By Jenn Selby
The singer and former X Factor winner posted a 15-minute video on Instagram, in which she described the ‘heartbreaking’ episodes of racist bullying and microaggressions she has faced
Alexandra Burke has opened up about the racism she has experienced in her 11 years in the music industry, including being asked to bleach her skin “to look whiter” to being told she’d “have to work 10 times harder than a white artist” to become successful.
The singer and former X Factor winner posted a 15-minute video on Instagram, in which she breaks down in tears describing the “heartbreaking” episodes of bullying and micro-aggressions she has faced.
“When I first won the X Factor aged 19 I was told, right, because you’re black, you are going to have to work 10 times harder than a white artist because of the colour of your skin,” she says.
“You can’t have braids, you can’t have an afro, you can’t have anything that basically is my identity. You have to have hair, for example, that appeals to white people so people can understand you better.”
She continued: “I got told to bleach my skin, and that was something I refused to do… Still to this moment it breaks my heart that I was told that.
“I’ve experienced microaggressions many times. I’ve been told you have to smile more on your Instagram posts because you come across as aggressive. If you don’t smile, you’re not relatable.
“You can’t have baby hairs showing on any hairstyle that you do, because you will come across as aggressive – a label I was with at the time told me that and it made me want to leave them.
“You can’t release this kind of music, because white people don’t understand that.”
The star, who took on the lead role in West End musical The Bodyguard, as well as receiving several BRIT Award nominations for singles such as ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘All Night Long’, was raised in Islington in London by her single parent mother, Soul II Soul star Melissa Bell.
One of the toughest experiences she ever had to face, she continued, was after her mother’s death in August 2017 – just before she was due to appear on Strictly Come Dancing.
She recalled: “I remember watching the sun rise at the hospital with my aunty, and she was like, you’ve got to do this for your mum.
“I turned up to that red carpet… and I couldn’t speak to anyone… I said I’d do it, but I can’t do press, because if I’d have opened my mouth at that point I would have broken down… And I couldn’t say anything because we hadn’t told anyone yet. Also it didn’t really feel real.
“And this journalist just came up to me and said, ‘So you’re not doing press. Being a diva today are we?’”
From that moment on, she describes being painted as a “complete and utter bitch” by the media. In one incident, Burke claims she was in hospital recovering from a dancing injury when one journalist wrote that she had thrown a wild backstage tantrum that involved her throwing chairs.
“That was the image they had of me, because of the papers.” she said. “I was so scared on that show. So many trolls, telling me all kinds of stuff.
“I have no idea how I got through it. I don’t even like thinking about that experience. It’s simply because of me being a black, strong woman.
“I can speak up for myself because that’s how I’ve been taught. But I would never do it in a way that offends people or hurts anyone.”
‘People are people’
Burke ended the video with a word from her late mother.
“My mum always raised me to never see colour,” she said. “I will continue that way because that’s what makes me happy.
“People are people. We are all human, we all have feelings. So be kind.”
Burke was inspired to speak out by the growing Black Lives Matter movement – and a similar video posted by fellow former contestant Misha B.
Misha B, who competed on the X Factor in 2011, recently detailed her experiences “being devalued” during her time in the industry. She claimed the show projected “this angry black girl narrative”, even describing her as “feisty” and “bully” after one memorable performance.
She said the ordeal left her feeling suicidal at the time.