Naga Munchetty opens up on childhood racist jibes and Trump’s nasty tweets

“I don’t think I make a great first impression,” said Naga Munchetty. “I’m comfortable with that.” (Courtesy: Twitter)
“I don’t think I make a great first impression,” said Naga Munchetty. “I’m comfortable with that.” (Courtesy: Twitter)

NAGA MUNCHETTY has opened up on some of the major equality issues she has faced in her life – from being called a “P***” as a child to her “absolutely furious” reaction to a racist tweet from Donald Trump.

The popular TV host also confirmed that “all four main presenters of BBC Breakfast are paid equally for their work”, after an equal pay campaign she had been part of.

“That wasn’t the case and it is now the case,” she told The Guardian in an interview. “…we do the same job, we have the same level of responsibility, the same expectation; we should be paid the same.

“And when big institutions – not just the BBC, but in all industries – see something like that, [they realise] the workplace, as a whole, needs to be more inclusive and equal in terms of opportunity – that’s a great thing. No business now can ignore that.”

Munchetty believes a lot of people might view her as “a loud person who’s opinionated and not afraid to say what she thinks”.

“I don’t think I make a great first impression,” she said. “I’m comfortable with that.”

One advice she always bears in mind is what her husband James Haggar, an actor and director, told her when she chose entered the field of TV news: “You need to have a thicker skin. People either love you or hate you, but you need to not take it personally.”

One issue that took a ‘personal’ turn was a discussion on one of Trump’s controversial tweets targeted at four US congresswomen last year.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” the US president had said in a series of tweets.

While covering the story on BBC Breakfast, Munchetty said: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.

“I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.

“Furious. Absolutely furious and I can imagine lots of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious a man in that position thinks it’s okay to skirt the lines by using language like that.”

Following a complaint, the BBC initially said Munchetty had breached editorial guidelines.

However, after a public outcry, the BBC overturned its initial findings against her.

Munchetty said she hated all the attention and “being the story”, but viewed the whole episode as “a process”.

“I’m not a victim in any shape or form,” she added. “I think there was a process that needed to be gone through. I think lessons have been learned and things are improving. We’re learning all the time – the BBC learns, I learn, move on.”

Fellow BBC journalist Sangita Myska had said at that time that there was “a self-censoring that BAMEs [Black, Asian and minority ethnic people] do across all industries and workplaces”.

Munchetty agreed. “I think anyone in a minority has felt they are not able to bring their true self to work at some point in their working lives,” she said. “And, unfortunately, I don’t think you can guarantee not having that experience again.”

“I’m not there to give an opinion, but I’m equally not there to ignore a [damaging] opinion and to absorb that into our coverage,” said Munchetty (Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images).
Munchetty said she had evolved through painful and perplexing experiences, right from her childhood.

She recalled that first time racism struck her hard was when she was in primary school, where a friend called her “P***”.

“It was by one of my friends, a white kid. We’d been friends for ages, then one day he just said: ‘I’m not talking to you anymore because you’re a P***.’”

‘I didn’t know what it meant. I remember going home and being really upset. I was ashamed to tell my parents because I felt humiliated at being different.’

Munchetty’s mother had migrated from India, and father from Mauritius. Both were served the NHS as nurses for long.

In an interview with the Vogue, she had once recalled: “My mum has been told, ‘You P*** b***h, get your hands off me,’ when she’s cleaning someone. My dad has been told the same thing. When their cleaning someone’s a***. A racist person’s a***.

“I’ve lived in south London until eight years ago. And I’ve been told many times “why don’t you just f*** off to where you came from?

“So, trust me, when things touch you, sometimes you physically can’t let that go. If you’re saying you saw me sit back – frustrated, angry – it’s inevitable when you’ve had these experiences.”

Munchetty said her parents, especially mother, tried really hard to make the family ‘fit in’.

“We’d come home [from school] and we’d have tea – egg and chips, something like that – and then at 9pm we’d have an Indian dinner. Mum would come back from work and go straight into the kitchen… She would make us change out of our uniforms – she did not want us to be those Asian kids who smelled of curry. We fitted in as much as possible.”

Munchetty’s parents even went on to adopt Anglican names.

“There was a point where I was going to change my name,” she said, revealing that she had contemplated taking the name Nadia.

“I’m glad I haven’t. I feel kind of sad that I spent so much time agonising over it.”

Her parents wanted Munchetty to become a “doctor or a lawyer in typical traditional Asian fashion”.

But she chose journalism, thanks to her inquisitive mind. “I’ve always been curious – why, why, why?” she said.

And she believes to react, at times, is part of a journalist’s responsibility. “I’m not there to give an opinion, but I’m equally not there to ignore a [damaging] opinion and to absorb that into our coverage,” said Munchetty.

“It is a responsibility to show that certain things are not acceptable.”