Katarina Johnson-Thompson tells of her first experience of racial abuse and how she’s learned to cope
British athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson says she first experienced racial abuse at the age of just nine.
The heptathlete, now 27, also told how trolls still tell her to ‘stick to sport’ when she speaks about social issues, to which she defiantly responds: “I’ve been a black woman longer than I’ve been an athlete.
“The first time I got called the N-word, I was nine-years-old – singled out by a boy in my class, who already knew that this was a way to hurt me without even understanding why,” she wrote for British Vogue.
“Growing up in Liverpool, I knew I wasn’t white, yet I remember being confused filling out race forms. I would literally ask my mum: ‘What am I? Which box do I tick?’ I was definitely more Mel C than Mel B, yet when me and some classmates sang 'Wannabe’ in my Year 6 leavers assembly, the obvious casting for me was Scary Spice, not Sporty.”
She added when attending football matches in her teenage years she’d expect black players to get racial abuse.
"One of the first times I was made fully aware that the colour of my skin could be used against me was at a football match. I remember inwardly rooting for all the Black players, no matter what side they played for, because I didn’t want them to mess up, knowing if they did, they would receive racial abuse.
“When it did happen, I wondered whether I, a 14-year-old girl in the stands, should be the one to get up and say ‘That’s not OK.’ But I just slumped into my chair, hoping no one noticed I was there.”
And the star still experiences prejudice now, more so on social media.
"I’m not a confrontational person, and so I understand the courage that it takes to speak out against injustice, irrespective of how compelled you feel to do so.
"In the weeks immediately following the death of George Floyd, I posted a list of books on race and identity in the UK for my followers to read, only to be told to ‘stick to talking about sports’. Are my lived experiences not something that I can comment on?
“I’ve been a Black woman longer than I’ve been an athlete.”