Former EastEnders star Michelle Gayle has revealed she was told to speak about ‘less of the black stuff’ when she wrote a song about getting stopped three times in one week by police.
The actor and singer, 49, spoke about racism she had encountered through her life during an appearance on Loose Women on Tuesday, admitting TV shows threatened to cancel her appearances when she spoke out about it in the past.
She told the panel: ‘I used to be stopped by the police quite regularly in my car to do something called a “producer”, which is where you have to go to a police station physically, show them your documents to prove you had insurance and a driver’s license, so it’s a bit of a chore.
‘You had to do that and prove it within a week of getting stopped and then you’d go on your merry way once you were proved to be driving legally.
‘So I was quite used to that, I didn’t even particularly complain about it because it was so normal, and in one particular week I got stopped three times and asked to do a producer at three different police stations within that week.’
When Michelle told the team she was working with that she had had three producers in one week, the white people among the team didn’t even know what a producer was.
‘That shocked me because it made me realise I’m living in two different realities, amongst my peers – you think they’re your peers but actually their experiences are completely different’, she explained.
Her experiences inspired her to write a song, but Michelle’s team were horrified to hear she had spoken out about the racism she encountered.
She explained: ‘I mentioned this song in an article and my team just went crazy. They just said “Never do that, some shows want to drop you now, you’ve got to change the name of your album”. Less of the black stuff, basically.
‘The impression was that if you speak about your personal experience as a black person, somehow people don’t want to hear that and you’re going to put people off buying your record.’
She went on to say that artists are asked to draw on their own life experiences and she was told they ‘didn’t count’ or could harm her career if she spoke out.
Michelle played the role of Hattie in EastEnders from 1990 until 1993 and has previously also spoken about how a white actor called the black actors ‘tokens’ on set.
She told Grazia magazine in a column: ‘I heard an actor say black actors were “tokens” without realising I was there. I didn’t complain. All I did was think, “If that’s how we’re thought of, I can’t wait to get out”.
‘I’ve had to deal with incidents like it all my life. On Grange Hill, I was an extra before I was a main part – I was 10 years old when one of the chaperones said, “They’ve been working me like a n****r”.’
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