People

Mel B explains why it’s so hurtful when white people say they “don’t see colour”

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Melanie Janine Brown, known as Mel B walks the red carpet ahead of the Opening Ceremony and the "La Vérité" (The Truth) screening during the 76th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on August 28, 2019 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/WireImage,)

In a revealing interview, Mel B has revealed what it’s like to be “the only brown girl in the room”.

How many times have you heard someone say that they “don’t see colour” or are “colourblind”? How many times have you said this about yourself, even?

Many people claim they are “colourblind” as a means of absolving themselves from racism: how can they be racist, so goes the theory, if they don’t register skin color at all?

However, this concept of “colourblindness” does far more harm than good, as it fails to acknowledge the very real ways in which racism has existed and continues to exist, both in individuals and systemically.

And now, in a new interview, Mel B has underlined the fact that, by professing not to see race, you’re ignoring racism, not solving it.

You may also like

George Floyd murdered: how we can all be better allies in the fight against racism

“So much of the racism you feel as a person of colour growing up in a largely white culture is not spoken aloud,” Mel B told the Daily Star, after speaking at length about the realities of being “the only brown girl in the room” during her time with the Spice Girls.

“If you are attacked or if someone calls you a name, you know then how they feel about you. But it’s all the other stuff – being told off at school for not being able to tie your hair back with a hairband, walking into meeting after meeting with the Spice Girls and never seeing another brown face – that does affect you.”

The original Spice Girls line-up, back in the '90s
Mel B with her Spcie Girls bandmates: Emma Bunton, Victoria Beckham, Mel C, and Geri Halliwell.

Powerfully, Mel B added: “White people thought it was nice to say to me, ‘We don’t see your colour, we just see you.’ But that actually just denies my identity even though I know it was always well-meant.

“It’s actually quite insulting.”

Everyday racism

Comedian Gina Yashere has also touched upon the big problem with “colourblindness” in a routine which was filmed for an episode of the BBC’s Live! At The Apollo.

“People often get uncomfortable when we discuss race,” she says, as seen in a video clip which is now making waves on Facebook.

“Let me rephrase that. White people often get uncomfortable when we discuss race. They always try and shut down the conversation. ‘No, I’m not racist! I don’t see colour!’ Yes, you do, we all do. I see colour, I know you’re white. You know I’m black, we all see colour.

“Otherwise we’d all be walking around here dressed like clowns.”

You may also like

George Floyd murder: Lizzo’s emotional video about US protests reminds us “the real story is not being told”

In the video, Yashere continues: “‘I’m not racist! I don’t carry a tiki torch! I’m not in the KKK, I don’t wear a hood!’ Those are not the racists that black people really care about, we don’t care about those racists. Because we know who they are. If I see some twat-biscuit in a bedsheet with eye holes cut out… that’s pretty obvious.

“That’s not the racism that I care about, that’s not what worries me. It’s the other racism, the everyday racism, the undercurrent of racism that black people suffer every day. It’s the death by a thousand cuts kind of racism, the micro-aggression.”

Proving her point, Yashere then goes on to recall an incident where she and her tour manager, Lila, bought two first-class tickets for a train to Leeds.

Once aboard and in their assigned seats, though, a white woman felt the need to remind Yashere and Lila that they were in a “first-class carriage.”

“Thank you, lady, but what was it about us that made you assume that we didn’t belong “in the first-class carriage?” responded Yashere.

Watch Yashere’s routine on everyday racism for yourself below:

Watch the video for yourself below:

To paraphrase what we’ve said before, it’s worth remembering that non-black people need to educate themselves, listen more, and learn how to be a better ally in the fight against racism.

Here are just a few of the ways we can all do this:

How to support Justice for George Floyd:

Further charities and organisations to engage with:

Sign up to our daily email for a curated edit of the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you’ll never miss out on the conversation again.

Image: Getty

Topics

Share this article

Author

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray

Life

How we can all be better allies in the fight against racism

We, as white people, need to be better allies. That much is clear. So how can we do that?

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published
Opinion

Black Lives Matter protests: “I can’t bring myself to post a photo of George Floyd on Instagram”

Why one woman is struggling to mourn another black person killed by a white police officer on social media.

Posted by
Jazmin Kopotsha
Published
People

Beyonce calls for change in a powerful video message – this is how you can help

The singer feels “broken and disgusted” by the George Floyd’s death.

Posted by
Hollie Richardson
Published
People

Billie Eilish calls out “all lives matter” supporters in powerful Instagram post

The singer used her platform to raise awareness in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.

Posted by
Lauren Geall
Published
People

Clara Amfo’s powerful Radio 1 statement has gone viral – and we all need to listen to it

The presenter broke down as she told listeners how her mental health has been impacted by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a white police officer.

Posted by
Kayleigh Dray
Published