Councillor opens up about modern day racism in Renfrewshire

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MICHELLE Campbell believes she has spent her whole life proving herself to the people in the room. 

Many of us won’t ever understand how it feels to be singled out for something beyond our control; to hear whispered words or cruel comments made behind our back about what we look like. 

Michelle has known what that’s like since the age of eight and continues to face racist comments made towards her to this day. 

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“It’s almost like your vocal cords just shut down for a second,” she said, as she opened up on some of her experiences in Renfrewshire. 

“When you are subjected to racism, in that moment, you’re like, ‘Did they actually say that? Have they said what I think they did?’

“When I walk into a room, it’s the first thing people see. People don’t hear an accent when I walk past them. Some make an assumption and don’t realise I was born in this country.”

Michelle’s grandparents fled the feared regime of Idi Amin

For many growing up in Scotland and the rest of the UK, the harsh reality is they have been viewed as different ever since their ancestors arrived on British soil, often escaping from realities few could ever imagine. 

Michelle’s story is one such example. Her grandparents fled to the promised land of the UK from the horrible regime of Idi Amin – a brutal dictator who ruled Uganda with an iron fist during the 1970s and is believed to have been responsible for up to 500,000 deaths. 

But, they didn’t exactly step off the plane into paradise.

For two years, Michelle’s grandparents lived on an RAF base in England where only a single bedsheet offered any sort of privacy from the other families squeezed into the space. 

Eventually, her grandparents were given the chance to move to Glenrothes, in Fife, and they never looked back.

Michelle said: “They had a good life in Uganda. 

“My Gran and Papa had a nice home, good jobs, and a relatively big family. That’s [a myth] I want to dispel – I get really quite upset about people talking about others coming into the UK just to steal jobs and other manipulative reasons.

“You didn’t just step off a plane and end up in a house. Back then, they lived on that base for two years. The only thing that separated them from any other family was a sheet, so it wasn’t easy.

Asian Image: Michelle's family lived in Glenrothes, in Fife, one of the new towns Michelle’s family lived in Glenrothes, in Fife, one of the new towns

“They were offered the house in Scotland and I don’t think they thought twice about it. It was a chance to give people a bit of stability. 

“My Papa became a bus driver and my gran ran the household.

“All of my aunts and uncles have held down good jobs. I’ve got family that are in the military or even working for local authorities from that generation. 

“That’s the other myth I want to dispel. That was another opportunity that was given to my family and look at everything they have given back in return. 

“They wanted to give back and help society and I think that’s down to the family values instilled upon the family by my grandparents.”

Michelle’s path took her down a different road to her family and, after years spent working as a waitress, she qualified as a nurse. 

But politics was always there and eventually its draw pulled her in. Though once a member of the Labour Party, Michelle began to campaign for the SNP and was eventually convinced to enter politics by Renfrewshire MSP Derek Mackay. 

She was elected in 2017 as a councillor for Erskine and Inchinnan – but campaigning wasn’t always easy. 

Michelle said: “People can be quite vile towards you if they disagree with your politics. 

“They can be very malicious and will try and point out stuff you are not doing. 

“I’ve had people when you knock on their door they just look you up and down and say,

‘You’ve got to be kidding me’. 

“They then go on a rant about how ‘people like me’ are the problem. I can’t do anything when that happens. 

Asian Image: Michelle Campbell has spent time campaigning with Derek Mackay Michelle Campbell has spent time campaigning with Derek Mackay

“I have had people say to me that racism isn’t a thing and it’s a construct – that I just don’t like what I am hearing.”

How then, in a world where racism continues to blight our society, can we begin to combat it? Michelle believes individuals and the media have a huge role to play. 

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“I think that society doesn’t tolerate racism in the same aggressive way,” she said

“It’s a subtle racism and that is still racism.

“It can be a problem when people only see headlines and false information.

“We need to change the narrative if we are going to change people’s perceptions.”

Read all the latest from Renfrewshire and beyond 

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