Edinburgh’s Protest Stickers: Black Lives Matter

The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Founded in 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement has experienced a renaissance since the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May 2020. From protests to art, the resurgence of BLM over the Summer of 2020 has been dramatic. Racism has been a topic of protest stickers for as long as I have been studying them, but the recent BLM revival has resulted in a corresponding surge in stickers that use the language and symbolism of BLM. Since my recent move to Edinburgh, I have found a lot of protest stickers on a whole range of topics, but racism and BLM have been some of the most common.

Love [insert place or thing], hate Racism is a fairly common formula for protest stickers. Racism was a common topic of protest stickers long before BLM experienced a revival this summer (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker combines two of the hot topics of 2020! Stand up to Racism has been prominent in anti-racism campaigns in Britain over the last few years (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The raised clenched fist has been a symbol of resistance for decades, but at the moment it is particularly synonymous with Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Simple but striking black and white designs is also fairly typical of Black Lives Matter (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Graffiti artists and taggers often use ‘Hello, my name is…” stickers to make their mark on urban space. I don’t think I have seen an Italian version before, but it is still instantly recognisable (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Repeating the names of black people killed by police is a common practice of BLM at meetings and protests. The next few photos are sticker versions of this practice. Michael Brown was 18 years old when he was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
BLM is very much a social movement for the social media age. Hashtags are common, and are used very effectively to attract attention to causes and events. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by a white civilian whilst out jogging in Georgia on 23rd February 2020 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Yvette Smith was shot and killed by a police officer in Texas in 2014 when she opened the door of a friend’s house. Yvette was unarmed, and had called the police because of a dispute between two men (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Sandra Bland committed suicide in her jail cell in Texas in 2015 after being arrested for assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop. Both her arrest and her treatment in prison have been heavily criticised (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
The next set of stickers are also part of a series that I assume are produced by the same person(s). When Britain ended slavery in the 1830s the government borrowed a huge sum of money to pay compensation–not to the slaves, but to their former owners for the loss of their ‘property’. The British public only finished paying off that debt in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
There seems to be a general sense in Scotland that it is not as racist as the rest of Britain. This sticker is disputing that narrative. Sheku Bayoh died whilst being arrested by police in Kirkcaldy, Fife, in May 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
This sticker is also disrupting the narrative that Scotland does not have a problem with racism (Photo: Hannah Awcock).
Henry Dundas was the most powerful man in Scotland in the late 18th century. He became Home Secretary in 1791, and he has been accused of using his influence to delay the abolition of the slave trade by 10 years (he supported a gradual rather than immediate abolition). A statue of Dundas stands on top of a 150ft pillar in St. Andrews Square in Edinburgh, and it has been just one of the statues targeted in a campaign to decolonise British statues in recent months. Dundas is a popular figure in Scotland, and the debate about his legacy has been fierce. It is difficult to make out, but someone has written on this sticker: “Dundas abolished slavery in Scotland 1793.” His legacy in relation to the slave trade is complicated, and certainly cannot be resolved by a single protest sticker. It does demonstrate how strongly people feel on this issue, however, on both sides of the debate (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The BLM Mural Trail in Edinburgh

Photographs by Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun on the railings on Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

On the first day that I arrived in Edinburgh in August I went for a walk up the Royal Mile. As I walked towards the castle, my eye was caught by a set of pictures and yellow ribbons attached to the railings of the Tolbooth Kirk. On further investigation, it turned out to be an installation of photos called ‘I can’t breathe’ by British born Nigerian photographer Jamal Yussuff-Adelakun. The ribbons are expressions of solidarity with Black Lives Matter Scotland.

Ribbons tied to the railings of Tolbooth Kirk on the Royal Mile in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

The installation at Tolbooth Kirk is just one part of the Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, a series of artworks in towns and cities across Scotland led by creative producer Wezi Mhura. Scottish Black and Asian artists have created new artworks in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The formats range from stereotypical street art murals, to less conventional photography and digital artworks. The project is “a call out to the people of Scotland to challenge racism wherever you see it – in the streets, in institutions, at work and at school.” As I have continued to explore Edinburgh over the last few months, I have come across more examples from the mural trail (of course I could just look them up on the map, but I think it’s more fun to stumble across them!)

A piece by Rudy Kanhye at The Queen’s Hall, exploring the meaning of the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ and its controversial counter ‘All Lives Matter’ (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013, but the movement has experienced a resurgence since the death of George Floyd in May 2020. I am interested in the ways that protest movements make their mark on public spaces, and I have recently written about the traces that BLM protests left on the streets of Brighton, my home city. The BLM mural trail is more formal than the traces I found in Brighton, but it has a similar effect; it brings the debate into public space, and reaches out to those who might not otherwise have become involved in the conversation.

Street art by Shona Hardie at Dance Base in the Grassmarket (Photo: Hannah Awcock).

There seems to be a perception amongst many Scots that racism isn’t really a problem here. Interventions such as the mural trail help to undermine this narrative, and draw attention to the very real examples of racism in Scotland, as well as how broader systematic discrimination affects ethnic minorities here. The first step to achieving change is to start a conversation, and the BLM Mural Trail is an innovative and effective way to do this.

The large mural by Abz Mills at Usher Hall commemorates Sheku Bayoh, who died in police custody in Kirkcaldy in 2015 (Photo: Hannah Awcock).