How I Was Left Reeling By Sickening Racism

How I Was Left Reeling By Sickening Racism
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Spending time with Phyll Opoku-Gyimah left me shocked and appalled but more committed than ever to diversity.

I am a fair-skinned woman with a London accent who is understandably assumed to be English through and through. Nothing could be further from the truth. My mother was an illegal immigrant of Armenian descent, and I was brought up on a council estate in Stockwell, south London, often hiding from immigration officials who we feared would drag our mother away to deport her. So, apart from the way I look and sound, my cultural background does not emanate from these islands. And although I acknowledge their privileged upbringing, my children are also mixed race and have also experienced direct racism.

I'm telling you this to give you some background as to how - and why - I view the community we at DIVA serve. LGBT+ media and, in fact, LGBT+ business in general, has often been accused of being disproportionately "white", so when I became DIVA's publisher I wanted to engage more columnists from more diverse backgrounds. I'm so passionate about diversity and strive to do all I can to be a better ally.

One of these columnists is Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, the founder of UK Black Pride, which DIVA is proud to sponsor. Phyll is also a trade unionist and a committed social justice campaigner, and she and I were invited to speak at this weekend's European Lesbian Conference in Vienna.

After visiting the conference, Phyll and I went out for a meal together. What happened next left me reeling. Early on in our meal, Phyll mentioned that the couple seated on the next table seemed "very interested in us". I brushed this off until the woman, sitting opposite her male companion and so next to Phyll, got up and swapped seats with her companion. This could only have been because she did not want to sit next to a person of colour, and the rest of the meal became increasingly uncomfortable while we were being stared at quite aggressively.

As you might expect, I was livid, and yet Phyll dealt with the situation with her customary grace and courtesy. After all, everyday racism is the lived experience for many people of colour. Remaining composed is part of Phyll making a choice about how to survive this kind of ordeal. Of course, I remain extremely angry, not just at the event itself, but also because people think it's ok to behave in such a blatantly racist manner in 2017.

This is not the first time I have experienced racism. My twin daughters are mixed race Asian, and one has slightly darker skin than the other. When my girls were seven, one of their friend's announced to the darker of the two that she preferred the twin with lighter skin... because her skin is lighter. The message that was giving to my other daughter was that she was too dark. Three years later, she has never quite got over this remark and, knowing the (lesbian) parents myself - whom I know not to be racist - I must assume that this attitude is a result of societal, institutional racism to which we are all exposed from birth.

As the publisher of an established magazine with a large, engaged readership, it is therefore my duty to speak out against these sorts of injustices which are happening all over the country, every single day. I cannot simply put DIVA in a convenient box marked LGBT without acknowledging the intersectionalities of our community and the difficulties endured by people of colour, people with disabilities and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Yes, I am proud that Phyll is a regular DIVA columnist and proud to work with her on UK Black Pride. I'm proud that Munroe Bergdorf, famously sacked by L'Oréal for speaking out against racism, is writing for us. And I'm proud that DIVA will not be following the example of a well-known men's magazine whose deputy editor, when called out for the fact the covers were almost always white, replied in a way which would result in serious disciplinary action at DIVA, pretty much saying "if you don't like it, don't buy it".

Well... I'm saying the same thing. If you don't like our commitment to inclusiveness, if you don't like the fact that we embrace - and celebrate - the diversity of all our communities, and if you only ever want to see white, able-bodied people on our covers and in the magazine, then don't buy DIVA.

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