I am sharing all of my experiences of racism online – here's why

I walked into Primark to return some school clothes that I had bought for my son.

Afterwards, as I was browsing the aisles, I popped some new items in the bag I had used for my returns and went back to a different counter to pay for these.

At the till, a white cashier saw me reach into the Primark bag, and insinuated that I had stolen the new clothes. I tried to explain why I hadn’t used a basket (it hadn’t occurred to me, since I had a bag readily available) – but this conversation quickly turned into a situation of covert racism on her part.

I left feeling humiliated, embarrassed and bewildered. If I had intended to steal, surely I would not have tried to pay or go to the checkout in the first place.

But I was not surprised: this is not the first time I’ve been racially profiled. 

In fact, I’ve been subjected to so many racist incidents and microaggressions over the past few months that, spurred on by a sense of helplessness and frustration, I’ve started documenting them all on my Instagram account.

So far, in eight weeks, there have been nine incidents, which I’ve relayed to people via videos online.

Just two days before my experience at Primark, the manager of a restaurant was excessively rude to me and a dark-skinned friend, because our children had moved around the venue (we made them sit down within seconds).

I looked around and noticed many other families with children doing the exact same thing. The difference? They were white.

I calmly expressed that I was unhappy with the way the manager was speaking to us. But a few minutes later, when my friend tried to order a bottle of wine, we were refused service. We left and went to a Black-friendly restaurant.

The list goes on.

When these moments occur, it doesn’t seem to matter that I am a woman with four degrees who is finishing off a PhD scholarship and has worked in conflict zones abroad, collecting data for Black and Indigenous health and well-being.

Or that I recently delivered the speech of my life to over 11,000 people at a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest in Manchester.

Racism in the UK does not care for your personal story or achievements.

After George Floyd’s death and the BLM protests, everything changed for Black and brown British people, we finally got a chance to be heard. We’ve also been able to highlight how prevalent racism is in the UK.

For instance, it was recently revealed that police in England and Wales are seven times more likely to fine BAME people in lockdown.

What’s more, there has been a 10% increase of hate crimes reported to the police in England in 2018-19, compared to the previous year – and I suspect this figure will be even higher for 2020.

And yet, despite obvious displays of racism in this country, when I share my experiences online, I often get asked: ‘How do you know it is racism?’

My answer is simple: I am a woman with brown skin who has lived in a white society for 41 years. I know what racism looks and feels like.

From being adopted out as a baby because I was ‘half-Black’ to being bullied and hit by white boys and girls at school, and now, as an adult, being undermined by white colleagues, institutions and the general public.

Racism is part of my life story in Britain.

At the time of writing, the video I recorded about the Primark incident has been viewed over 51,000 times. I have since tried to escalate the matter to the company’s headquarters.

The diversity of support online however has been remarkable and it came at a time when I had begun to lose faith in myself and this country. People’s humanity and kindness can be healing, and it can also help counteract racial cruelty.

A lot of the comments and messages I have received have been from younger generations, which gives me hope for the future.

But to end racism, white British people must do more than speak up on social media. They need to learn about their country’s history and become racially literate.

The harsh truth is that Britain is responsible for the global genocide of Black and indigenous people, and our government has destroyed many of these peoples’ culture, land and lives.

We need to overhaul parts of the school curriculum and teach people to recognise colonial dialogue and understand that the ideology of white superiority still exists in Britain today.

And I also hope the Government will provide slave reparations to improve the quality of life for Black and brown British people who were colonised. The remuneration can assist in healing the scars left by British colonisation by promoting Black wellness, higher education scholarships and building housing.

Experiencing racist profiling is exhausting, lonely and, at times, I fear for my safety.

I am speaking out on social media because of my son; I don’t want him to spend his life watching his mother subjected to racism.

I shouldn’t have to endure this fight alone – and I want white people to see what Black people go through and to understand that racism is often subtle or covert.

That’s why I film these situations, with the hope that white people become racially literate so they can stop their racism when it happens. Go the extra mile, shield us and help challenge racists and institutional racism. 

I will continue to document racism until I see a tangible difference in the UK.

If making some people uncomfortable is what it takes for them to realise that racism exists in this country, then so be it.

A Primark spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘We were deeply concerned by the customer’s complaint as we do not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind. We fully investigated the allegations and found no evidence of racism or racial discrimination. Primark prides itself on being a brand for everyone and we understand how important it is that everyone who comes into our stores has a positive experience. We are very sorry that this wasn’t the case on this occasion, and have been in touch with the customer to discuss this further.’

You can listen to Natasha’s podcast here.

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