Mel B shares her experience of racism in the Spice Girls

Natalie Cornish
Photo credit: Graham Denholm - Getty Images

From Prima

Mel B has shared her experience of racism in a new interview, explaining what it was like to 'always be the only Brown girl in the room' when she was in the Spice Girls.

Mel, who has Caribbean heritage on her father's side, said she wanted to speak out following the death of African-American man George Floyd in police custody last month and the Black Lives Matter protests in the US and UK.

"The only reason I want to do this interview is because I want to point out something that needs to be highlighted," she told The Daily Star over the weekend.

"So much of the racism you feel as a person of colour growing up in a largely white culture is not spoken aloud. If you are attacked or if someone calls you a name, you know then how they feel about you.

"But it's all the other stuff – being told off at school for not being able to tie your hair back with a hair band, walking into meeting after meeting with the Spice Girls and never seeing another Brown face – that does affect you."

Growing up mixed race in Leeds, she said she was often subjected to racial slurs.

Mel said: "I was aware from a very young age that I didn't see many other people of my colour...it was really when I went to school that I understood the colour of my skin had such an effect on the other kids. I used to get chased home by kids shouting these names at me, so I learnt to run fast."

She also recalled being told by her record label's styling team that her hair had to be straightened before filming the now iconic video for The Spice Girls' 1996 hit 'Wannabe'.

"I refused point-blank because my hair was my identity and yes it was different to all the other girls but that was what the Spice Girls were about – celebrating our differences," Mel said.

Photo credit: JMEnternational

She then received "really emotional letters from girls, and their mums, saying how incredible it was that they had someone to 'be' when they did dances in the playground at school and they were actually daring to wear their hair out and proud rather than scraped back or straightened. That was a big deal to me."

Mel said she also took Geri to "one of these really old school underground blues and bass clubs that all the Black kids in the area went to" in Leeds when they were in the Spice Girls.

"I think it's almost impossible for white people to understand what it is to be Black or Brown. It did bother me," she explained.

"It was tiny and really packed and when we were standing there, I said to Geri: 'Look around and tell me what you see' and she looked round and said: 'Everyone else in here is Black except me.'"

And I said: "'That's what it's like for me nearly every day. I'm always the only Brown girl in the room.' That was quite an important moment for me."

You can read Mel's full interview with The Daily Star here.

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