What's the most racist thing that's ever happened to you?

When a US writer asked noted Americans this question, the answers showed that prejudice, if not always overt, is ever-present. Putting the same one to black Britons produces disturbing results

Back in 2005, Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's best-known celebrities, travelled to Paris. Like many well-to-do tourists, she made for Fauborg Saint-Honoré, a street famed for its exclusive stores. Winfrey stopped at a designer store just after it had closed its doors at 6.30pm. The star is reported to have asked the door staff whether she could pop in to make a purchase. The answer was a resounding no.

End of story... or not. Staff insisted they were busy preparing for an after-hours event in-store. But an unnamed "friend" of Winfrey's was subsequently quoted in a New York newspaper, saying the term racism hadn't been used but they suggested if Céline Dion or Barbra Streisand had made a similar request that there may not have been a problem.

Racism. It's no longer as simple as black and white. There was a time when it was. "No blacks allowed" was pasted on the doors that greeted my parents when they arrived in Britain as part of the Windrush generation. They were spat on in the streets, attacked on the way home and refused service in certain shops. Back then, racism ran through society in a direct and easy-to-read way.

Times have changed; the racism faced by my parents and their generation has gone, in its place is a "fog of racism". The Oprah moment is a classic example of this fog. Was the decision not to open up motivated by racism? Would the store have opened up for Céline? We know it's there, we feel it, smell it, but we just can't just pin it down. The phrase "fog of racism" was coined by the American journalist, Touré, and speaking from New York he explains it: "With this form of racism there is no smoking gun. There is no one calling you a nigger to your face. There's no sign saying you can't enter this building. It's subtle, it's blurred, but more often than not, it's there." It has "become difficult for all sides to pinpoint, discuss and deal with", he says.

A writer for Rolling Stone magazine, Touré tackles the subject in his thought-provoking book, Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? It has caused a furore in America when it was released towards the end of last year. In the book, Touré attempts to unpick modern-day racism and define what it is to be black today. In doing so, he asks 105 celebrated African-American figures from the world of politics, sport, business and entertainment the simple, yet powerful, question: "What is the most racist thing that has ever happened to you?" For the older generation, experiences were shaped by the naked racism of the past. For the younger generation it was often a more nuanced form.

But the question made me think. What is the most racist thing that has ever happened to me? And how would other figures in Britain's black community answer such a potent question? Intrigued, I set about seeking their answers. Many said they found it difficult to pinpoint their worst single incident and that their answer would vary according to their mood. On this, I agree.

There are many contenders vying for the No 1 spot in my racism hall of shame. The overt racism of being surrounded by a gang of Leeds football fans and having them chant, "Nigger, nigger, nigger, you're a long way from London now, boy," springs to mind. (Current footballers, of course, have been tainted by accusations of making racist comments themselves – Suarez and Terry, for example.)

Giving that moment a run for its money would be the incident 20 years ago when I made a pub in Stockton-on-Tees go tumbleweed quiet as I walked through its doors. I know it's petty and I should be bigger than this, but I've had a dislike for Yorkshire and the north-east since.

That's the thing with racism. It leaves its mark. The name of a town, an airport lounge, a nightclub, a shop: to white people these are just names and places. To black people, these are the locations of, and monuments to, ugly incidents that have blighted our lives. Moments that, no matter how hard you try, you simply can't forget.

Lemn Sissay

Award-winning poet, associate artist at the Southbank Centre and the first commissioned poet for the London 2012 Olympic Games

I used to wipe the phlegm off the back of my coat each night when I returned from school. I was nicknamed Chalky White (after the infamous Jim Davidson character) in my teens. I was stopped and searched by the police and pulled over in my car weekly in my 20s. Taxis in Manchester wouldn't stop for me at night. I was called a black bastard in a London hotel, I was asked if I was a taxi driver twice in one night at a members club and I've been beaten up by skinheads – frankly the list is endless. Take your pick.

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones

Owner of The Black Farmer food company

Even though I am now in my early 50s, one single incident of racism is etched deeply on my soul. I was brought up in a very deprived area of inner-city Birmingham. My local secondary modern school was devoid of hope, opportunity and ambition. The teachers treated us with disdain and as intellectual inferiors, a position some masters took to extremes. At the time I didn't fully understand the significance of what happened, it was only in later life that I recognised what a terrible thing this was. One of my masters, having reached the end of his tether, grabbed me by the throat, threw me against the wall and said: "I have shot better men than you. That's all you wogs are good for."

Gary Beadle

Actor (former EastEnder now appearing in Hustle)

Racism of the heart. Me and this girl I really liked were into Grease. I was John Travolta to her Olivia Newton-John. I got on really well with her family and I'd go round to her house and we'd act out the scenes and sing the songs. Our budding romance was cut short when her mum found out that we were more than just friends. Her goodbye line was: "I really like you and you'd be really beautiful if you were white. And I can't go out with you."

Jessica Huie

Founder of the UK's leading multicultural greeting card company, Colorblind Cards and head of JH Public Relations

Thankfully my experience of racism has been limited. I've ploughed on through life as "Jessica", not "mixed-race Jessica", because that's how my father taught me to view myself. All the more shocking then, when one day as I attempted to park my car (albeit badly), a taxi driver yelled at me: "Black bitch, get off the road!"

Stephen K Amos


About eight years ago in Portsmouth I was doing a gig that was going really well. The whole club was laughing, apart from this one guy I saw out of the corner of my eye. I made it my mission to make him laugh and directed my set in his direction. But no matter how I tried he wouldn't laugh. So I said: "Here mate, what have I got to do to make you laugh?" He sat straight-faced and his friend replied on his behalf: "He doesn't talk to niggers."

Dr Lynette Goddard

Senior lecturer in Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London. Writing a book about mainstream black British playwrights 2000-10

I used to work as a stage manager with a touring theatre company called Black Mime Theatre Women's Troop. In 1992 we were touring a show about women and alcoholism to a youth centre in Carlisle. On this night I was understudying for one of the actresses. About halfway through the show, a young lad ran toward the stage spraying a fire extinguisher and shouting: "Get off, you black bastards." This was the first time I had experienced such explicit racism and I remember it to this day, especially when I go back to Carlisle.

Danny John-Jules

Actor, Cat in Red Dwarf

One day I woke up and realised I was black, that I was always going to be black and that racism will always be there.

Earl Barrett

Former Aston Villa, Manchester City and England Footballer, Kick It Out ambassador

I grew up in Rochdale and I must have been 11 or 12. One day, after a kick around with my mates, I was walking home, when 100 yards from my front door, a complete stranger, proper grown-up like, just came up to me and said "You black bastard" and then just casually continued walking on. Because I was so young, the impact of that moment has stayed with me for life.

Norman Jay MBE

Good Times DJ

Two years ago, I was coming back from a gig in the Alps with a fellow DJ, named Tayo (who is black) and my partner Jane (who is white). At the changeover in Frankfurt we headed to passport control. One glance at Jane and she was waved through. Tayo and I were told to stand to one side while our passports were checked over and over again. We were then informed that our passports were false. More talking, giggling and shaking of heads from the two inspectors as the clock ticked and we silently fumed. Then minutes before our flight was due to leave, they simply said "Your passports are fine" and waved us through. All three of us just looked at each other in astonishment. It was that unspoken, subtle racism. Nothing needed to be said. We all got what had just happened.

Touré's 'Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?' (Free Press/Simon & Schuster, 2011) is out now

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

    £50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

    Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Associate CXL Consultant

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

    Day In a Page

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
    Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

    Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

    Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
    10 best girls' summer dresses

    Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

    Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
    Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

    Westminster’s dark secret

    Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
    Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

    Naked censorship?

    The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

    As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
    Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

    Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil