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London: The Anti-racism City That’s More Racist Than You Think

London: the anti-racism city that’s more racist than you think

It was late 2011 when Ellie and I were laying in the sand and talking about the future. We were pretty much done with Cyprus. After almost six years there it was time to make a move. I was voting for Germany – as a person who loves structure, discipline and well-behaved people I could easily see myself living there. Ellie, on the other hand, wasn’t too fond of moving somewhere without speaking the language. We debated for a couple of hours and finally London won. After all, many of our friends live there, and it was a fascinating idea to be surrounded by our childhood friends.

Said and done. We arrived in London on the 18th of September (if my memory isn’t lying to me). Upon arrival, we were immediately told the following:

Do not go to White City, Elephant & Castle, Hackney and Stratford – these are extremely dangerous areas, and you do not want to be walking out on the street there. Do not ever say anything that may be interpreted as a racist comment: you will end up in court and be charged regardless of the situation, just because you’re white.

OoooKAY…. Interesting beginning. Before arriving in London, I was convinced that there is no way racism can survive in a global city of this scale.

I was obviously wrong. Not only was there racism, but there was xenophobia as well.

On my first working day, I was labeled: “The Eastern European girl”. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mind the term (it’s true after all), but it did hurt that it was said with dispraise. I think that was the time when I actually stopped believing in the famous British politeness – after all, you don’t need to call someone “jerk” to be rude, right? There are numerous other ways to insult and trust me, Brits know them all.

Being a woman, however, I was used to the idea of having to prove myself.

Very soon the words “Eastern European girl” were told softly and with a touch of positivity. My personality won over prejudice, but this was only true for locals, simply because they will give you a chance, regardless of your nationality and color.

Unfortunately, this statement does not apply to “minorities” in London. They can be mean.

On a rainy day, somewhere on Edgware road…

…my sister and I were waiting for a bus. About two meters away from us, there are two guys, whose clothing declared with certainty that they were of Arabic origin. As we were standing quiet, I heard one of them say (pointing at a white man in his mid-thirties):

“There are lots of foreigners on the road today.”

Interesting statement, don’t you think?

On another day, later in the evening, we walked into a convenience store…

…to make a copy of a document. I only had a single original from this vital piece of paper and needed the copy for early next morning. The guy who worked there (probably Indian judging by his facial features and skin tone) took the document from me while explaining he doesn’t really have a clue how the copying machine worked, placed it in the feeder and pressed a button. Next thing I heard was paper being torn apart. The machine ripped the side of the document, partially destroying it. Naturally, the copy that was made was completely unreadable.

I tried to remain calm and suggested we can somehow make this work if we try and place the original at the scanner, instead of the feeder. The guy suddenly started yelling at me, blaming me for making him do something he’s not technically prepared for (?!?). I remained calm. When he, however, started shouting that I should first pay him 2 pounds for the first copy, before he makes another one, I got seriously annoyed and asked if he was out of his mind. Next thing you know, I hear the words:

“You white trash come here and no pay me for my work!”.

At this moment, I could no longer deal with him. I was occupied holding Ellie back from smashing his head (and she’s not the aggressive type).

As you can imagine, we left the store without the much-needed copy and with my original document seriously damaged.

I have discussed the second situation multiple times with many people from different color, nationality and age and you know what: they all agree that’s an ugly demonstration of racism. It is indeed, and I am absolutely confident this isn’t a single case.

I have myself never been a racist and I will not become one regardless of the faults of society.

I am also confident that absolutely anyone can fall victim of it anywhere in the world. And I hope this post will wake everyone up, or, at least, interrupt the ignorance in which most are floating.

Our ancestors (worldwide and from all colors and nationalities) left the world in which we are labeled by color or origin and waste valuable time from our lives fighting stereotypes.

Now is our time.

It is up to us to leave the world better so our kids won’t have to go through the same struggle.

All we need to do is be intelligent.

Is it that hard?

Nina Alexander

Nina is the big sister. She's a marketing professional by day, traveler by heart, tech geek, bookworm, beer lover and an amateur photographer. Her motto is Friedrich Nietzsche's famous quote "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."

This Post Has 4 Comments
  1. Really sorry to hear of your experiences. London is a difficult city and increasingly a place set apart from the rest of the UK. I do hope you don’t let it cloud your judgement of the rest of us Brits. Next time you make a trip over, be sure to visit some other towns. If nowhere else, head to Edinburgh, you won’t be disappointed!

    1. Hi Tim! Thank you so much for stopping by! I will never afford to be so foolish as to judge an entire nation by a few occurencies 🙂 I still do love bits and pieces of London (especially the coffee shop in the Burgh House, Hampstead) and can’t wait to visit again!!! But as you’re pointing out, this time I certainly won’t limit it to London 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience – as a UK expat now living in Australia, its both interesting and heartbreaking to hear that such ignorance is still apparent in England. When I lived there I knew there were elements of racism – its practically a way of life for some, unfortunately – but I always hoped it was something that wasn’t as obvious to the outside world. Hopefully thing have improved since your arrival in 2011 – I can only keep my fingers crossed.
    Happy Travels 🙂
    – Vicki

    1. Thank you for stopping by Vicki! I was actually happy to hear that things are changing there (from a follower on Instagram) and that London is trying really hard to stop racism. The last, I never doubted. As mentioned in the post I’ve come to realize that Brits will give you a chance when you show skills and character and eventually won’t care where you’re from. It is, however, both funny and sad that minorities (are they still minorities?) are not as open minded. That’s what I actually wanted to point out and I hope that it doesn’t stay unnoticed. Because in modern days, racism goes every direction – even when you’re as white as a snowflake (which is my case) 😀

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