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“You’re pretty for a Black girl” and other racist comments I should have never experienced in the workplace

The issue around Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace has been ongoing for a number of years. It’s fair to say things are changing and although we are pleased to see the start of that change, we believe it needs to go beyond placing one or two people of colour within an organisation just to meet ‘diversity hire’ targets.  

The current UK legislation (Equality Act 2010) places a duty on all public sector organisations to:

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation in the workplace.
  • advance equality of opportunity between people from different groups.
  • foster good relations between people of different groups.

Employers need to work on more initiatives to battle racism in the workplace, educate their employees on issues such as unconscious bias, and have a zero-tolerance policy for microaggression and discrimination.

In the creative industries, we are accustomed to working in predominately all-white environments; entering studios, offices, and events where everyone from the photographers through to the makeup artists are white.

We’ve experienced first-hand just how difficult it is to find a makeup artist that has worked on black or brown skin, not to mention hair. It’s equally as difficult to find agencies representing a wide variety of Black models, especially dark-skinned. And, of course, the lack of diversity represented in the media and entertainment industries. It is a sad fact that we are forced to face on a regular basis and hope conversations like this can inspire a change.

Below are just some of the comments, microaggressions, and full-on discriminatory attacks we have had to face as Black and Brown women in the industry. We are shedding a light on this issue to help educate our readers on just how often this is happening and why it needs to stop, now.

It’s important to note this issue spans across all industries not just the creative and that not all discrimination comes only from white people. A few of these comments have been made by other people of colour, who may have been conditioned for far too long to understand that their comments are racist, inappropriate, and can leave long-lasting effects on those on the receiving end.

All accounts are anonymous to protect identities.

“After reading Michelle Obama’s book, a colleague said to me: “Why do Black people always have to talk about the fact that they are Black? Like, why is everything related to them being Black?” 32-year-old, UX manager, London.

“A colleague of mine once told me (a black woman) in confidence, that another colleague had said to them: ‘I mean just look at all our lowest performers, they’re all Black! That can’t just be a coincidence” 25-year-old, Marketing Manager, London.

Being told: “You don’t act very Black!” by one white colleague but also being told ‘OMG you’re like the epitome of strong Black woman” by another white colleague – within the same company. 32-year-old, UX manager, London.

“You remind me of [insert ANY dark skin, Black, famous woman]” 27-year-old, graphic designer, Birmingham

The constant: “Where are you from? No, I mean where are you REALLY from?” at every place I have ever worked. 33-year-old, Feature writer, London

Regularly being mistaken for the other Black girl in the office. 31year-old, Data analyst, London.

“Oooou your hair!”.. then proceeding to randomly touch my hair. 28-year-old, Writer, London

Someone handing me their plate in the cafeteria because they just assumed I was one of the cleaners. 30-year-old, Marketing Manager, London.

White colleagues regularly trying to pair me with the only other Black man in the office without even asking if we actually like each other. 22-year-old, Social Media executive. Brighton

“You don’t sound like a [insert foreign name] should sound like” 26 year-old, Marketing assistant, London

One of the white guys at work always greets me with ‘Wagwan’ and tries to spud me. Bear in mind he DOESN’T talk like that or speak to anyone else like that. I told him several times to not address me like that. I just ignore him now. It’s like he assumes because I’m Black that’s how I talk” 31-year-old, presenter, London

Getting feedback that I’m loud and aggressive for speaking up, while my white colleagues have been applauded for speaking up to 27-year-old, designer, Chelmsford.

“At a Christmas work party, one of the directors was very drunk and came up to me and asked: “Have you ever been with a white man before?” 23-year-old, Social media executive, Manchester.

Being ignored in meetings by most of the white men in that meeting, but then watching as they listen to all the other white men. 36-year-old, Accountant, Essex

Having colleagues greet me with ‘yo’ but greeting my white colleagues with ‘hey, how are you?’ 24-year-old, Research assistant, London

“I was the only person in a training session who wasn’t white and the man leading the session referred to everyone else by name and me as “you” because he couldn’t pronounce my name and wouldn’t ask me again how to say it” 30-year-old, TV Development assistant, Derby.

“Someone once asked me if my skin colour is the darkest it gets. The weirdest thing is that I genuinely think that they genuinely thought it was a legit question” 35-year-old, Creative Director, London

Not promoted into a role I was qualified to do, instead, a white middle-class woman was brought in to do the role. 28-year-old, Feature Writer, London

Being told not to hang out with other Black/brown colleagues because it will be seen as segregation. 29-year-old, Marketing Manager, London

“For months I was called by my other Black colleague’s name and she was called by mine. Whenever we raised it, they said we looked similar because we both had braids” 32-year-old, Graphic Designer, Swindon

“The endless hair questions/comments when I wear wigs. “Woww your hair grows fast” I just have to play along and agree yeah, it’s grown fast” 32-year-old, Graphic Designer, Swindon

Hearing racist comments such as “You’ll get through security easily, it’s not like you’re wearing a hijab” when going to a work event at a high-profile place. 29-year-old, Research Manager, London

“I had got a tan on holiday and my colleague awkwardly asked what happened, she couldn’t grasp the fact that Black people do tan!” 33-year-old, Fashion Writer, Hertfordshire

“My manager asked me remove an image I had chosen for a brochure cover because it featured a Black family. “The brochure is going to be distributed outside of London and so our audience can’t relate to the image. Please remove it and find a better-suited one” I was speechless.” 26-year-old, Editorial Assistant, London

..And sadly, the list goes on. We asked all the women above whether they had ever thought about raising the issue with their HR departments and here’s what we found:

“I complained to HR about racist behaviour when giving my notice and was placed on garden leave as I made other people uncomfortable” 29-year-old, Research Manager, London

“I was constantly bullied and intimidated by a senior member of staff and when I tried to raise the issue with HR I wasn’t believed. I was told “Well you’re usually quite blunt, so you can deal with it” It was only when my other white colleagues stepped in and spoke to HR that they believed the situation was happening. They did not acknowledge me and no apology was ever made” 33-year-old, Fashion Writer, Hertfordshire

All of the other women responded that they have wanted to speak to HR but have been afraid nothing would come from it. They feared they would be seen as troublemakers as there is usually no other person of colour in the department, and it is sometimes their colleagues in HR making these comments.

We’d like to give a huge thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us for this piece. The conversations we had sparked a lot of negative emotions from everyone who recalled the abuse they had been subjected to and reminded us just how much this can affect an individual’s confidence and mental health.

If you’ve suffered discrimination in the workplace we’d love to speak to you for Debut TV! Leave us a comment on Instagram and we’ll be in touch.



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