Time to be colour brave and not colour blind
By Dr Brighton Chireka
It’s high time we become colour brave and not colour blind. A few years ago, I was working as a Locum General Practitioner (GP) in Northampton UK and had to go for a home visit. For those who do not know me I am a Black African GP working in the UK. I am colour brave and get worried when people try to be colour blind. Home visits are mainly for those that cannot come to see the doctors at the surgery. I enjoy these visits as they give me more information about my patients as I see them in their place of residence. It also gives me an opportunity to see their reaction about my skin colour.
I finished my morning clinic and went for the visit. It was not a busy day, so I had that single visit to do. I went to see this elderly patient, a white man in his 90’s, who complained of severe pain and swelling of his right big toe. This was after he had celebrated his birthday with his family and had a few glasses of red wine. He denied falling down, but just woke up with a swollen right big toe.
I knocked at his door and he limped to the door to open it for me . I could see a surprise on his face as I introduced myself. I then attended to him and explained to him that after interviewing and examining him, I had diagnosed that, he was suffering from gout. We then discussed the treatment options and I gave him the prescription. As I was about to leave, he asked me if I had a minute to spare. I said yes as I did not have any more visits to do that afternoon.
The lovely elderly gentleman then told me that he had something to confess . He told me that when I entered his house he initially thought I was a plumber, but was surprised that I was wearing a suit. He then started to apologise and told me how happy he was with the way I had treated him. He felt listened to and also felt reassured by my findings and my explanation. I then asked him why he thought I was a plumber and not a doctor. I could see that he was uncomfortable with my question and I decided to take the lead and talk about this issue of race head on.
I then asked him if most of his plumbers were black and most of his doctors were white, to which he said yes smiling at me. I said to him that it was a reality which we do not want to talk about. I then said would it not be nice if one day I could walk into an office and not be seen as a cleaner or do a home visit and not be seen as a plumber because of my skin colour ? We were in agreement that we tend to shun discussing about these issues because we think they are sensitive or a taboo to talk about. I then bid him farewell and left the elderly gentleman. I was was pleasantly surprised to hear that he had written a thank you letter to the surgery after I had left the practice.
I was reminded of this incident when I listened to the talk by American finance executive Mellody Hobson. She makes the case that speaking openly about race – and particularly about diversity in hiring- makes for better business and a better society. There are qualities that I bring to the table because of my culture and skin colour which must be valued. I can understand that “my” people believe in witches, a belief which can be seen as madness by a doctor of a different background.
I am the only black person in the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group (SKC CCG ) board. I bring unique qualities and do not believe that there is a group of people that can be said to be hard to reach. In my opinion, it is the leadership that has not done enough to reach that group. People like me, because we come from the ethnic minority groups, know how to interact with our communities so our contributions to the policy making is very important and must be valued.
We need to be colour brave and not colour blind
To be colourblind, in many ways, means to ignore colour and try to think of everyone equally, but this is not enough. It fails to embrace that because of my skin colour, I bring something extra to the table that is valuable. Failure to realise that my being a black doctor visiting this elderly gentleman is important in so many ways. It changed his mind and his views on black people. In the long term, our children will realise that they can do anything they aspire to in life and the society will support them. No one will look down upon them and assume they are cleaners or support staff when they are the chief executive officers of big companies.
We can never be entirely colour blind. But, by assuming the characteristic of being colour -brave, the public can begin an initiative to see race and go beyond that factor to see each individual. This may seem a little contradictory at first. People gain their knowledge and experience from their background; race is a part of this background. By understanding that each individual is different, through their race, their culture, background, and attributed knowledge, we can begin to learn from each other. The point of colour bravery is to expand upon Affirmative Action; to select a person over another because they are the best for a position and because they will bring a different perspective on a project. This thinking will cause more universal issues to be expressed in a group and hopefully will help the group. It will also dissuade black people from using race and colour of their skin as a scapegoat for their failures.
We need to start to embrace diversity, work with people who do not look like us or think like us and embrace diversity. The time is now to be colour brave and not colour blind. Sometimes, a lot of money is wasted in trying to reach a particular group of people but a simple solution will be to just recruit professionals from that group of people and these professionals will come with the solutions.
Oh yes, I am black and proud and colour brave as well but not militant as there is nothing to argue about. I know I bring a lot to the table and that’s a fact. Let’s be colour brave and freely talk about our skin colour.
This article was compiled by Dr. Brighton Chireka who is a GP and a Health Commissioner in South Kent Coast in the United Kingdom. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org and can read more of his work on his blog at DR CHIREKA’S BLOG
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Dr Chireka has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. Views expressed here are personal.