“He Thought I Was A Sex Worker” — Black Women Are Racially Profiled Too

Photographed by Flora Maclean
Being racially profiled as a Black person is not uncommon. Only last week Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief of British Vogue, said he was racially profiled after being told to access his London office from the loading bay by a security guard at Condé Nast who mistook him for a courier. "Today I was racially profiled by a security guard whilst entering my work place," he wrote on social media. "As I entered, I was instructed to use the loading bay."
"Just because our timelines and weekends are returning to normal, we cannot let the world return to how it was. Change needs to happen. And it needs to happen now."
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When we reflect on racial profiling, we usually think of young Black men being stopped and searched by police. But Black women are also victims of this form of discrimination. This month, 26-year-old British sprinter Bianca Williams accused the Metropolitan Police of racial profiling after officers forcibly removed her and her partner, Portuguese 400m record-holder Ricardo dos Santos, from their car and handcuffed them in front of their 3-month-old son. The couple said they were targeted in west London because they are Black and were driving a Mercedes.

Racial profiling is when someone suspects or targets a person based on assumed characteristics or behaviour of an ethnic group.

One evening last year, Neomi Bennett, an NHS nurse, was pulled over by police during a "hard stop" while in her car in Wandsworth, London. She was arrested, held in a cell for 18 hours and later convicted of obstructing a police officer. Nothing incriminating was found in her car. Last month, she claimed she was wrongly arrested because she is Black.
Racial profiling is when someone suspects or targets a person based on the assumed characteristics or behaviour of an ethnic group, but it's not only the police who use it to target individuals.
According to a 2019 poll of 1,000 people from ethnic minority backgrounds, 38% said they had been wrongly suspected of shoplifting in the last five years, with women in particular more likely to be wrongly suspected. Fifty-three percent said they had been treated differently because of their hair, clothes or appearance.
Amelia* says she was racially profiled in a London supermarket in 2018. The 29-year-old visited the shop at 2am on her way home from work but couldn't decide what to get. "I was so tired so I went to walk back out and the security guard insisted on searching my bag," she tells Refinery29. "He said it was policy to search bags of anyone who walked out of that specific exit. I've literally never seen them do it to anyone else after that."
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The security guard insisted on searching my bag. He said it was policy to search bags of anyone who walked out of that exit. I've literally never seen them do it to anyone else after that.

amelia*
Earlier this year, Amelia says she was also chased by a shop assistant who accused her of not paying for her items. "It turned out that the white man next to me couldn't work out the scanner and had moved one counter down. He called it out and was like, 'Sorry it wasn't her, it was me, I moved over one.' It literally had nothing to do with me and the bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape I'd just purchased with my own coins."
Billie Dee Gianfrancesco, 30, from Walthamstow, said she was racially profiled at one of the darkest times in her life when she sought help from NHS mental health services. "I was in the throes of a cocaine and alcohol addiction and the psychiatrist asked how much money I spent on drugs," she tells Refinery29. "Then he tells me he's put me down to do a full STI test. When I asked why this was necessary, he said it was because I was a sex worker."

I was in the throes of a cocaine and alcohol addiction and the psychiatrist asked me how much money I spent on drugs. Next thing, he puts me down to do a full STI test. When I asked him why, he said it was because I was a sex worker.

Billie dee gianfrancesco
Billie says she remembers burning with shame and was outraged by the psychiatrist's assumption that the only way she could be making that amount of money was by prostituting herself. "I was head of PR at a top London law firm on an £80k salary. At first I thought he was reading someone else's notes by mistake."
She continues: "I felt physically sick. I was already in a vulnerable state, I felt pathetic and humiliated to have let my situation get so bad. But walking home I just cried and cried, I wondered if that was how everyone saw me. I felt so ashamed."
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Celebrity stylist Nana Acheampong says she has been racially profiled more times than she can count. On one occasion in January, the 34-year-old east Londoner says she was doing a store appointment to pull some clothes for a shoot, only to notice an undercover security guard following her for 45 minutes. "He said it wasn't what I thought because he had a Black girlfriend," she tells Refinery29. "I told him to f**k off and that I was doing my job and to never follow me ever again. I was in that shop every other day, I was so offended."
The worst incident, she says, took place at a private members' club in Soho last year. "I was with a group of my friends sat at a table when a group of white girls next to us kept nudging my friend's chair. We asked them to stop and they got abusive, calling my friend the c-word," she tells Refinery29. "The group of girls then reported us to the manager, who asked us to leave with little to no explanation or opportunity to explain what had happened. We refused to leave and continued with our night."

I was absolutely disgusted that I was being racially profiled in a place I pay membership for.

Nana acheampong
She continues: "Later on when we were leaving, I bumped into one of the girls again, who called me the c-word in the lobby. I responded by asking her what she said and the manager came over and asked me to leave immediately, even though I had done absolutely nothing."
Nana said she ended up writing a letter to the manager. "I was absolutely disgusted that I was being racially profiled and in a place I pay membership for. I was shaking at the time and couldn't believe it. It completely ruined my night and was one of the worst experiences I've had."
*Name has been changed
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

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