To mark black history month we thought we would cover a question we get asked a lot – “Why is calling someone ‘coloured’ offensive?”
- Firstly, to use the terminology coloured implies that there are two types of people white and coloured. Think about this for a minute….. Can you see how this reduces whole cultures and societies not just to the colour of their skin, but more to the fact that the colour of their skin is not white? When we say coloured it inadvertently can sound like we are saying “not us” – even if that’s not what we mean.
- Secondly, it’s more useful if we are trying to describe an individual’s visual characteristics to use the actual colour of their skin. For example, have you seen my friend he/she is blond/red/brown/black haired, has olive/black/dark brown/white/tanned skin and is x tall etc. Saying they are ‘coloured’ isn’t really that helpful in this situation.
- Thirdly – does it need to be said? Is it important to the story, or is the addition of skin colour merely the reinforcement of a stereotype? Think carefully about where you use skin colour to describe people – if it is not important to the narrative leave it out and ask yourself why you wanted to put it in.
A good rule of thumb is that when we are dealing with individuals, unless we are describing them visually for a real purpose, their skin colour is not important; in the workplace all people should be measured on individual merit.
We must remember though, that some people view it as important and refuse opportunities to those with what they deem to be the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ skin colour; that’s why it is important to see from a strategic view if organisations reflect the societies that they exist in – because if they don’t, they are likely to be missing out on the broad spectrum of talent (imagine only employing people from one street – you wouldn’t get the best in the country). Therefore it is important to sometime take an overview; it’s here that terminology like BME or BAME (black minority ethnic or black, asian and minority ethnic) comes in to play.
Let us know your views on this subject or the things that you might be confused about; often issues surrounding race are confused with different challenges regarding religion and immigration. If you would like to know more, or share your view, ask us in the comments or via email.