A Mixed View – Acknowledging Colour
By Amber Francis-Vincent
01 October 2020
Throughout the month of October, as part of our practice-wide Black History Month activities and celebrations, we're publishing a series of blog posts written by Black members of our practice. To kick it off... "A Mixed View - Acknowledging Colour" written by Amber, from our Cambridge office.
Hi, I’m mixed race, but you can call me Amber.
I was brought up in a 'mixed' household my father is White British and my mother is Black Afro Caribbean. I have family members across the globe of all skin colours. I spent a large portion of my childhood in the company of my grandmother on my mum's side, a wonderful and proud Jamaican woman of mixed heritage; black Jamaican and Indian Jamaican. I consider myself lucky, I have grown up surrounded by a myriad of skin shades and I am comfortable in the company of people, no matter what their ethnicity. However, I know from experience, that many people are not.
I attended a private girls’ school in Bedford and was one of a handful of minority ethnic pupils. I was surrounded by very privileged girls who, looking back on it, had clearly never mixed with any other types of people. Over the course of my education I went through my own racial battles and personal conflicts that I did not voice. One example was a ‘friend’ lying to her parents when we met up, as she was not allowed to associate herself with black people.
Another time, I overheard two girls (that I considered friends) talking about me. Girl 1: “Do you think Amber is pretty?” Girl 2: “Hmm no, maybe if she straightened her hair she could be.” You may be thinking ‘what’s the big deal?’, but my hair is a large part of my identity, as it is for many other people of colour.
The feelings this provoked were conflicting as a teen. As an adult, I still sometimes find myself questioning my experiences. I realise I run the risk of sounding like a cliché X-Factor audition sob story, however these are my lived experiences and they have shaped who I have become.
There are a multitude of socially correct terms and many incorrect offensive terms. Despite the current negative connotations surrounding the term ‘mixed race’ and conflicting feelings it sparks in some people, I describe myself in this way.
The term ‘mixed raced’ is very limiting; it is also a catalyst for expected explanation and further questions that I typically feel obligated to answer. ‘Mixed-race’ applies to so many people, for example, Vietnamese/Italian, Filipino/Ghanaian, Indian/British, all of whom will go through completely different issues. The term BAME is just as contentious, but that’s a topic for another day!
Over the years I have learnt to overcome the initial annoyance I used to feel when being asked “What are you?” or “Where are you from?”. It is a human instinct to want to categorise and understand other people who you perceive as ‘different’. The ‘difference’ exists and I truly believe that it needs to be recognised, however it does not need to be unnecessarily highlighted.
“I don’t see colour”
I’ve chosen to share this next example, although I still can’t believe it happened. It was my first day working at an international company as a Temp. I was given an induction and taken on a tour of the company by a member of staff who, when talking about the diverse workforce, found it necessary to tell me, “I don’t see colour”. The following day I arrived at work and sat at my allocated desk, a few moments later the same member of staff approached me, re-introduced himself and started telling me about his job, the company and all the things I had heard the day before. I was confused until it dawned on me that he had absolutely no idea who I was. I should mention that on my first day I had straightened my hair and the second day I wore my hair natural…I hadn’t changed my face!
This particular situation was clearly drenched in ignorance, but it illustrates that he also hadn’t acknowledged me as a mixed-race person or a human being. To say you “don’t see colour” is choosing to ignore a part of me to satisfy your own comfort level. To say you “don’t see colour” is to say you do not recognize (or are choosing not to see) injustice. You don’t see me, hear me or understand me.
People of colour have to see colour. I’ve learnt to not actively look for colour as a ‘cultural comfort blanket’, however the environments I find myself in constantly require me to consider what people will make of my presence. I am (sometimes overly) aware of my colour and let’s be honest, it’s the first thing you see before I introduce myself. So please be careful not to utter these four dreadful words “I don’t see colour.” Please understand that it is not some kind of badge of honour in an attempt to be ‘liberal’. It is, in fact, deeply offensive.
Regardless of confusing terminology and people’s ignorance, I am secure in knowing who I am and proud to be celebrating Black History Month with my fellow colleagues. I ask that during this month, and moving forward, we listen and educate each other, recognise injustice and inequality, and do what you can to make a positive change.
This Black History Month, please see colour.