until I saw my brown face among a sea of ​​white faces in my P1 class photo but it seems my siblings and I were some of the lucky few.

“I had my first experience of racial hatred when I was 17 and working at the McDonald’s in Greenock. A customer came in and started shouting racist abuse. He spat in my face and called me a black b******.

“I never reported it to the police and I did not tell my family. I didn’t want people to know that had happened to me and I felt ashamed.”

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Jean, mum to Junior, 11, added: “That’s the worst abuse I have had to face but I come up against subtle racism on a regular basis. I get profiled at airports and the random checks always seem to land on me. The abuse I get on social media is something else.

“When I tweeted out I was doing this programme, I was met with a barrage of abuse. I even got sent pictures of folk giving Nazi salutes and someone in a white hood.

“Even though I’ve experienced racial abuse, making the documentary has made me realize I have been naïve to the extent of the problem.”

Tola, 17, from Moray, is being homeschooled after racist abuse at two schools made her feel unsafe.

Jean, whose documentary The Truth About Scotland And Racism is part of the BBC Disclosure series, said: “I broke down in tears when I was talking to Tola. At high school she was called the ‘n’ word by both pupils and a teacher.

“No child in Scotland should have to remove themselves from school because of racist bullying. That is a complete stain on us. Kids will be kids but I can’t apologize for adults. What her teacher said is unforgivable.”

Jean also met Stirlingshire shopkeeper Pete and his son Anand.

She said: “Pete bought the shop 24 years ago and says he experienced racial abuse from the day he started, so much so that his son Anand, who now runs the store, employs white people on the till to make the community feel more comfortable . I was appalled.”

But it was the rector of Edinburgh University Debora Kayembe’s story which shocked her the most. Jean said: “Debora came from the Congo more than 10 years ago. Her work by her promoting human rights put her life at risk and she had to flee.

“She hoped Scotland would be a safe haven but it hasn’t been. Locals did not want a black woman living in their neighborhood of her and they started attacking her property of her. They slashed her tires four times in six months and threw tampons in her garden. The more she moved up in society, the worse the racism got.

“In 2019, after becoming the first black woman to have her portrait erected in the Royal Society of Edinburgh, someone put nails in her car tyres, causing her to swerve off the road.

“She came from the Congo where there is genocide to supposedly friendly Scotland where people were still trying to kill her. It’s disgusting.”

Jean said she hasn’t decided whether to let Junior watch the programme.

She added: “His life is so innocent. He hasn’t faced any racism.

“His bubble has to burst at some point but it is a really hard thing for me to talk to him about as his grandma and uncles are black, as is his hero Marcus Rashford.

“I have to plant the seed some time so if he encounters racism he will be able to deal with it.”

Jean also met lawyer and anti-racism activist Aamer Anwar, who is campaigning for justice for the family of Sheku Bayou, who died in police custody in 2015.

She said: “Aamer was the first black person to take the police to court and win after he was attacked by an officer in 1991. Thirty years on and he says he’s cynical anything has changed. It’s so upsetting.”

Can the situation be fixed? Jean remains hopeful.

She added: “That’s a big question but I hope so. There are practical things that can be done in terms of education and employment. Representation is key – we need more black people in key positions, whether it’s in the police, court service or in government.

“Even seeing my face on TV lets other little black kids realize they can follow their dreams.

“Even after making the documentary, I still believe this is not a racist country and the majority of folk who watch
this will be utterly ashamed and shocked as this is not the Scotland any of us want.”

“This program is the most personal thing I have ever done. Although it made me emotional, I’m determined not to let what I have learned turn me into an angry black woman.

“I want to continue my life being cheerful and seeing the good in people. I can’t let myself be scared, paranoid or angry because then the racists win.

“I still have a lot of hope for a brighter future.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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