Posted on April 21, 2009

Miss York in Racism Row

Richard Catton, The (York) Press, April 21, 2009

The Nigerian-born winner of Miss York 2009 said she will not be deterred by comments from a self-confessed racist who said she should not be representing the city in the national finals.

In a phone call to event organiser, Vivienne Lee, a man said 23-year-old medical student Helen Lawal should not have won the competition.

Miss Lee said: “I took a phone call about 10am on Friday. They said: “How can someone black be Miss York”?

“I pointed out that she was British, but he said she was born in Nigeria. He also mentioned that she was studying in Pickering.

“He said: ‘I am a racist and we are fed up with these people coming and taking our jobs’–the usual stuff.”

Mrs Lee said the caller had accused the judges of pandering to political correctness by choosing a winner and runner-up who were not white, and threatened to write to his MP about the situation.

“I don’t think he has a point because two years ago we had two sisters of Afro-Caribbean origin who didn’t win,” she said.

Yesterday Helen Lawal, who is of mixed race, defended her right to be crowned Miss York, describing the man’s comments as “disappointing,” but saying they would not stop her.

“I’m as much black as I am white,” she said.

“I grew up in Yorkshire and consider myself to be a Yorkshire person,” she said.

“I have got as much right to represent York as anyone else.

“Me and my brother were the only mixed-race pupils at our school in Pickering and there was lot of positivity surrounding us because we were good at sport.

“This is the first time I have encountered any comments like this. It’s disappointing, but it’s not going to stop me.”

She added: “When I think of me I don’t think of my colour and I don’t think my friends do either.

“It’s made me a little bit more determined to be the first mixed-race Miss England.”

Miss Lawal, who is also the reigning Miss Black Britain, qualified for Miss York because she lives in Pickering, which falls within the city’s postcode area.

She will now go on to represent the city at the Miss England final in London this summer.

The phone call has been reported to North Yorkshire police who said: “We can confirm that a malicious call involving racist statements was reported to us on Friday, April 17. “We take the issue of hate crimes very seriously and will investigate.”