Michaela Coel: I’m lucky there are places I’m unknown and still see racism

I May Destroy You creator says experiencing discrimination reminds her to keep fighting it

Michaela Coel has said she is lucky there are still places where she is unknown and experiences racism, as it reminds her to keep speaking out against discrimination.

The award-winning star and creator of the acclaimed TV drama I May Destroy You said she was regularly reminded she was a black woman by how other people treated her.

London-born Coel, who stars on the October cover of Elle UK magazine, revealed that when she travelled abroad she regularly encountered racism.

Coel, 33, whose debut book, Misfits: A Personal Manifesto, is out next week, told Elle: “I am a black woman and that will always be true. And, for me, there is nothing like going to a different country where nobody knows me and experiencing the way security guards follow me around the pharmacy or grocery shop.

“The dirty looks I receive, the fact that cars don’t want to stop on a zebra crossing. All these things reinstall that I am a black woman,” she said. “I’m really lucky that there are places where I’m not known and so it allows me to still experience it.”

Michaela Coel on the cover of October’s issue of Elle UK magazine.
Michaela Coel on the cover of October’s issue of Elle UK magazine. Photograph: Elle/PA

“Shopping while black” continues to be an issue for the fashion and retail industry. In January, a study from French beauty company Sephora found that shoppers from minority groups would rather shop online than go into a physical shop, in order to avoid racial profiling.

A separate report in May found that 90% of black shoppers in the US had experienced racial profiling of some sort, including being closely monitored by security staff and being treated differently to shoppers of other races.

Last spring, fashion, retail and beauty brands faced a backlash for their alleged hypocrisy for making public statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement while casual racism remained common on the shop floor.

It was alleged that staff at the shopping chain Anthropologie used a codename, “Nick”, to identify black customers. The company addressed these claims, saying it was “deeply saddened and disturbed by reports of racial profiling in our stores” and apologised “profusely and unequivocally, to any customer who was made to feel unwelcome”.

Coel is not the only high-profile black celebrity to have spoken about her experiences of racial profiling. In June 2019, when the singer SZA claimed to have been racially profiled at a store in California, the chain apologised and closed for diversity training.

In 2013, Oprah Winfrey said an assistant in a shop in Zurich, Switzerland, had refused to show her a bag, claiming it was too expensive for her.

Winfrey, one of the wealthiest women in the world, recalled that the shop assistant told her: “No, no, no, you don’t want to see that one, you want to see this one, because that one will cost too much, you will not be able to afford that one.” The bag in question was priced at 35,000 Swiss francs (about £28,000). The shop later apologised.

Contributor

Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

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