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

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Kayleigh Dray
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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.

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“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.”

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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:

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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.

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