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To think that it's not racist to describe someone who is black as being black.

(180 Posts)
lovingthecoast Wed 05-Oct-11 12:50:10

Sorry, probably haven't worded that very well but I'm feeling a bit upset and shaky after virtually being accused of racism.

Just took DS2 (3wks) to clinic. It's a large clinic with a few HVs and nursery nurses helping. I had had a conversation with one of the ladies last week and brought up said conversation today. HV asked who I'd spoken to and I said 'sorry I can't remember her name but the tall, black lady.' HV practically gasped, looked at her helper then said to me, 'We'd rather not describe people in terms of their ethnicity as it's considered rather offensive.' She was then frosty with me for the rest of the time.

I'm quite gobsmacked for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I was giving a physical description of the woman so to me, saying she was black was just like saying she had blonde curly hair or something. Secondly, is it really considered racist to make mention of someone's skin colour? I wasn't implying she was somehow inferior (in fact she was very helpful, more so that this HV) I was merely describing her so they'd know who I was talking about. If 3 of the 4 HVs were black and I wanted to point out the white one, I'd say the white one. confused

I know I'm hormonal but it's shaken me and since Ive come home I'm starting to feel angry about it and a bit teary. Oh I don't know, it's made me doubt my use of language even though I didn't think I was attaching anything to the colour of her skin if that makes sense.
Talk to me please and tell me straight whether she was being UR or whether I need to look at my language a bit more. Thanks

StrandedBear Wed 05-Oct-11 12:52:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

choceyes Wed 05-Oct-11 12:54:41

YANBU. I'd have described her the same.

CointreauVersial Wed 05-Oct-11 12:54:43

I can't see why your comment was "offensive" either, but waiting to see if someone comes on here and tells us we are both misguided.......

lovingthecoast Wed 05-Oct-11 12:54:44

Thanks. This is actually a genuine AIBU question rather than a rant as I am mortified at the idea of offending someone just by describing them. But I don't know if Im missing something.

aftereight Wed 05-Oct-11 12:56:27

YANBU, at least in my opinion. Her skin colour (rather than her ethnicity) was relevant in this case as it is her distinguishing feature in a team of otherwise White HVs. I think that the HV you spoke to was BU.
However, if you had mentioned her colour incidentally (e.g. "I was speaking to a lovely black HV, and she gave me some great advice...") that would be different IMO, and a pet hate of mine.

NotJustClassic Wed 05-Oct-11 12:56:48

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

stepawayfromtheecclescakes Wed 05-Oct-11 12:57:47

no of course YANBU the HV clearly has a bad case of 'pc-itis' it is perfectly acceptable to use the term black and we are not colour blind so also acceptable to use a matter of fact description using skin colour. it would NOT be acceptable to use it as an insult as in the 'bloody awful black nurse' but relax you have done nothing wrong.

MissPenteuth Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:01

I don't think it's offensive. It's purely descriptive, the same as if you'd said "The tall, blonde lady".

Bluesue26 Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:05

Lord no YANBU! Sometimes I think the world is going mad. I'll bet the lady herself wouldn't have been bothered by you saying that. People always get confused by my mixed ethnicity and just refer to me as "tanned". I'm not offended in the slightest, in fact I think it's funny smile

vixsatis Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:08

I think that's fine. It's simply descriptive and is a term which black people (if you're wrong I am too now) seem to use themselves. E.g. October is "black history month". There is no reason to pretend that different ethnicities don't exist.

I would have been upset too. The HV is (to be rather offensive about it) not only UR; but a stupid cow.

lovingthecoast Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:20

Thing is I came back last week and talked about what the first HV had said to DH and told him how helpful she'd been etc. I didn't describe her as black to him, just as useful. I really only used it to physically describe the woman.
Now baby is crying and I'm feeling really shit about it. Its horrible to be madee to feel racist.

ElaineReese Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:27

Although I would probably try to avoid saying something similar, in case it came out wrongly (I guess I would have said 'the tall lady' and seen whether she knew who I meant), if someone else said it I would not have given them a lecture.

I think the HV should have refrained from ticking you off, anyway, it was uncalled for. I

carabos Wed 05-Oct-11 12:58:52

DH and my friend told me off the other day for doing exactly the same thing. I was confusing two people who have the same name and they kept trying to describe "Pat". In the end I said "oh do you mean Pat who is black?". Both were horrified and told me in no uncertain terms that I couldn't describe Pat who is black as black because to do that is racist.

Nowtspecial Wed 05-Oct-11 12:59:01

Sounds like the HV has a problem not you.

JockTamsonsBairns Wed 05-Oct-11 12:59:41

YANBU at all. The HV is being utterly ridiculous. She's clearly been on some sort of little course at some point, and has completely misinterpreted the anti-racism message. Loads of HVs (ime) do loads of misinterpreting about plenty of stuff. Try to put it out of your mind - you've done nothing wrong at all.

My Dd when she was 7 was accused of being racist by the brown owl at Brownies one evening - she's described a black person as 'black'. I abhor racism on every level - but let's not be silly about it.

WineOhWhy Wed 05-Oct-11 13:00:08

I think this is just a phsical description and is fine. I read somewhere that they did a study on people playing the game "guess who" (i.e. where you try to guess the other person's card by asking questions based on physical description - is it a man, do they have brown hair etc) and found that people were very relucant to ask questions based on skin colour, particulalry when playing against someone with a differnet skin colour to their own. This suggests there is some sensitivity about this, but hard to see how it is any different than asking about eye colour in that kind of context. Certainly the person giving the talk i attended where this study was mentioned (which was about removing unconscious bias in assessing performance at work) thought it was perfectly fine to refer to someone's skin colour in describing them if asked what they look like.

crazynanna Wed 05-Oct-11 13:00:32

Stupid HV. maybe you should have completely flummoxed her and used what the Police use..."she was an IC3....." hmm

lovingthecoast Wed 05-Oct-11 13:01:02

Oh thanks so much everyone! All making me feel so much better. It made me feel so crap which is probably quite easy with a newborn but I genuinely wanted to check if Id been offensive.

Ephiny Wed 05-Oct-11 13:01:15

I don't see any problem with what you said. What an odd reaction!

Theala Wed 05-Oct-11 13:01:30

Not alone are you racist, OP, you are also extremely sizist for describing her as "tall". We tall people are very offended by comments like that. shock

Sorry, no. HV is clearly batshit crazy.

Itsjustafleshwound Wed 05-Oct-11 13:01:39

YANBU ... the woman needs to be reminded of the meaning of the word 'racist'

shagmundfreud Wed 05-Oct-11 13:01:41


HV is being a tit.

I live in a racially diverse area and have married into an African Caribbean family. I have never heard anyone take offence at this.

ElaineReese Wed 05-Oct-11 13:03:32

She was out of order to talk to you like that - no point being vigilant about racism if you're going to upset mothers for no real reason!

Ephiny Wed 05-Oct-11 13:04:23

I wonder if the black lady herself would have been offended by this - I doubt it though!

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