That Ryanair racism video – in which an elderly black woman was shouted at and insulted by a fellow white passenger – was shocking, uncomfortable, and prompted widespread outrage as it travelled across social media in the hours after it was posted.
In the footage, a white man appeared to call Delsie Gayle, 77, an “ugly black bastard” and shouted: “Don’t speak to me in a foreign language, you stupid ugly cow.”
Speaking soon after the incident, the woman’s daughter told HuffPost UK: “The underlying reason behind the man’s abusive behaviour comes down to the fact that my mum is a black woman and he didn’t want her sitting next to him - he says it in the video.”
The incident took place on a flight scheduled to leave from Barcelona for London Stansted last Friday afternoon. Barcelona city council has now said it will report the “unacceptable” racial abuse as a possible hate crime, while Spanish and English police investigate the matter.
But Ryanair flight attendants did not remove the man from the plane, or notify police, but reseated Mrs Gayle elsewhere, a reaction that has lifted the lid on something more insidious – the fact that for many black British citizens, everything about the footage – the abuse, the reaction of staff, the woke outrage – is shocking, but not surprising.
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Speaking to HuffPost UK, black British people said everyday racism is very much a reality, the only thing different about the Ryanair incident is that it was caught on camera.
Academics, MPs, activists and teachers told us stories of being followed around shops, abused in public – or of “silent racism” that is felt but not spoken.
Unlike the #metoo movement, or everyday ableism, which exposes prejudice and harassment of disabled people, the UK has not recently had a moment of public reckoning about discrimination on the grounds of race. It’s particularly poignant as Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the Race Relations Act, the moment it became illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of “colour, race, ethnic or national origins”.
It’s also Black History Month, when contribution of black citizens is marked and celebrated. But as Labour MP Dawn Butler told HuffPost UK: “This Black History Month has been rather raw for me. The injustice of Windrush. The Ryanair racist incident. And the dismissal of three police officers who lied about the brutal and violent arrest which led to my constituent Julian Cole being left paralysed and brain-damaged.
“This has shown us just how much work we still have to do in order to achieve racial equality. So in this Black History Month we must redouble our efforts to eliminate racism and discrimination, and continue working together towards a more equal society.”
Here are the stories of everyday racism – not filmed, that didn’t go viral – but which say as much about British society today as the footage seen by millions in the last few days.
“The police do nothing - they take the record, keep it as statistics and that’s it.”
My family and I moved to County Durham from Cambridgeshire three years ago. We’ve encountered many series of racism here, since.
Our first experience was when a neighbour told us that “we came off the back of a boat” and “we should go back where we came from”. He even went as far as blocking our driveway and we had to call police to come and sort the matter out. We find that the police here are not helpful.
Last October, the next-door neighbour’s son came and told us that “we’re golliwogs, don’t belong here and should leave”. We were shocked – my kids saw it all. We rang the police, they waited two weeks before taking witness statements, he came out and he was released with no further action.
The man’s wife has said that she’s “never had to live next door to a black in the 22 years that she’s lived on the street, so she’s not particularly fond of us living next door to her”.
Obviously, living on the streets for 22 years, these neighbours have more influence than we do – according to the wife. Neighbours were there when we were called golliwogs and heard what was said. And yet they said they didn’t hear anything.
I have even arranged to meet with the chief executive of County Durham council and chief superintendent of the police tomorrow because, up until now, we’re experiencing racism and discrimination on a daily basis. The police do nothing – they take the record, keep it as statistics and that’s it.
I did my teacher’s training in Sunderland and my grades dropped immensely as a result of the stress of it all. While on a placement at a school, I was asked by the teacher “where you from?”. I replied “Durham”. And she said “no, where is your home?”
I then explained that I am originally from the Caribbean and lived there for 16 years. The next thing I know, I receive a call from the university saying the school doesn’t want me back because the staff are not comfortable around people of my ethnicity. I was shocked. It wasn’t until I took legal action against them did they decide to back down and put me back onto the teacher’s training programme.
I eventually finished my training and graduated in July. I’m now doing a Masters and then hopefully a PHD – I want to go on to do something outside of the classroom, such as educational consultancy, particularly around diversity. I’ve tried for jobs as a black teacher in this area and realise that it’s not going to happen. It’s difficult living here and being black. Not everyone is racist but those are the experiences that I go through on a daily basis.
You might be thinking “why doesn’t she move?” Well, we bought our house here and my daughter is doing her GCSEs at the moment – so it’s not fair to move her midway. We’re just trying to cope with it the best we can.
As told to Nadine White. Shanine Alicia Fasasi is the director of Diversify, an organisation that aims to improve diversity in education
“I couldn’t shop at my local supermarket anymore because the security guards were convinced I was stealing”
Marianne Miles, podcaster
I visit my local supermarket at least twice a week. I have a good relationship with most the staff and security there of all races. Last Christmas, two new security guards started.
Many of us in my area shop with a canvas bag. I put my items into the bag and pay for them at the end using the self service or main checkout.
But the security guards challenged me every time I went into the shop. One even told me I wasn’t allowed to shop in that way because it was ‘against store policy’. Meanwhile a white lady walked by doing the same thing and he said it was OK because he knew her.
On two occasions they argued with me while I was at the till paying for my items. I complained to the manager and to their head office, but it got to the stage that I could not shop there anymore if they were working because they constantly preyed on me, convinced I was stealing while other women shopped in the same way without incident.
Although I live in East London, not many black women use that particular shop and I soon found out they avoid it because they have had similar incidents with staff and security.”
As told to Nadine White. Marianne is a writer and is the cohost of The Prosecco Chronicles Podcast
“I reasoned that football was a white man’s game”
David Matthews, writer, journalist and broadcaster
I was 11 years old the first time I experienced racial abuse. I was at an Orient v Newcastle United game. I was in high spirits, larking around with my mates and queuing to leave the ground when a mob of Newcastle hooligans burst through the North Stand heading straight for us.
We were like rabbits caught in headlights, momentarily gripped with fear. As we turned to run, I was confronted by a man-mountain at the head of the Newcastle rabble, all teeth gnashing, fists flailing. I’ll never forget him: he had long dark hair and wore dirty jeans and a scruffy sheepskin coat.
He spat at me, and then yelled: ‘Get the f****** n******!’ I turned again and ran. And ran. And ran and ran and ran...
Decades later, a psychoanalyst friend asked me how I’d felt at the time, once I’d escaped the mob. I had to admit, I couldn’t remember anything beyond the moment. After a while, learning to forget becomes the path of least resistance.
A few weeks after the Newcastle game, I went to Highbury with a couple of schoolmates to watch Arsenal. I don’t know what I was thinking. The Clock End was a sea of baldheads throwing Nazi salutes in my direction. I was miles from home, and the atmosphere was tense and intimidating.
Once again, my recollection of the day is hazy. All I can remember were those skinheads shouting “Sieg heil, Sieg heil, Sieg heil.”
I left well before the final whistle. Somehow, I reasoned that football was a white man’s game best viewed from the comfort of my living room. I didn’t visit another football ground for years.
David Matthews’s first book, Looking for a Fight, was shortlisted for the 2001 William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize; and his BBC series, The Trouble with Black Men, was shortlisted for the 2005 Royal Television Society best documentary award. His latest book ‘Voices of the Windrush Generation’ is out now.
“My experience of racism is so routine, it’s a joke.”
Lee Jasper, activist
My last experience of racism was whilst I was out shopping in August. Shopping while black invites scrutiny – and on this occasion my family and I were followed around the store by the security guard.
I noticed him and he noticed me noticing him. Still, he continued to shadow us as we browsed the aisles. We left as I’m not about to spend money with people who treat me like a criminal and before we did so, I approached the manager, made my complaint and left the store – never to go back.
This experience is so routine it’s a joke but, make no mistake, everyday racism is real. Imagine being routinely disbelieved on almost every occasion you engage with white society.
From the police force and immigration, to school exclusions, employers and job applications – there is a constant and repetitive reminder that, whilst living in Britain, we are nothing more than a black face in the wrong place.
Everyday racism attacks our sense of self, undermines our implicit confidence and stresses us to the extent that we can become physically ill as a result.
Though our community has worked hard to invest in Britain, far too often we are dictated to from a great height – reminding us that whilst we may be black for sure, we are certainly not British – whatever the law, politicians and the media would have us believe.
As told to Nadine White. Lee Jasper is an activist and BlakSoxx sponsor
“We weren’t that surprised that the white woman tried to push in front of us.”
Aisha Phoenix, academic
One summer my mother and I decided to take my daughter to the seaside. We waited in the long queue for the ticket machines while my daughter sat in her buggy, flicking through her books. When our turn came, a tipsy, middle class white woman strode past the queue and pushed in front of us.
My mother and I wanted to catch our train, so we told the woman not to push in. However, rather than coming to our defence, the white men in the queue behind us aggressively told us to leave the woman alone.
The feeling of anger and humiliation at being treated this way in front of my daughter has stayed with me over the years. My mother is a professor of Psychosocial Studies, and I am an Oxford graduate with a PhD in Sociology. We are both black.
We weren’t that surprised that the woman tried to push in front of us, we’re used to it, but the vehemence with which the white men in the queue defended her was both upsetting and deeply unsettling.
When we discussed it afterwards, we said that had it been the other way round, we wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d physically removed us.
The way in which Delsie Gayle was racially abused on that Ryanair flight was appalling, as was the way in which the airline staff and most of the other passengers handled the situation. Rather than removing the abusive passenger from the flight or at least making him vacate his seat, the staff got Gayle to move, which was just what the racist man wanted. Most passengers did not offer Gayle support. While life experiences mean I don’t find that surprising, I do find it disturbing and poignant.
Aisha is a Post-Doctoral Researcher, School of History, Religions and Philosophies, SOAS
“People have refused to sit next to me in carriages on the tube.”
Patrick Vernon, Windrush campaigner
In my 50-plus years growing up black and British, I have experienced all levels of racism and discrimination. From racial taunts on the streets, abuse on football terraces to stop-and-search by the police.
People have refused to sit next to me in carriages on the tube, I’ve been bullied and intimidated in the workplace and during my time as an elected councillor, subjected to trolling and hate abuse on social media.
The treatment of Mrs Gayle is sadly yet another example of everyday racism as well as an extension of the hostile environment policy to the private sector.
Ryanair, by its silence, has supported the racist actions of this passenger. This is the treatment and trauma that many of the victims of the Windrush scandal have experienced – either a lack of humanity or respect.
This highlights the failure of government to promote positive race relations as part of the Public Sector Equality Duty, with its energies instead focused on creating a hostile environment which has a disproportionate impact on the African and Caribbean community.
We need to adopt a United Nations approach to calling out Afriphobia (Afriphobia as prejudice or discrimination against, fear, hatred, or bigotry towards people of African heritage and things African) and treat this on the same status of anti-semitism and Islamophobia.”
Patrick Vernon OBE is a social activist and Windrush campaigner
“We call it silent racism.”
Sinai Fleary, journalist
There is a subtle racism that Black people in Britain experience, but when we speak about them we are often dismissed. We are often told, we are playing the race card.
We call it silent racism because it may not be as blatant like the Ryanair incident, but it still exists. What I’m describing is black people being followed around shops by security guards, or shop keepers putting your change on the counter rather than in your hand.
These instances of racial profiling and racism are sadly a daily occurrence.
I have heard stories of white women grabbing hold of their bags, when a black man gets on the tube to sit in the seat opposite them. What is going through their mind?
We know, but when we talk about it people will find all kinds of excuses not to call it what it is: “Maybe it was how you were dressed?”
Or could it be that the person on the bus or train, believes racist stereotypes and thinks every black person using the tube is going to steal their bag. Could it be that?
Even when there are no words said, these actions speak volumes. The recent incident with Ryanair was both shocking and disgraceful. Why did only one passenger intervened to try and stop it? The way Ryanair has handled, or should I say mishandled, this incident is not good enough.
Their staff did not see the severity of the abuse and were more accommodating to the racist passenger. There should be severe punishments for racist abuse to act as a deterrent for others, to ensure these horrible incidents do not ever occur again.”
Sinai Fleary is a freelance journalist
“This generational trauma of racism must and will be overcome.”
Dawn Butler, Labour MP
The Ryanair incident has highlighted to me that we became a little complacent. We thought we had made progress in regards to race and equality but the incident has proven that racism became covert, and we must never take our eye off the ball. Our political climate, including Trump and Brexit, has sadly emboldened racists and racist views.
The Windrush scandal showed me that unless we explicitly, with empirical evidence, show the contributions of the black community in society, they will always be undervalued. This is why I’m so proud and excited about the Labour Party’s Emancipation Educational Trust.
We need to move forward in a way that legislates a progressive agenda. Because this generational trauma of racism must and will be overcome. No longer should the victim adjust their behaviour, move from their seat or have to take the moral high ground. It is time to stand our ground and highlight racist behaviour so that it will eventually no longer be repeated.
This Black History Month has been rather raw for me. The injustice of Windrush. The Ryanair racist incident. And the dismissal of three police officers who lied about the brutal and violent arrest which led to my constituent Julian Cole being left paralysed and brain-damaged.
This has shown us just how much work we still have to do in order to achieve racial equality. So in this Black History Month we must redouble our efforts to eliminate racism and discrimination, and continue working together towards a more equal society.
Dawn Butler is a Labour politician and MP for Brent Central
Have you experienced everyday racism in the UK? If you would like to tell your story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org