‘I hardly ever mention these incidents when they happen – it’s exhausting’
There are almost too many instances to choose from. I have been handed empty bottles in bars when I clearly don’t work there, people regularly get me mixed up with another black woman in my office (we don’t look anything alike). A few weeks ago a couple on the train were too scared to tell me my cardigan was on inside out and instead just whispered about it and how I might react if they told me – am I really that terrifying? It’s exhausting. I hardly ever mention these incidents to white friends when they happen – it’s heartbreaking if I do and they try to explain it away. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t do much any more to tackle it when it happens, but also why should it be up to me? I’m fed up with the burden of teaching white people about racism. Tash, London
‘She threw out all the CVs with names she didn’t recognise’
I remember five or six years ago when I was working for a very well-known clothing retailer and standing next to the manager as she looked through CVs. There were a lot of them, and what this led to was her throwing out all of the ones with names she didn’t recognise – it was as though she was just looking for the English names. I remember some derogatory things being said about the Chinese names in the stack. Nottingham University has a lot of Chinese students and it seemed there was a general ill-feeling towards Chinese people because of the idea the students were “messy and rude” when they visited the store.
Words to the effect of “How the hell do you say that?” were uttered as the manager leafed through the stack. The eventual shortlist consisted of nobody with a “non-English” first name, despite well over 50% of the original pile being made up of people with Asian or African names. I was very aware of this and it made me feel very uncomfortable. I am of mixed background myself and became aware early in life that I was lucky to have been given an English name rather than an Asian one by my parents. I know my experience of life would have been very different with an Asian one. I took no further action as I felt I was not in a position to challenge this behaviour. Alex, Nottingham
‘It leaves you feeling frustrated and angry’
More often than not if you go out to a central London club as a person from a minority background, the chances of being asked to leave or being denied entry “for being drunk” dramatically increase. This happens with such frequency that it downright amazes me that there aren’t more things being done to tackle it. At a Christmas do last year I left a club for a smoke but wasn’t allowed back in because door staff felt I’d “had too much to drink”. When I asked him if he felt that everyone inside the bar currently was less intoxicated than me, he said he “reserved the right to choose who he let in and kept out”. The level of tolerance displayed towards minority individuals seems to be quite a bit lower than for others, and I think this is rooted firmly in a conscious or unconscious racial bias. It leaves you feeling frustrated and angry, particularly if there are visibly more intoxicated people than you from other backgrounds being let through. It is also often humiliating if it happens in a post-work setting with other colleagues around. Varun, London
‘I didn’t speak out because we didn’t know each other well, but it really struck me’
I am a priest in the Church of England. I am frequently the only woman from a minority ethnic background at a meeting. At one church event in 2017, the speaker, during their address, mentioned how “we are all white, middle-class people here”. When choosing a person of inspiration during a group exercise, I suggested Gandhi. When it came to narrowing the choice down, that was rejected because he “is not of our culture”.
I am frequently told by people (fellow ministers) that they “don’t see my colour”. I find this phrase really irritating. I am really proud of my heritage and, quite frankly, it’s clear people do see the colour of my skin as much as they see the colour of my hair. I think what they mean is that my “colour” doesn’t make a difference to how they view me, but I’d much rather they said that rather than say something which is clearly not true and, in a way, denies my “colour” as if it were something negative rather than something to be proud of.
A colleague, when I was talking about the Black Lives Matter movement, responded immediately: “Well, all lives matter,” clearly missing the point. I mentioned to the speaker at the event afterwards how their comments had made me feel, and to their absolute credit the speaker was mortified and apologised profusely. In the group exercise, I didn’t speak out because we didn’t know each other well, but it really struck me how “white British” the church as an institution was. I feel very conflicted at times because, as someone in a role where there are so few other BAME women, I want to speak out but at the same time I don’t want to be labelled as the one with the “issue” or “chip on their shoulder”. Anon
‘I have had to Anglicise my name’
One frustration of mine is people’s consistent inability to correctly spell or pronounce my name. I have had to “Anglicise” my name to “help” with my socialisation into UK society. I am a scientist and have often wondered how my name plays out in the judgment of my grant applications and papers. I suspect that this is an issue, specifically since the makeup of any major research councils consists of white men and women, so folk like me are at a disadvantage before we start. There is meritocracy in science, but I feel it applies to the white men and women. There is little I can do. I have to suck it up and face it.
I have been told by multiple people, including a housing officer at a university here, to “adjust” as this is the UK. Desperate to fit in, I accepted that as fact. Now I feel anger, but I have also put in behind me. The problem with any bias is the fact that most of it is subtle and insidious. Most participate in it without even knowing they are doing so. Bhavika, central Scotland
‘I’ve noticed that my white colleagues do not get asked similar questions’
When I tell white people I’m an English teacher, they always make it clear that I couldn’t possibly be teaching their white children English by saying: “Is that English as a second language?” The sub-text is: “How is it possible for someone who looks like you to teach English?” I’ve noticed that my white colleagues do not get asked similar questions. For the record, my command of the English language is probably better than all of them put together. It had to be because I knew I would be accused of not knowing how to string a sentence together.
I’ve had white learners make complaints or try to disrespect me – they make an instant judgment about competence, and this has definitely made me feel as though I was not good enough or somehow not quite worthy. It is a very strange feeling. You know deep in your gut what is being said but to call it racist is so cliched and does not really demonstrate the subtlety of what is being said, nor the subtlety of the deep and often unintended malicious impact. This kind of subtle, casual racism based on a set of beliefs is an everyday occurrence. Beverley, 58, London
‘I felt betrayed by the business and management’
While working in the field of regulatory compliance for a telecom company, I found out that I had been paid less for the exact same role that produced the same level of output in terms of the requirements to fulfil the role than my two colleagues who were white females. What made it worse was they were both based in Scotland while I was in the south of England – I’d have expected it to be the same or it being me being paid more based on location. I became aware of this at a time when we had all accepted redundancy, and the business denied any wrongdoing. I was angry for many reasons, partly because I felt betrayed by the business and management because I never thought of them as being racist and thought of it as unconscious racism. Regardless of what it was, it is wrong. There is a lot said about men being paid more than women, but this is usually white men.
Having been born in Britain and lived here all my life without any strings to Bangladesh, I don’t like the fact that when filling out a form there is no option to just be British. We have to be something else: “British Bangladeshi”. And yet we are accused of not assimilating when from the very beginning we are an “other”. Noj, 32, London
‘I was asked if I would be willing to change my hairstyle or come in with straight hair’
I hate shopping in department stores as I’ve experienced being followed around by a security guard. I earn enough money to buy items I touch, but if I have to go shopping I usually don’t carry a large handbag now, to ensure that I’m not followed.
I was raised in the UK, I sound like I was raised in London, but whenever I meet people they ask me where I am from, and I say London. Then they say: “I mean where are you originally from?” I hate that question, as it suggests I am not British enough or that my skin colour means I can never be British.
I once went for a job interview with my hair in braids, and at the end I was asked if I would be willing to change my hairstyle. Since then I have never braided my hair unless I am on holiday, and then I take them out before returning to work. I have to spend time chemically straightening it or spend a lot of money on hair extensions so it is acceptable in a work context.
I can’t express my anger or frustration in the office as it is seen as being aggressive. I have seen it happen to others so often that I have learned to keep my objections or negative opinions to myself. To some extent, I saw what my family and friends went through at work and so have buried my ethnic identity. Chi
‘It is an awful experience when you face these types of rejections’
As a black gay male I have had bad experiences in the gay community and straight community. I have been refused entry to gay bars in Canal Street and straight bars in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. When I try to enter a bar alone or with black friends I always get negative reactions from the bouncers. In a popular late bar in the Northern Quarter I was refused entry by black bouncers because I was on my own. Apparently company policy is not to allow single people to enter the bar. This is ironic, because the friend I was out with – who happens to be white – was already in the bar. He walked straight in on his own with no hassle. I can never get in to the majority of gay bars in Manchester village because bouncers say it’s “regulars only”. I have never taken any action because it happens so regularly and I’ve just learned to get used to it and never go to places that I feel unwelcome. Which is a shame, because I now barely go to the gay village. It is an awful experience when you face these types of rejections in a country you are supposed to call home. Sam, Manchester
‘I have become more defensive and aggressive to defeat the submissive polite stereotypes’
I go through at least one sexual and/or racial harassment every week for being an east Asian female in the UK. Most of the time the harassment is just very annoying, but sometimes the encounters leave me feeling threatened and unnerved. The most common form I get is men randomly shouting “konnichiwa”, “nihaoma” or worse, “ching chang chong”, but I have had people physically grab me or my belongings to catch my attention. When will people understand that shouting these random foreign greetings is not complimentary at all? If I shouted to a random Caucasian man “bonjour” or “guten Tag” just because they “look a certain nationality”, wouldn’t that be considered very weird and very presumptuous of me?
And it’s not just me who experiences this – many of my east Asian female friends have reported similar. I have a feeling these men do it to not only get a reaction out of us, thinking calling names or teasing us will make us give them the attention they crave, but also to feel powerful over the “submissive east Asian women” stereotype that is so often perpetuated in the media. As a result I have become very defensive in public and do not like to interact with anyone, always wearing headphones, and I also do a lot of weightlifting to bulk up, trying to actively defy the small, meek east Asian female stereotype. Vinny, 28, London
‘Sadly I feel incredibly lucky that my children are white’
I often experience the “surprised” face at interviews or in meetings after people have seen my name (which is very “English”) and heard my Surrey accent over the phone. To the point where my name has been called out again once the person has scanned the room, as it obviously couldn’t be the brown face in the corner. It’s ignorance, and not specific enough to be called out.
I definitely feel that the whole Brexit conversation has legitimised views that people expressed in a more undercover way in the 80s and 90s. People knew they couldn’t express certain views, so they gently acted them out. Now, people feel they have a right to aggressively promote them. Sadly I feel incredibly lucky that my children are white, as I know that they will encounter far fewer difficulties as they grow up in the UK. Sarah, Surrey