I was sad not to be out in Glasgow Green on the Black Lives Matter protest.

All week I weighed the risk to Scotland of a carefully socially distanced demonstration, against the risk of people NOT making a strong show that could reduce deaths from brutality against Black people.

What tipped the balance for me was hearing that nine out of 10 doctors who’ve died from Covid-19 have been black. I’m a black doctor in my 50s and don’t want to be another statistic. 

As a Scottish black woman married to Steve, a white American man, I am under no delusions. This brutality against black people has been present ever since the transatlantic slave trade which, historically speaking, only ended the day before yesterday. 

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In 1995, Steve and I were leaving his sister’s wedding reception in Ohio so that Steve (still in his tux) could drive me (now in my street clothes) to the airport.

I had a job interview the next day in London. Steve had never been stopped by the police before, yet we were stopped three times before we reached the limits of his five-mile radius mid-Western home town, nearly causing me to miss my plane and my interview.

Steve’s interpretation of this stressful series of events was that any US police officer seeing a well-dressed white man driving with a casually dressed black woman would assume her to be a prostitute and him to be a drunk.

Scottish racism can also be brutal and intrusive but is often of a more subtle variety.

We Scots pride ourselves on inclusiveness and openness, so sometimes only our unconscious bias remains, which is much harder to tackle.  

When I became a professor, back in 2015, I was invited to a lunch to welcome new professors.  

The lunch was planned for the end of a Senior Management Group meeting and I happened to be the first of the new professors to arrive. One of the SMG, a teaching professor I knew who had graduated in medicine from the University of Glasgow at a similar time as me, greeted me as I walked in saying “Hi Helen. What are you doing here? I mean … what are you being promoted to?”.  

I quickly swallowed the temptation to say “Well this is a lunch for new professors, so it should be obvious!” and, instead, politely said “Professor”.  He countered with “Really?!? Gosh, Helen, I thought you were just a young girl!”.  

I’m sure he intended to be sweet, so it was pointless to try and point out his massive faux pas.

His own sense of white privilege, of being entitled to sit at the professorial table, made it impossible for him to see me in that role. I had been shocked to discover, when appointed, that I was only the 18th black female professor in the UK – out of over 20,000 professors in total.  This incident made me see that I should not have been surprised.  

This week, a Royal College of Nursing survey found that many black and minority ethnic nurses believe they have been put at risk from Covid-19 because of structural racism in the NHS – which makes them more likely to be in more junior posts and to feel pressure to take on high-risk tasks

This structural inequality exists not only because of unconscious bias at interview panels but also because of our own low expectations, as black and minority ethnic professionals.

READ MORE: We can't deal with racism if white people go on the defensive 

I was lucky to grow up in Glasgow at a time when the few black people were nearly all doctors and PhD students so it didn’t occur to me that anyone would think I wasn’t clever.  It has only been since talking about race with young black English scientists that I have become aware of how toxic those low expectations can be: for example, the black PhD student in physics at Imperial College who told me he’d never thought of himself as being very good at maths. Excuse me?!?

My almost unique and fortunate position of being a Black British woman who does not suffer from low expectations is not lost on me - I was successful in that Wellcome interview.  

Our whole society, including its white members, suffers from white privilege.  When I was a psychiatry trainee in London my two “best mates” were Nigerian-English Mancunian Shubulade Smith, and white Londoner Paul Moran.  

Paul was constantly stressed by white, male Professors pressing him to help analyse their datasets – datasets he often wasn’t interested in but didn’t like to say no to.  Lade and I were utterly invisible, so were able to get on with what we were interested in – and the white, male Professors were happy to help us if we knocked on their doors and asked.  

Paul has forged a stellar and highly creative career in academic Psychiatry, but maybe an exception: many white men like him buckle under the ridiculously rigid expectations that are placed on them.  It must be tempting to just do as your told and, metaphorically, follow in your father’s footsteps.  

This is stifling of their own creativity and bad for science. Back in 1971 James Baldwin warned that, unless we wake up to these forces that act against all of us, we are at risk of “coercion…into a deadly…mediocrity” 

The real opportunities afforded us from this worldwide outpouring of feeling at the horrific death of George Floyd are twofold.

Firstly, white people must realise their privilege and see how it harms all of us.  

Secondly, Black people must realise that, when we also espouse an invisible yardstick that places the white, male, educated Englishman at the top, we uphold white privilege too.

I’m proud to be a professor at the first UK University to acknowledge its role in the transatlantic slave trade that has tried to account for what it gained financially from that trade and is trying to make reparations.

I’m a proud member of the University of Glasgow History of Slavery Committee that drives that work– but it’s crucial we all realise that the transatlantic slave tade is not really history.  

It has skewed the distribution of global wealth towards WEIRD (white educated industrialized rich democratic) countries. It has driven the exponential rise in consumption that has caused our climate crisis.  We are, all of us, living in the long tail of that skewed distribution.

The low expectations of black people, worldwide, and the brutality against them, are modern versions of the slave owner’s chains and the overseer’s whip. 

If we are lucky, some of the world’s most talented young black people may be attracted to come study in Glasgow when they hear of the opening of the James McCune Smith building in honour of one of the University of Glasgow’s most notable alumni – the first African American doctor.  

Because these young people have not experienced the straitjacket of entitlement, they could become some of our most innovative thinkers and our most enlightened leaders. We must also recognise that many will have suffered low expectations throughout their lives and may need active encouragement to be bold and creative in their studies and careers.  

It is the job of all of us to welcome them to Glasgow and ensure that – young, gifted and Black – they get an equal chance to sit at our world-changing table, so that none of us are coerced into mediocrity.   

Professor Helen Minnus is a professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of Glasgow.