Harper who made his professional debut at just seventeen continues to inspire Scotland
As part of a range of activities to celebrate Black History Month and highlight the rich histories that denote the contributions of black people to society, Show Racism the Red Card interviewed Kevin Harper.
As a small minority within Scottish Football, Harper made his professional football debut at just seventeen. Harper’s talent saw him play for Hibernian, Derby County, Walsall, Portsmouth, Norwhich City, Leicester City, Stoke City, Carlisle United and Dunfermline Athletic.
Nicola: Kevin, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to Show Racism the Red Card and stand in solidarity against racism.
Kevin Harper: It’s only a pleasure; it’s something that’s very close to my heart. It’s a difficult subject and racism is still very much alive today. Not only in football which is my specialty but also on a societal level. A lot of people would say racism is no longer a problem in Scotland but it’s very much alive and it exists on multiple levels. If you look at minority ethnic groups, we are still very much segregated living in our own separate pockets and I believe our society still has a long way to go in order to be fully inclusive.
Nicola: In terms of your football career what was it like belonging to an ethnic minority group and how did that identity fit in with your footballers identity?
Kevin: I started at Hibs 22 years ago and it was different then. There was a paucity of ethnic minority footballers. Even growing up as a child, there were only three ethnic minority young people in my school (including myself).
It was difficult; you get the abuse you expect. Well no one should ever expect to get it but it becomes a norm and you internalise that racism and begin to see yourself as lesser because your environment conditions you to feel sub-human. For a long time I saw myself as the black so and so.
Even now when I am walking in the street, people will see me and hold their bag closer to their bodies.
It’s a horrible feeling. Just because the colour of my skin is different from the majority of Glasgow doesn’t mean I should be treated any differently.
Its hard to accept and when I was younger it would make me angry but now I understand that people are taught to fear others. Racism is learned and it can be unlearned. I wouldn’t make anyone feel the way people have made me feel regardless of their skin colour.
I also don’t think people always realize that they are being racist but its these implicit subtleties that you pick up when you are the one that is different and that is why the need for education is so important. For example you never hear a white person describe another white person as white but the word Black is used to describe Black people. Is that what defines me? This further necessitates the need for education.
This education however, has to include both young people and their parents so that prejudicial attitudes can’t be passed down from generation to generation.
The more education we can get put forward to young people to make them stronger and more equipped to tackle racism and inequality the better. Education is the only chance we have to change perceptions and create a more inclusive Scotland for all.
It’s a lot harder to change an older persons perspective but younger people have minds like sponges and they are more open to diversity and it’s a matter of encouraging them to celebrate diversity before prejudicial attitudes begin to form.
We have different identities, different skin colours, different religions, different sexual identities and orientations and we need to embrace and celebrate these differences because it allows for stronger more inclusive societies.
Racism comes in so many different forms and the types of racism experienced by individuals fluctuates according to the times and we also can’t just focus on white on black racism, there is white on white racism as well as black on black racism and if we could understand differences through education it would allow for more cohesive societies.
Education and understanding are not mutually exclusive and we need to plant the seeds so that future generations won’t have to experience the racism I have experienced.
Scotland is an amazing place but we have a long way to go yet and we need to stop working in silos. Problems are better solved when we work collectively.
Nicola: On an institutional level, do you think that more could be done to tackle racism?
Kevin: The Scottish Government as well as the Scottish Football Association is doing some incredible work to tackle racism but if you look at the teams within Scotland there are no Black Coaches or Managers. Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC had Russell Latapy but he is now gone. Football is Scotland’s sport and to not have at least one Black Coach or Manager sends out messages of institutional racism. One cannot overlook the benefits that diversity brings to an organization and we have a lack of diversity within Scottish Football, so I would like to see more positive action within football.
Moreover we need more ethnic minority heroes.
Nicola: Do you have a message for aspiring young footballers within Scotland?
Kevin: You have to believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe in yourself you are not going to go very far. You can succeed regardless of your race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
Self-belief and hard work have to be so deep rooted within you, not only in football but life in general.
You also have to have empathy for every person and understand that everyone is on a different journey and we all have hardships.
If you work hard, believe in yourself and can empathise with others you would not only make your life better but you would be making your communities better. Pay goodness forward. Start small. All that matters is that you start.
Look at how far we have come. Think about how much further we could go, if we went together.