‘Where are you really from?’ – Muswell Hill councillor racially abused on Northern line opens up about discrimination she faces daily
PUBLISHED: 11:45 22 June 2019 | UPDATED: 11:56 22 June 2019
A councillor was racially abused by two men on a Northern line Tube train last night – and says she feels she has to “keep her head down” to avoid being the victim of a hate crime.
Cllr Julia Ogiehor (Lib Dem), who represents Muswell Hill on Haringey Council, was on her way home after dinner with friends when two men aggressively confronted her on the Tube.
They repeatedly asked where she was from, and when they were dissatisfied with her answer of "London," continued to challenge her, seemingly because she was black.
The 32-year-old told the Ham&High: "You are expecting it. You have to sit on the Tube and you have to look down a little bit more so you don't become a victim. It can get out of hand very quickly. I'm used to being asked that question twice a day. It's just the norm.
"People are not comfortable in speaking up. This is ridiculous. I have every right to be sat here, as you do," she said.
Julia was listening to the Backstreet Boys on her phone as she travelled back to watch Love Island on TV. She became aware of two men who got on the northbound Tube at Camden Town. She then realised they were speaking to her.
"I thought they were asking for directions. So I took my headphones off, and they asked me where I am from.
"I replied 'London', and they said: 'No, you are not. Where are you actually from?'"
She then put her headphones back in, but turned her music off to listen as they audibly discussed which part of Africa she was from. When she challenged them, she told the Ham&High that they couldn't understand why she wouldn't answer.
Hearing the commotion, a fellow passenger walked down the carriage and sat next to her, asking her to speak to him to distract them.
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When the abuse continued, he said to the men: "Why don't you ask me where I am from?" to which they replied: "We know where you are from - you're English."
Even when it was pointed out that Julia, who was born and grew up in east and south London, was English, they didn't accept this. They also said she looked uneducated, only to be told that the councillor, who was elected in last year's local elections, had a Master's degree in commercial law.
Julia eventually got off the Tube at East Finchley, and was accompanied by two passengers who had stepped in to support her. She rang the police, and was also told that somebody else, who had departed at Highgate, had also reported the incident. The Metropolitan Police has confirmed to this newspaper that it has a record of the incident, and the British Transport Police will be investigating.
However, for Julia, it was all too familiar. She said that she has previously been called a "monkey" in a nightclub, and is used to strangers treating her like an "animal in a petting zoo" when they come up to touch and stroke her hair, because they want to know what it feels like.
She said: "I've been attacked on the Tube before, and when I've reported it to the police, I feel like I've been under suspicion because I am a black woman so I must be being aggressive.
"I don't usually get upset about it, I get angry about sometimes but you just end up getting on with it. You brush it off. This is the reality of the world that we live in, and my life. It's almost survival. I'm really happy that the two guys came to help me, but I was shocked. People don't always help."
She also said she isn't surprised that it happened in London, despite the capital's reputation as a diverse and welcoming city.
"London is a diverse city and I love it for that. But it feels like being invited to the party but never being asked to dance. Everyone mixes which is great but it's still common where people don't have any friends outside their race. That's the case on both sides. It means people lack that understanding. Haringey is a perfect example of that, but it's perhaps better than other areas.
"People have to look outside their little bubbles. You have to make a concerted effort to meet people. That's so important. I look at younger kids and I'm hopeful - they are integrating a lot better than my generation or age group."
There has been a huge reaction on social media after Julia tweeted a photograph of the two men last night. She said she wants them to face the full effects of the law, but doesn't know if it will be enough.
"They need to know it's not acceptable. I know that racism has become normal - is it any wonder? Whether their work place takes action is up to them, but do we need something where they have to go to some form of training sessions on how not to be racist?"
Anyone with any information can text the British Transport Police on 61016 or call 0800 40 50 40.