My Stories of Racism In The British Working World

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This is an important blog for me. Many people all over social media are sharing their experiences with racism, racial microaggressions in the workplace or just in life and even incidents where they have had to diminish their blackness. For some of you, you may feel like these stories should be kept hidden. It’s the past, what’s done is done, move on but I will definitely have to disagree with you on this. Everyone has a right to share their heart, their loves and their pains on the Internet and I am going to do the same.


I have kept these stories in for too long and erased these workplaces off of my job history. Why? Because there’s no way I am going to allow my next opportunity to get a reference from someone who has shown racial microaggressions towards me or any form of racism. I will not allow their words to determine where my next step is accepted or not.

Telling my story on here is also the only way I want to share where I have experienced and witnessed racism in the workplace. Telling my story will let you see that racism exists in the workplace and in the recruitment process and it’s fundamental that it is weeded out. Here are my stories:

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“Can you keep a secret?”

Workplace: Canaletto’s Restaurant in Chelsea Football Club

Chelsea Football Club was where I got my first job. I started as a waitress then moved into becoming a Back-of-House Assistant. I was 16 years old when I started and I was, honestly, very proud. I mean, it’s Chelsea Football Club! No-one had ever had a conversation with me about racism in the workplace, I had never heard of racial microaggressions or anything along those lines but when I witnessed racism for the first time at work, I was shocked and ultimately disgusted in how it was handled.

Let me get into my story. As a back-of-house assistant, I was assigned to work in Canaletto’s which is a restaurant within Chelsea Football Club. The restaurant serves high quality food, provides a high quality service and with that comes customers, and even celebrities, who are paying a lot of money each in order to experience this. Last I checked, the cost is around £5700 each to be able to visit this restaurant and enjoy the meal before, during and after any of the matches at the Stadium.

It was towards the end of the night after a match and there were a table of customers, all white men, who were enjoying themselves and talking after the match. In the meantime, we were breaking down the tables and resetting them for the next match day. While doing this, one of the customers told my fellow colleague to hurry up and take my order then whispered under his breath to his friends, “You f%&!-ing monkey!” and he, along with his other white male friends laughed along with him. I don’t believe my colleague heard him. I went and told my colleague, who is a black man, what they said. He took a deep breath and shrugged while saying, “What can I do?

After about 15–20 minutes, the manager approached me, who was a white woman, and said, “I was told that you heard the customers say something that you think was racist but I want you to know that I’ve known them for a long time and they are definitely not racist but I’ll definitely talk to them about it.”

She definitely didn’t talk to them about it and didn’t report it. No-one came to talk to me or my colleague about the incident although I don’t think they talked to him.

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“You won’t do better than this.”

Workplace: TopShop in Ealing Broadway (before it shut down)

During high school in the UK, we are required to seek opportunities for work-experience by handing out your CV to work for free for a week or maybe two weeks depending on what your school was like. For me, it was a week.

I was 15 years old when I got the opportunity. I was so excited about it and even more excited that one of my classmates also got an opportunity to do work experience there the same week as me. I also just want to point out that my classmate was Asian, Bengali to be precise. I have to mention this, you’ll see why in just a moment.

The week of my work experience, everything was going OK but I could feel the dismissal when I asked questions or offered to help with anything. I was keeping the shop floor tidy, helping out in the fitting room, welcoming customers at the entrance and restocking the rails. It got to the end of my work experience and on that day, I was feeling very unwell that my mother and Aunt came to pick me up during the working day and it was my last day. The Store Manager, who was also an Asian woman, took me down to her office and filled in my Progress Report. In the report, you are rated from A to F just as you would with many educational reports. She marked me B for almost everything. She told me that, “You can’t get an A because you don’t have enough experience yet.” I didn’t question it and I just said, “OK”.

The following week came along and the teachers had received all of our reports from the managers at the places where we completed our work experiences. Everyone was opening their reports and sharing what they got. My classmate, who was also working at Topshop with me, was sitting behind me. I remembering asking her, “What did you get?” She said, “I got As on everything!” I was shocked and felt a punch in my gut. As I look back at this as a 29 year old adult, I believe this is where I experienced racial microaggressions and racism for the first time in my working life. I was lied to by a manager in order to help another to appear better than me.

This also adds to my reasoning of why I hate being seen or described as ‘BAME’.

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“What are you going to do about that?”

Workplace: Waitrose, Kingston

Now, I didn’t work at Waitrose in Kingston. I actually had a job at Little Waitrose in High Holborn, London in 2012 when the store first opened. Prior to this, I had an interview for a job role as a Supermarket Assistant in Kingston.

The interview was going well. I was nervous. It was a group interview and this was the first time I had had a group interview. After the group interview, we were called in one by one to have an individual interview with, I believe, the Branch Manager. After asking her questions, she, then, used her pen to point towards my hair while creating a circular motion and then asked, “If you get the job, what are you going to do about that?” I panicked and said, “I’ll definitely change it.” The hair of a black woman is her crown and a symbol of her creativity. At this time, I was wearing a weave (hair extensions) and had it tied back to look more “professional”. Obviously, I didn’t get the job but I never knew that how I wore my hair would be a cause for concern for the working environment.

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“Change how you talk. Our customers aren’t like that.”

Workplace: Victorstone Property Consultants, Old Street, London

You have probably never heard of Victorstone Property Consultants which is understandable. They are a property management consultancy with offices in different parts of London. I applied to join there initially as an intern as i was about starting a part-time degree in French and International Law. Further to this, a module I was studying was focused on Property Law so I thought it would be great to get some experience in Real Estate and increase my knowledge of the Property market. Maybe my ADHD was telling me this was a good idea, I can tell you, it was a bad one.

I worked here for about 6 months as an Administrator. There was an incident where I answered the phone and a client called who was very upset about a blocked sink or a blocked toilet in the property they were renting. I talked to them in a professional manner, trying to calm them down and come to a solution. We came to a solution, arranged a call for the following day and we disconnected the call.

One of the founders of the company, an Asian man, who was sitting at a desk a few rows ahead of me said, “You should think about changing the way you talk, make it sound more professional. You’ll get a different response from people if you talk that way.” This is a common thing that a lot of black people do. We “whiten” our voices for different events in the working world in order for us to be seen as educated or of a “higher class”. On this occasion, where I didn’t do so, I was called out on it. Who could I complain to? It was a family-run business and the founders and MDs of the company were basically HR. All I could do is let it slide.

A further incident from the same person was when I came into the office with my hair wrapped neatly in a black scarf after taking my braids out the night before. I arrived earlier that day. The Founder saw me and said, “Is something wrong with your head?” I said, “No, I’m just wrapping my hair, I took my braids out last night. It’s common in my culture.” He replied saying, “OK, you’ll need to get rid of that. It’s not very professional. In my head, I was thinking, our office is a desk in the basement, any communication we make with a customer is over the phone. Who’s going to see me? Either or, the next day, I found a way to style my hair but I was so annoyed at him. How does my hair effect my performance at work?

The year I was there, they won an award for “The Best Estate Agents To Work For” by the Sunday Times. What’s interesting is the employee turnover there is crazy, they don’t pay their employees fairly and I wasn’t contacted to cast a vote for these awards they won so how they got that award is a mystery. I would love to share what I was earning but according to the contract I signed with them, I was not allowed to discuss my salary with my colleagues although I found out I was earning the same amount as the Estate Agents working there but that’s a story for another day.

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Let me say this….

I work in an environment where I can wrap my hair, wear my hair naturally, braid my hair or do whatever I like with my hair without it being ‘policed’ by those in senior positions. My hair is not an indication of how well I do at work. Sounding like I graduated from Oxford University will not make me work any better than me sounding like where I grew up; the blocks on South Acton Estate.

Racism is rife and real. You have a responsibility to educate yourself on racism and racial microaggressions. We all do, even me. Don’t ask your black colleagues to teach you about what blackness is and what it’s like to be black. Educate yourself, understand and make changes to be a better human being and create attitudes of inclusiveness in how you work and how you treat others.

Change starts with education and an open acceptance to see what is happening in this world.

Resources

Here are some resources for you to look into in your own time:

  1. How To Use White Privilege To Help - Save The Tears: A White Women’s Guide
  2. 75 Things White People Can Do For Racial Justice
  3. Kimberle Crenshaw — Intersectionality TED Talk
  4. A Racially Just Workplace
  5. Your Black Colleagues May Look Like They’re Okay — Chances Are They’re Not
  6. 10 Books About Race To Read Instead Of Asking A Person Of Colour To Explain Things To You

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Give A Little, Make A Difference

If you are able, give a donation to fight against racism and racial injustices. Here are some great charities working to make legal changes to fight against racism.

  1. Stephen Lawrence Fund — Click Here
  2. The Red Card Organisation — Click Here
  3. Black Lives Matter — Click Here
  4. Black Lives Matter UK — Click Here
  5. NAACP — Click Here
  6. Justice For George Floyd (Sign The Petition)— Click Here

Connect with me..

If you would like to connect with me, here is where you can find me:

Personal Website — Click Here

Twitter — Click Here

Instagram — Click Here

Facebook — Click Here

LinkedIn — Click Here

By

Jennifer Opal

June 13, 2020