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Leona Lewis’ story about her confrontation with a white store owner is a must-read

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Kayleigh Dray
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Leona Lewis, hair detail, attends the premiere of Focus Features' "Emma." at DGA Theater on February 18, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage)

If you don’t think racism is a problem in the UK, you need to listen to what Leona Lewis has to say. 

It’s all too easy to assume, from a position of white privilege, that systemic racism is very much an American problem.  That the Black Lives Matter movement is only relevant to the US. 

That things aren’t anywhere near as bad here in the UK.

However, as Leona Lewis has explained in a new Instagram video, that couldn’t be further from the case.

“A few years ago, my dad and I were on a high street in London,” recalls The X Factor winner. “At the time, my management company was in Fulham, so we were walking around the area after a meeting.”

Lewis goes on to reveal that she spotted a “cute store” during the walk and decided to go inside, as she was looking to buy a few bits and pieces for her new home.

“I didn’t realise at the time that all of the other customers were white,” she explains. “Me and my dad were the only black people.”

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As we all do when shopping, Lewis and her father began browsing the many items available. However, the store owner soon began “hovering around” them.

“Eventually, she came up to my dad and I and said, ‘You need to put that stuff down, you’re not allowed to touch it’,” she recalls.

“Every other person was picking stuff up, looking at it. [So] I immediately knew what was happening and I asked her, ‘Why? Everyone else is picking stuff up. Why do we have to put stuff down? We’re just looking at it, I’m probably going to buy it.’”

It was at this point, Lewis says, that the white store owner became incredibly confrontational with them – so much so that the other customers around her became uncomfortable and left.

“It sparked a rage in me,” says Lewis, taking a steadying breath as she recalls what it was like to be singled out and targeted by this woman. “I started saying, ‘No,I’m not going to put it down, I’m going to buy it. Why are you targeting us?’

“[By now it was just] me, this woman, and my dad in the store. And… she became really defensive, really agitated, and ran behind the counter. She said she was going to call the police on us if we didn’t leave the store now.”

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Lewis says she was incredibly angry, but her dad was doing his utmost best to calm her down and get her out of the store.

“I couldn’t calm down because I was so angry,” she recalls. “I knew what this woman was doing to us. But my dad has been in positions like this before and he knew that I needed to make myself smaller. And that just enraged me even more.

“[Eventually, he] managed to get me to leave the store. And I sat in the car that was parked around the corner, and I just sobbed, absolutely sobbed. And my dad came out, grabbed something from the car, and went back into the shop.”

Five minutes later, Lewis says, there was a knock at the window. She looked around to see the store owner at the side of the car, so she rolled down the glass to hear what she had to say.

“She said, ‘I’m so so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know who you were,’” says Lewis. “And my heart kind of sank.

“[So] I confronted her and said, ‘You’re racist. You’re a racist. You targeted me and my dad, you wanted to throw us out of the store because we’re black. You’re racist.’”

Lewis says the woman was “very in denial” and insisted that she had just been scared, that she had (wrongly) believed that Lewis and her father were going to take something.

“This is the conditioning we have,” stresses the musician. “This is racism. So when people in the UK are saying that racism isn’t a problem here, it is a problem. It’s a big problem.”

Warming to her theme, Lewis continues: “The white people in that store left in disgust because they knew it was wrong, but they didn’t say anything. And because they didn’t say anything, the situation escalated.

“For the people that are not speaking out now, you’re the people who just left.”

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Powerfully, Lewis finishes her video by saying: “You need to say something, you need to acknowledge that [racism is] happening… because, if you don’t, you’re diminishing our pain, and diminishing our humanity…

“I’m in pain, and I’m tired, and I’m sick of it.”

How to be a better ally in the fight against racism

To paraphrase what we’ve said before, it’s worth remembering that non-black people need to educate themselves, listen more, and learn how to be a better ally in the fight against racism.

Here are just a few of the ways we can all do this:

How to support Justice for George Floyd:

Further charities and organisations to engage with:

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

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