Speaking as part of the Premier League’s No Room For Racism campaign, Manchester City Women’s star Demi Stokes has opened up on experiencing racism as a child, the importance of Black History Month and using her platform for education.
Demi Stokes on growing up in South Shields: I think it’s one of those places where you probably don’t appreciate until you move away. On the estate I lived on there was a lot of Indians, Pakistanis and Bengalis so it was quite diverse. But when I first moved to South Shields there was only me and my family who were mixed race. To be fair, the estate I lived on was quite rough and bad things happened, but I actually have good memories of it. There was a lot for us to do as kids. You could go to the parks, go to the beach and it was free as well. You’d always be out playing football and I’d just try to put a positive spin on it. I think although you may come from a rough area and have very little, you can go on and do whatever it is you want and be whoever you want to be.
Demi Stokes on her role models: My nan was a big role model for me. The encouragement was very subtle, but it was almost like, if that’s what you want to do, then you do that. It wasn’t you know ‘you must do this’ and ‘you must do that’. I like that approach.
Demi Stokes on experiencing racism in her playing career: Yes, I actually experienced it in my first ever game. I played on an all-girls team and it was in an all-boys league. It was on a corner and I remember the lad said, ‘Oh, I’ll mark the Pakki’, and I kind of looked around because I’m thinking, I’m not, but he must be talking to me. I just went up to the ref and I said look, he’s just called me a Pakki, and he got taken off. I remember he was crying and at the end of the game, he come over and he apologised. It’s not nice whether you’re eight, 28, or you’re 40. It doesn’t matter, it’s still not nice.
Demi Stokes on allyship and understanding racism: It’s funny because I’ve spoken to my friends and I just said I know it’s probably uncomfortable for you guys because it is uncomfortable for me, and I’m black. I think if you don’t understand, then you can ask. It’s quite funny because even growing up I had friends saying, ‘how do you get your hair like that, Demi?’ Little things like that. What do you mean like that? This is how my hair is! It doesn’t have to be intense; it can be quite like light-hearted. If you don’t know, read books. If you’re curious, ask your black friends. You can you help small businesses and support the person who needs your help. But mostly, just ask even though you may feel a bit uncomfortable. It doesn’t have to be an interrogation. You might make mistakes, you might say the wrong thing, you might use the wrong words or the wrong race, and that’s fine. I don’t get offended by that.
Demi Stokes on Black History Month: I think you’ve got to use it as a celebration. We are footballers but we’ve also got another job to use our platform and showcase that. I think for younger people it’s still obviously an issue and I know racism is a touchy subject. I’m 28 and it’s only probably now where I am going, actually, I need to speak about it. Just being black isn’t enough. So I think it’s just important to get everyone an understanding on why someone might wear something or why someone speaks the way they speak. I think the more we become comfortable and have conversations and talk about it, the better. When I’m in an interview and people are asking about racism and stuff, I’m thinking bloody hell, I’m sweating here, so what must other people think. I think it’s important to make it OK to speak about and make people feel comfortable and challenge. It’s very sad that we’re still having to have these conversations, but it’s a bit like the virus, let’s all come together and fight it. Let’s fight racism the way we try and fight the virus, by coming together.
Demi Stokes on the importance of understanding diversity: I think it’s important that we keep challenging ourselves and doing our research and keep pushing for change. I think that’s what it is, to keep momentum rolling. We obviously did Blackout Tuesday and a lot of people did that but it’s easy to just post – how can you again keep the ball rolling? It doesn’t have to be all the time, but it can be little things like that can change your mind or make you understand. I think everyone’s got a responsibility to keep pushing that. I don’t really like posting on social media but read your book, do your research or support little companies or businesses. I think everyone has a responsibility to help.
Thanks to Pitch