LARGS musician Matt Hickman has penned an open letter to the town urging residents to stand on the right side of history during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Speaking through the News, the lead singer of Brownbear says Largs has always supported him in his music and has challenged the town to step up in this time of change.

He says that while racism isn't something he has experienced in the town, Matt told the paper that attitudes on social media show there is still a lot of work to be done.

Matt said: “Late last week the wee paper approached me to share my views on Black Lives Matter.

“While it is something that I am passionate about, I wasn’t sure that it was something that was necessary for Largs.

"We all have empathy for the life lost but systemic racism isn’t an issue in our town and certainly not in our police force.

“Then the police in Ayrshire took a knee in solidarity. It was commendable really.”

However, Matt says the response to the photo of the officers was not what he expected.

He said: “I opened the dreaded comment section, naively perhaps, expecting to see praise for our police.

“Instead they were called ‘an embarrassment”, their motives put under scrutiny. Who knew opposing racism was such a divisive thing?

“Hypocrisy is a funny affliction. We are all fully aware of it yet seem bound to fall into its wicked grasp.

“People are saying they think it is sad what happened to George Floyd, but then adding that the protests were disgusting for putting police at risk. These same people are now calling their own police embarrassing for deciding that racism was something they would not stand for.”

Much of the opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement has centred around the idea that all lives should matter, however Matt says that even this is not the case throughout the world.

He said: “Take race out of the equation for a moment, have the people who work hard and still need to go to a food bank.

“What about the kids that work in sweat shops to make clothes and perhaps even the electronic device on which I am typing. Do their lives really matter?

“Until we learn to value every life on this planet, we do not have the right to scream ‘All Lives Matter’. The way things stand, black lives in America are not being valued."

Matt believes that Largs and the people in it allowed him to be defined by who he was, rather than by the colour of his skin.

He said: “I have done several interviews about race and growing up black in the west of Scotland. I have spoken about the fact that I was privileged to have grown up in Largs where people saw me as Matt and not as black.

“Is Largs a racist town? Absolutely not. However, did I encounter racism? Yes, I did.

“From people asking where I was really from to being told not to be offended because ‘I wasn’t actually black’, they are all aspects of racism.

“There was the time I was punched in the face as a child and was called 'nigger'. It was the first time that I ever heard the word and had to ask my mum what it meant and why I was different?

“I’ve heard in more recent years that Brexit was worth it to 'keep the darkies out, but not me because I am one of the good ones'.

“Most recently, in the heat of online discussions about race, the only racial motivated comments that came my way came from a Largs resident.

“While I do not believe there to be a problem with racism in Largs, I do believe that we can do better. We can all, always do better.”

Matt says he realises it can be hard representing a minority in a small town like Largs, but is urging young people to be proud of who they are and express themselves.

He said: “There are many black people in Largs and many mixed-race people. There could be mothers and fathers who are white with mixed-race children.

“Imagine reading this type of negative comment. You would be hurt, or worse, worried and scared. There could be young kids or teenagers reading them feeling like they are not welcome in the town that they have grown up in.

“If all lives matter, then that includes your neighbours.”

He added: “To any of those people reading this, it can be lonely growing up as a minority in a small town but never suppress one bit of yourself.

“Be proud of who you are and be proud of your skin. Your hair isn’t too curly and your skin isn’t too dark.

“You have as much to offer Largs as any other resident. For so long, I allowed myself to feel less.

“It isn’t your job to make other people feel comfortable, it is their job to find out why it does make them uncomfortable and then educate themselves.”

Matt is keen to point out that during personal heartache, the local community was there for him and his family and he is asking the town to show that same spirit now.

He said: “The community in Largs shared our grief when I lost my dad. They made the healing process so much easier and we had no end of kind words, visitors and support.

“When the band started doing well, everyone shared it and came to the shows. You congratulated me on Radio 1 plays, you sang it loud and proud that we played T in the Park.

“You can’t celebrate my achievement’s as someone from Largs then disregard them as a person of colour from Scotland in the music industry.

“Be the town that allowed me to be Matt despite of my colour, not the town that belittles it.

“Be an ally, be a champion, be kind, be respectful and most importantly be on the right side of history.”