I felt invisible and left out in Little Mix ... a lot of my experiences were down to my skin colour

·3-min read
 (Richard Ansett/BBC/Dragonfly)
(Richard Ansett/BBC/Dragonfly)

When I was thinking about writing this piece, I realised this has been one of the busiest weeks of my life. I’m only just starting to unwind since the release of my BBC documentary Race, Pop & Power, which explores racism in the music industry and my own experiences as the only black member of Little Mix. It was my little baby for so long and now it’s finally out in the world. It was only in the past three or four years that I realised that a lot of my experiences in the band — feeling invisible, left out, that I had to work 10 times harder to be appreciated — were down to my skin colour, rather than something wrong with me. I was finally ready to be really open about my experiences.

I was incredibly nervous about making the documentary and the response. Obviously it’s a very sensitive topic — there was this perpetual fear of tripping up and offending people. But then I let that go and realised that I needed to just be honest and if I did say the wrong thing then I’m learning. We’re all learning. This week I’ve had a lot of people come up to me telling me how the documentary has helped them, or that they have learnt from it, which is incredibly humbling. Also, the Little Mix fans reaction to the documentary have been so incredible and I feel so lucky to have had their support through this. It makes it all worthwhile, the nerves and stress, because that feeling is just amazing.

Another project I’ve been working on this week is The Black Fund, a charity that me, my sister Sarah and my fiancé Andre have launched. The aim is to help the black community get into the creative industries by channelling finances and support to charities that work in these areas. Through the Give Back programme, The Black Fund will distribute grants of up to £5,000 to support programmes which empower black people to stand up against racism. On top of this I’ve also been moving house , which has been hectic as hell.

When I first joined Little Mix I didn’t anticipate the racism I would face. Looking back, on X Factor when they shaved my head and dyed it red to try to turn me into a mini-Rihanna, I realised it was very tokenistic. It was very clear that I was being used to bring that kind of urban “coolness”, but a palatable version of it. There was never a point that I wanted to leave the band though. As much as it got to me, I still wanted to keep going. I was living my dream, and I would never give that up.

A really important part of the documentary is bringing attention to colourism — discrimination against people with a darker skin tone —which is something that is only really beginning to be talked about. It’s a particular problem for dark-skinned black women. There is just so little representation. As lighter-skinned black women, we need to understand our privilege, be allies and listen to our dark-skinned sisters.

This week was one year since Black Out Tuesday and a lot of people are asking what has changed since then. I think the biggest change has been that people are ready to talk about race a lot more comfortably. The world is finally having this conversation, and we don’t have to feel alone anymore. It’s been like a weight off our shoulders. But there is still such a long way to go.

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