Heading Back to England

Reflections on Racism

Hello friends,

By the time this piece is published, I’ll be in England. At the time of writing, that trip is still in my future. And I’ve been reflecting on my experience - as an adult in the 90s and 00s - of the country of my birth.

I’ll be the first to admit that my feelings about the country are complicated. There are many things I love about it while also recognising its many imperfections. To be fair, that’s true of almost everywhere I’ve lived and many places I’ve visited.

England is the place where I made lifelong friends, met my husband and birthed my daughter. And it’s also the place where I experienced workplace discrimination, housing discrimination and other forms of racism. As I say, it’s complicated.

I’m sure some people I met there would be shocked to read this newsletter, because back then, I wasn’t as vocal about my experiences of racism as I am now. Even when I mentioned something, it was clear it was so far from the experiences of many in my circle that I might as well have been talking about a visit to outer space.

When you’re the only, or one of a few, it can be difficult to speak up. And if people gaslight you when you DO mention something, you soon learn to stop talking about it. Sometimes you even doubt yourself. Those are a couple of the reasons I was quieter then. Plus I hadn’t figured out then that this is what I was supposed to be doing, so there’s that, too.

How Racism Found Me in England

And so to my experiences then.

I never go into an interaction looking for racism, but sometimes it finds me, and it often did when I lived in England. There were times when it was glaringly obvious, like the consistent assumptions of foreignness and otherness despite being born there and living there for well over a decade. Like promotion opportunities that were different or lesser than those of my white colleagues. Like often being followed around shops by security, and like always being that last person someone would sit beside on a bus or train. (To be honest, that last one actually worked for me.)

But there were also super subtle ones, where it could take me a while to realise what had happened. Like the cashier not putting change in my hand - when cash was still a thing - but doing it happily for the white customers who preceded me and followed me in the queue. And like the absence of helpful staff members for me, when others who didn’t look like me were getting help. Sure, some things could happen to anyone, but it was the comparison that made it clear.

And there were in-between experiences like conversations where it was clear the white folx I was talking to had really, really weird ideas about Black people - yes, I have had the conversation several times about how I got to England from the Caribbean, and what kinds of houses people lived in here.

So those are some of the experiences I’ve been thinking about, even as I prepare to enjoy at trip to London, gorge myself on British pastry, and drink gallons of tea.

The one thing I know is that I’m pretty quick to spot racism these days, and while there may be times during my trip when I give side-eye to something and take another sip of my drink (I can’t fight all the battles all the time in all the spaces), that won’t be the end of it. Even if I ignore something in the moment, I’ll likely think about it, and write about it in this newsletter. Watch this space.

Thanks for reading,


Enjoyed this article? Feel free to click the 🔄 or ❤️ button to help others discover it. Thank you!

© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2023. All Rights Reserved.

Cover photo courtesy of Canva.

I am an anti-racism educator and activist, Co-Founder of Mission Equality, the author of “I’m Tired of Racism”, and co-host of The Introvert Sisters podcast.

Are you tired of unhelpful DEI books? Get the Element of Inclusion Book Insights: Curated ideas. Practical application. High quality sources. Get insights in less time and build an anti-racist society. Start today! Note: I’ll get a small referral fee if you sign up.

Join the conversation

or to participate.