12/10/ 2020

Written by Emma Symonds’s Mum

Inclusion is an absolute priority for us at Yeovil Hospital and we are proud to have many nationalities represented in our family. We have staff from 52 different countries, choosing to serve our community and be a part of that community.

This month marks Black History Month and we thought it was only fitting to share this moving letter, from the mum of a staff member, on her life experiences of being part of a mixed raced family. A thought-provoking message.

“Black, is not a Dirty word”

“Hello, my name is Georgina and I am a 64-year-old white woman who has been married for 44 years to a black man. Some of you may have just brushed over that sentence but some of you may have felt slightly uncomfortable but that ok. It’s ok to use the word Black when referring to my Husband. It’s not embarrassing, insulting or outrageous. And that is what I have chosen to talk to you about.

My husband is Jamaican, and I love him dearly. I gave birth to three beautiful mixed-race children, and I have a black stepson who is comfortable enough to call me Mom. I also have nine stunning mixed-race grandchildren.

Life with my husband was often frowned upon but we were in love and we stayed strong, but I was not always prepared for some of the interactions I came across. One such interaction sticks in my mind, even to this day. I took my daughter, now 44, to my GP only to be shocked when he asked me if I knew the circumstances of her birth. What more can I say other than “Yes I do, I was there!” This was an intelligent, educated man!

My Husband and I have always tried to instil in our children that they should try to see the best of both world, whether that be black and white and that in our household colour didn’t matter. We taught them that even though we did not choose to see colour we do encourage them to see the beauty their skin colour and be proud to be black.

Unfortunately, as the children grew, so did the problems as racism reared its ugly head. My children often kept the racism or bigotry they experienced hidden from me and their Dad. As they have grown into strong independent adults they share the stories of what they have experienced simply because of the colour of their skin. I should be protecting them, not the other way round and as a mother this breaks my heart.  

Even in this day and age, racism is fed by ignorant people who don’t understand that they are missing out on an enriched life by exploring the diversity that surrounds them. I believe that at times people can come across as bigoted simply because they are ignorant of other races, religions or different ways of life, and actually don’t know how to go about learning. Don’t be fooled though, this happens in both the black and white communities.

It is ok to call a woman or man of colour Black. You don’t have to say it with a hushed voice, or with an embarrassed tone. I recently had to go into hospital and started chatting with a nurse, who was doing a fabulous job of keeping me distracted. She was lovely, intelligent, and friendly. We shared a lot of common interests and got on well. We stared talking about our families and she was really surprised to find out my husband was Jamaican. I suppose she had a preconceived idea of who my partner would be after seeing me and hearing my Lancashire accent. These preconceived ideas also apply to people of different races, which a lot of the time is incorrect. This wonderful nurse then said to me “I never know what to call people that are not white, is it person of colour, is it coloured and is it rude to call people black?”

She told me that she often avoided speaking to Black people because she felt uncomfortable and worried about what was the right thing to say, she actively avoids ethnic minorities as friends simply because she is worried that she will at some point insult them and end up looking silly or feeling embarrassed.

I told her that my family are classed as black and that it is not insulting. To try not to see colour but personality first. I advised her to be herself and take that first step, after all she was a lovely woman with a lot of compassion. It is such a shame that this lady has stopped herself from making new friends and possibly having her life enriched by new cultures because of fear. I left that hospital having being cared for wonderfully, with the knowledge that I was able to educated one person who might just feel a bit more confident now. She might just go and say hello to the black nurse in the queue in the canteen or walking past her in the corridor with a sense of confidence rather than being nervous of saying the right thing, knowing it is perfectly acceptable to use the word Black.

So if I can share one thing with any of you reading this today it would be to be brave, ask your Black colleague if you are unsure and dip your toe into the diverse world that will enrich not only your life but your children’s and your grandchildren’s.”

We always want to see every colleague we work with and every patient we care for feeling equal and valued. We are always keen to hear your ideas of how we can ensure we get this right every time. Please email us on MinoritiesNetwork@ydh.nhs.uk