HOW curious, I thought. Why's someone I know to be a racist posting anti-racist messages online? Have they had a moment of clarity and seen the error of their ways?

The person in question once told how their family played rock music at blaring levels when an Asian couple and their kids came to view a house for sale next door to them in Glasgow. They hoped heavy metal might keep brown faces out of the street. It was a right laugh, they said.

Yet here they were putting the #BlackoutTuesday post all over social media – an image of an empty black square meant to show that you stand in solidarity with African-Americans against police brutality and institutionalised racism, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent outbreak of furious protest and violence.

The thing is – the person in question, the person who’s happy to use rock music to keep an Asian family out of their street, doesn’t really think they’re a racist. They’re one of the good guys. Of course, a cop killing a black guy is awful, they’d say. That’s why you need to post on social media … to let everyone know you’re a good guy … then you can move on … until, the next Asian family comes to view a house next door.

Millions more people posted about #BlackoutTuesday than signed the petition calling for justice for George Floyd.

This type of phoney armchair activism isn’t just meaningless, it’s counterproductive. Not only does it give a cover for the casual racist to pretend they’re actually a decent human being, it gets in the way of real action. When your eyes are fixed on empty gestures, it’s hard to see what’s really going on. Worse still, it allows a sense of complacency to fester in the white world. You’ve posted your hashtag, now you can feel like you’ve taken a stand. Your hands are clean.

Here in Scotland, we’ve mastered complacent amnesia. This country, together with England and the rest of the nations that make up these islands of ours, helped build America. America has always been more an idea than a country, and it was the imagination of the Scots and the English, in particular, which helped turn an idea into a reality.

Our ancestors sailed the seas and then they pioneered and colonised. Our ancestors wiped out Native Americans to make room for farms and cities as they spread across the continent. Our ancestors took to slavery like ducks to water. They ran the plantations, they wielded the whip, they raped the women, they lynched the men.

As ever, apologists will say "not every Scot, not every English person, not every white" who built America did such dreadful things. Okay, let’s accept that. Not everyone was corrupted and blood-stained by the forging of America but a hell of a lot were.

All European nations took part in the creation of America, but in truth the country was really built by the English, the Scots and the Ulster-Scots. I’m one of those – an Ulster Scot. My name is as Scottish as they come and my voice is straight from the Glens of Antrim. Back in the 1600s, some ancestors of mine were sent on an ethnic cleansing expedition from Scotland to the north of Ireland by King James I in London, and took over the land of the native Irish people there.

They stayed in the Ulster glens a while and come the 1700s, they headed off for the new world of Canada and America. There are more Mackays in America than there are in Scotland.

Some Scots of the "no one has ever suffered like us" strain of thinking return often in their minds to the Highland Clearances – rightly so, it was a terrible crime inflicted on innocent people. But in remembering this cruelty, they often forget Scotland took part in its own clearances in Ulster. Then our ancestors moved on to America where they took part in some of the most dreadful crimes in the history of humanity.

Just look at the street names in the Merchant City next time you’re strolling in the swankier parts of Glasgow. You’ll see the history of slave-owning still glorified in Scotland. Our national poet, Robert Burns, was ready to head off to the Caribbean to work on slave plantations. The KKK is inspired by Scottish identity.

Today, there’s a seam of thinking in modern Scotland that somehow England is to blame for all the sins of empire. What nonsense. The Scots and Ulster-Scots were up to their armpits in empire, just as much as the English. We helped create it, we helped run it and we got our hands covered in blood and our pockets filled with gold building it. What on Earth was the Darien adventure of the 1690s if not a failed attempt to set up Scotland’s own mini-empire?

And today, many of us pretend Scotland is racially more decent that elsewhere, that we embrace immigrants, shun bigotry. More lies to drug ourselves with. Look at the life of the average white person and the average brown or black person and you will see one hell of a difference. Ask the family of Sheku Bayoh what they think of racial equality in Scotland.

A public inquiry will investigate the death of Bayoh – originally from Sierra Leone – who died in 2015 after being restrained by police officers in Kirkcaldy. The inquiry will look at whether race played a role in his death.

In truth, there’s not much people in Scotland can do about the treatment of black people in America. Although, there’s a lot we can do about racism at home - a lot more than posting hashtags online.

One thing we can do, though, is understand our own role in what’s happened in America. This is a nation where, just over 150 years ago, a white person’s ancestors may well have owned slaves, and a black person’s ancestors may well have been slaves.

Such a legacy is hard to erase in just a few generations. It’s little enough that we accept, and think on, the role this country and our own ancestors played in creating modern America. Understanding the truth isn’t much, but at least it’s something.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.