Being a black police woman in 1983
As part of Black History Month, P2P Strategic Advisor, Assessor and Mentor Jenny Donaldson has shared some of her personal experiences of joining the police as a black women in the 80s and how she was determined to make a difference despite the racism and sexism she endured at the time.
I joined the Metropolitan police in 1983 at a time when female officers and people of colour were a rarity. There were times when I would be the only female officer on a night shift in the whole district, and on occasions, I would be ferried around to search female detainees or look after a child. I was 19 when I joined, so looking after children was so far out of my comfort zone.
I was a little naïve being fresh out of training school, all of my uniform was brand new. I recall placing my leather gloves in my hat whilst I wrote a report.
It must have only been half an hour but when I returned to collect my stuff, my gloves were gone. I found it hard to believe that my fellow officers would steal them.
I had been on the wrong end of discriminatory behaviour on numerous occasions, half of the time, I couldn’t tell if it was because of my colour, my gender or both.
One of my first racist encounters was at the Continuation Training Centre, where all the probationary officers attend to continue their training. My probationer colleagues were sitting in the classroom, and our Sergeant was giving us a scenario “you are walking down the street, and a ‘coon mobile’ drives past you” he continued his sentence but I stopped listening.
A wave of embarrassment overcame me, and I didn’t know where to put my face. I could feel my colleagues staring as if they were waiting for my reaction. The Sergeant then looked me straight in the face then defiantly said, “if you can’t take it here, luv, how are you going to take it on the streets’ ‘.
Other times officers would make a racist comment, followed up by “present company accepted”.
It was my first Christmas at my first police station, Vine Street in the West End. At that time, I was residing in the Police Section House Trenchard in the heart of Soho.
The section house had organised a Christmas party, and officers from the surrounding districts were invited.
My team was off that day, so most of us were at the party. I was dancing alongside one of my colleagues, and when the record finished, I walked off the dance area to sit down.
As I sat down, I realised that my colleague was still on the dance floor. Suddenly the dance area seemed to be busier than normal, and the atmosphere had changed. The section house warden appeared out of the crowd. He was visibly upset. Before I could ask him anything, he told me to stay where I was. I insisted that he told me what was going on.
I learnt that a DC from Holborn had called my colleague an N. lover. I had no words for this revelation; I was angry but not as mad as my team. All the activity on the dance floor was Vine Street and Holborn squaring up to each other.
From that day on, I knew my team had my back.
Thankfully policing has come a long way since then but of course there is still more to do. Policing and making a difference was very important to me, so I stayed despite my objectors. In fact, I served for 32 years.
Policing is so much more than just a job, I worked hard within all of my policing roles to educate people and challenge their misconceptions, biases and outright prejudices at times both as a woman and a woman of colour.
I have seen the good the bad and the ugly within policing but what I can say for sure is that by the end of my career the bad and the ugly were far fewer than when I joined.
By joining the police as a someone from a black Asian or minority ethnic background you are continuing to drive change from the inside as well as doing one of the most rewarding jobs in the world.