EXCLUSIVE: Heather Small reveals she was KICKED by a male teacher when she was just 9 as she recalls how she first became aware of racism
- Heather’s new charity single United Together will be released on March 12th in aid of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, for which the singer is an ambassador
- The foundation supports and empowers young people from working class communities, tackling racism and inequality
She’s a much-loved singer with an iconic voice and smash hit records.
And speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Heather Small revealed that she was KICKED up the backside by a male teacher in primary school when she was just nine years old, and recalled first becoming aware of racism when she overheard disparaging comments being made by her headteacher.
The M People frontwoman, 56, also discussed her experience as a black woman in the music industry, as she gears up to release her new charity single United Together in aid of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, for which she is an ambassador.
EXCLUSIVE: Heather Small, 56, has revealed that she was KICKED by a male teacher in primary school when she was just nine years old and recalled when she first becoming aware of racism
Asked about her childhood, Heather explained that the racism she endured was extremely overt, and revealed that the worst incidents were perpetrated by her teachers – with no repercussions.
She said: ‘Overt, overt, overt. Some of the worst places would be at school. From other children and teachers. It was very difficult. You’re in a place to learn and the teachers don’t like you because of your skin colour. Even if you’re the top of the class.
‘When I was at primary school, I looked different from my counterparts. I’ve got a very African Caribbean shape. I had my PE kit on and it looked different on me to the other girls. A tall male teacher once kicked me up the backside. I was 9 years old.
‘There were no repercussions for the teacher. I had to have my parents come up to the school. Now, now he’d be fired. It didn’t help that the headteacher was racist, so nothing was going to happen.’
Using her voice: The M People frontwoman also discussed her experience as a black woman in the music industry, as she gears up to release her new charity single United Together
Looking back: Heather explained that the racism she endured as a child was extremely overt, and that the worst incidents were perpetrated by her teachers – with no repercussions
Heather explained that she first came to understand what racism was when she overheard the headteacher making disparaging remarks concerning skin color.
She continued: ‘It was all colours, all creeds at my school. My best friend at school was Ramona, and I had a white friend Nadia. We went for auditions for the nativity in front of the class. Ramona was amazing at singing, but Nadia got the part of Mary.
‘All the black children, we were like: “we know why” but I actually didn’t know why, until I walked past the headteacher’s office and I heard him saying “anyway who’s ever heard of a black Mary?”
‘That’s when it hit me; that we were being judged on the colour of our skin. They didn’t think we fit the bill. When you’re like nine or 10 years old, this is a real shock.
‘Someone in the authority has the ability to change the course of your direction in life because they don’t like the way you look. It’s heartbreaking.
‘That’s when it hit me!’ Heather explained that she first came to understand what racism was when she overheard the headteacher making disparaging remarks concerning skin color
‘I had the same headteacher one time saying “we might as well line up all the black children for all the prizes” – even something we were good at was denigrated.
‘That was where it was an even playing field, because when you go past that line first, no one can deny you’ve won.’
But, luckily for Heather, the fighter inside of her used the racism she encountered to spur her on – not only to having a successful career but also to be a voice against inequality.
She said: ‘It’s about trying to take away your power and dignity. This teacher was there to take away their dignity.
‘I was so determined. I thought “you don’t know me! Don’t limit me”. I was quite a fighter and feisty, but if you’re not, for those who are shy, then injustice grinds them down. I think to myself: “I am prepared and able to fight the fight”.’
Determined: But, luckily for Heather, the fighter inside of her used the racism she encountered to spur her on – not only to having a successful career but also to be a voice against inequality
Unfortunately, although Heather is a double BRIT Award winning artist and has sold over a staggering 10million records, navigating her way through the music industry as a black woman was tough.
The One Night In Heaven singer was stereotyped, falsely pitted against fellow black female singers, and was treated differently to her male or white peers.
Heather explained: ‘I used to be very shy, and so I think through that people attributed certain stereotypical tropes, like I’m a diva, I’m no fun, I’m aggressive.
‘And certain things circulate about you and you don’t recognise yourself in those descriptions at all. I was shy and afraid. I didn’t feel totally empowered and sometimes I’d be the only person who looked like me in a room.
‘I was supposed to feel accepted but it certain. Things would happen but I wouldn’t be treated the same as my male or white counterparts.
Real talk: She admitted that navigating her way through the music industry as a black woman was tough: she was stereotyped and pitted against fellow black female singers
United: ‘And they tried to pit contemporaries against each other, but it wasn’t the case. They will try and pit black female artists against each other… [But] we empower each other’ she said (Pictured with Janet Jackson in 1997)
‘I found that if people already had one black female on the bill, that was it – there was only gonna be one black female on the bill.
‘And they tried to pit contemporaries against each other, but it wasn’t the case. They will try and pit black female artists against each other.
‘Misha Paris is a sweetheart, she’s lovely, so welcoming. Beverley Knight – I was there on her first night in theatre with flowers and chocolate. We empower each other.
‘It happens more in America. Whitney Houston reached out to all those black young female performers. Gave them support and insight in person. I met her once and she was lovely.
‘It’s hard to be a black female artist anywhere you are in the world. It pushes you onto excellence.’
Powerful: Using her platform for good, on March 12th, Heather’s new single ‘United Together’ will be released in aid of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation, for which she is an ambassador
And, using her platform for good, on March 12th, Heather’s new charity single ‘United Together’ will be released in aid of the Rio Ferdinand Foundation for which she is an ambassador.
Speaking about why she got involved with the foundation, the Proud songstress explained: ‘I come from a working class immigrant background and I’m black. Those things aren’t a disadvantage, but I live in a society which doesn’t admire those things.
‘I want a society who looks at a child, and – no matter what – they respect that child: regardless of creed, colour, sex, religion, sexual persuasion.
‘It’s not always within a family setting that you find that acceptance and love. I want young people to know there is love and respect for them and that their goals are achievable.
‘People are discriminated against vastly in our society. Your potential is not always seen, recognised or encouraged. Giving a voice, respect and equality is important.’
‘I was sidelined I was marginalised. When your parents have an accent, and you have a different hue in skin colour, somehow you’re taken down a notch. You don’t get the same level of respect and understanding. I had to prove myself with everything.’
People are listening now: Asked if she thinks the fight for racial equality has progressed, Heather admitted that she sees her son James, 23, endure the injustices she went through
Asked if she thinks the fight for racial equality has progressed, Heather admitted that she sees her son James, 23, endure the injustices she went through.
She said: ‘People are listening now. I am second generation, my mum came here when she was 18. I see my son facing the same trials and tribulations, and so I have to keep speaking out.
‘I am a lioness and the next generation – whether you look like me or not – you’re my cubs. Doesn’t matter that that cub looks like me or not. And I don’t love them more or less.
‘It’s not just an education. If we’re not all well informed and understand that diverse doesn’t mean inferior, that different doesn’t mean inferior, and shouldn’t make you disadvantaged.
‘I’m not hysterical. I don’t have a chip on a shoulder, and here I am facing the same old issues and this is why I’m here putting my head above the parapet.’
‘Everybody has a role to play!’ Speaking about white people joining the Black Lives Matter movement, and being anti-racist, Heather praised those who’ve taken the knee and marched in support
Speaking about white people joining the Black Lives Matter movement, and being vocally anti-racist, Heather praised those who have taken the knee and marched in support.
She said: ‘I think it’s all our place to say something about injustice whether LGBT, Black Lives Matter, our rights being eroded… everybody has a role to play.
‘Taking the knee and marching is such a support on such an emotive grand level.’
And for those hesitant to join the fight for fear they’ll unwittingly do or say something wrong, she urged: ‘Look to your peers who have the knowledge and ask them what’s the best way. Somebody who knows what they’re talking about will tell you.
‘Speak for me, I speak for you. You have to find the way. Find the tools and do not be fearful. Bullies rely on people not feeling able to speak out.
‘Not speaking out emboldens the bully, the racist and the unjust treatment of others. We’ve got to be bold and courageous. We have to speak when necessary. For everybody.’
And for those hesitant to join the fight for fear they’ll unwittingly do or say something wrong, she urged: ‘Find the tools and do not be fearful… We’ve got to be bold and courageous’
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