Last updated: 17/11/2020
We are sharing Mary’s story as part of a series of stories from black single mothers with experience of the immigration and asylum system. Each of the women featured in these stories are supported through One Parent Families Scotland’s Glasgow and Lanarkshire services.
We hope that sharing their experiences, which are similar to those of many parents we work with, will help shine a light on the structural inequality and racism which exists in Scotland today, and support conversations on how this can be changed. Look out for the other stories and the upcoming blog by our director Satwat Rehman which will reflect on these points.
Mary is a single mum who lives in Glasgow with her four children, aged 8, 11, 15 and 17
Mary came to the UK from Nigeria before her children were born to escape an abusive family situation. She was separated but in contact with her children’s dad until he passed away last year, and she has been supported by One Parent Families Scotland since 2010. Mary is a full-time carer to two of her children, who have additional support needs.
The following answers are in Mary’s own words, transcribed and lightly edited from an interview about her experiences as a single parent, dealing with the immigration system and facing racism in Scotland.
Can you tell us a bit about your story of coming to Scotland?
I came [to the UK] because my dad is Muslim and I didn’t grow up with him, I didn’t know him from the beginning and my mum was a Christian. One day after my mum had died, this man just came and claimed me so I didn’t know what was going on. I was living with my auntie, he just said I was his daughter and I had to come with him. My auntie was so happy because it turned out alright for her –in her mind it was like they were giving me away to marry somebody.
This guy wanted me to be a Muslim at all costs, I had to be covering my head, do everything he was doing – it was so strict. He was an Imam in the mosque. He took me to his own place and I realised this was not a joke. He locked me inside the room so I couldn’t go out or talk to anyone, I can’t do anything. So, I managed to run from him back to my auntie, and he came with a group of other men – these men go out together ready to kill anyone, ready to do anything. So, they came and took me back again.
I finally ran away to somewhere I didn’t even know. I had to tell them my story, everything about myself, and they said the best thing to do is just to leave this country because this man knows a lot of people so they can easily get me and my auntie; she can be in all sorts of trouble. That’s how I ended up here.
What was your experience of going through the immigration system like?
I don’t want to remember it at all. The first time we arrived in Glasgow everything was so bad for us. We were afraid to even go out. If somebody knocked your door you would be afraid the Home Office was coming to get you. When you go out, you will hear stories of people who are just taken, so it was very scary. It was tough to the extent that we had to run away and leave everything because nobody wanted to be deported, so we ran from Glasgow to London.
Then I had to come back again in 2009 to start the claim again and see what would happen. Everything is sorted out now, I got my papers in 2010. I got indefinite leave to remain, I’ve got my British citizenship and my British passport now.
When you go to the Home Office, maybe you tell them everything, what made you come to England, and even if you say the truth of why you are here sometimes they still don’t believe you and the way they will treat you is so bad. Especially when you are going to sign [reporting to the Home Office], your heart will be pumping, you don’t know what will happen, they might detain you from there –they write that on the letter so when you see that you will be very scared.
Can you share any experiences of racism you have had in Scotland?
For me as an adult I never have much of a problem apart from inside the bus. One time me and my daughter were inside the bus and there was this lady – I didn’t know if she was going inside the bus or not so we tried to go forward just to go in and the next thing she just started insulting us, saying “f—ing f—ing, f—ing”. I just looked at her and didn’t say anything.
My daughter wanted to say something and I just said “no, don’t say anything”. We reached where we were going and this lady was just looking at me, throwing all sorts of insults. I didn’t say anything because that’s not the first time, that’s not the second time. I tell my daughter if you see anything like that just ignore it, or if it gets worse you report it.
I remember a time when my little girl was still in a pusher and the driver said to a white lady “can you shift your pusher?” and the lady said “no, I can’t”. Everybody looked at me on the bus and nobody would say anything, so I had to wait for another bus – many times when I enter the bus they don’t want to shift for me. I had to remove my baby from the pusher. And sometimes the driver won’t stop for you. I say to myself it’s just part of life.
My daughter at secondary school is going through a lot of bullying and I’ve said to the teacher and she says: “what do you want me to do about it?” It’s making the children feel that don’t want to go to school. My son can’t really stay in school because of a lot of bullying, people calling him names.
Now the same thing is happening to my daughter in the same school. I tell her not to fight with anyone, just report it to your teacher. Sometimes when children do things in school the teachers just ignore it and don’t really do anything about it. Maybe they are afraid to confront these students, I don’t know.
The funny thing is, sometimes when a white person does something in this school, they don’t take it as anything but if it’s black people they will say you are at fault, your daughter is this, your son is that. It doesn’t have to be like that – when anything happens they should put them both together and say “don’t let this happen again, be nice to each other”. That way they won’t side with some people and leave some people.
Sometimes my daughter will come home crying and I say, “what happened?” and she’ll say they blamed her for something. When two people are having some little misunderstanding the person they will blame is the black person.
I try to talk together [with my children] and say ‘you should just take it easy because that’s life and there is nothing you can do about it’.
What do you think could be done to address racism in Scotland?
They should try and be nice to people whether we are black or green or blue. The funny thing is, when one black person does one bad thing that’s very, very serious and they will use that to look at other black people. If you say you are from Nigeria and maybe someone from Nigeria did something bad before, that means you are in big trouble. It doesn’t work like that – we are not the same.
What support have you had from One Parent Families Scotland?
I got involved with One Parent Families through my midwife around 2010. I was just alone with my children so she said they would help me with a lot of things. I’ve been a single parent for a long time but their father always came around, we never married so we lived separately. My children’s dad passed away last year and now it is only me.
One Parent Families support me a lot with things like filling in forms or if I have some letters I don’t understand I will bring it to them and they will help me to sort it. They are the first people I go to. They understand where you are coming from, they understand your condition and they understand everything about you. Since I started with them the treat me very well, they never treat me like “oh she’s black” – no, they treat everybody equally. When I go to the group I always enjoy when we are all together.
I tell them everything about myself, I don’t hide anything and they are happy about that because some people are so reluctant to talk about themselves but me, I just make sure I say everything about myself, about my children, what made me come here. They don’t look at all that and treat me badly, they still try to make me be happy. They are very good people.