Hippie In A Suit

Why It’s Important to Speak Up

It was only after I arrived in the UK from Nigeria when I was 16 that I first began to experience discrimination. Growing up in Nigeria I never questioned the colour of my skin, so it was a shock to be treated differently solely based on what I looked like. The reality is, I have had to deal with being treated unfairly not only because I’m a woman, but also because I’m African and black.


This reality is why I am always conscious of how people perceive me. I am afraid to be seen as an ‘Angry Black Woman’ or thought of as weak because my ‘qualities’ don’t fit within the preconceptions of what a leader should look like; based on the definition of a white person. I am navigating all this whilst also trying to ensure, that I get fair treatment when it comes to equal pay and opportunities.


I first experienced discrimination when I enrolled at sixth form. I was determined to study maths as one of my A-level subjects, but I was told I could not because I‘d just arrived from an ‘African’ country. I enrolled for Religious Education (RE) as it was the only other option that seemed attractive. It was only after I got my exam results from Nigeria a few weeks later that I was able to drop RE for maths. It took a lot of perseverance, but I finally got my way.


Living in Britain, I’ve learned to deal with the microaggressions I’ve faced by brushing them off and making excuses for the behaviour of others. However, when you have had a bad experience, there’s always something about it that stays with you.


One experience that has stuck with me was when a neighbour once called me a black bitch because a friend of mine had parked in his spot for a few minutes. When I related this story to people, their first response was disbelief but instead of comforting me and asking me how I felt, they defended my neighbour’s actions saying, my friend should not have parked there in the first place. Essentially, the blame was put back on me, excusing his horrible behaviour. This psychologically conditioned me because I soon realised that whenever else I shared this story; I would make excuses for his behaviour before I had even started to talk about my experience.


So why am I telling you about the discrimination I have experienced? The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has given me even more confidence to speak out and highlight the discrimination faced by many black people in today’s world. It’s helped to not only shine a light on what black people have to deal with on a daily basis, but also provide a sense of togetherness. Shared experiences make you realise you’re not alone. And it’s also made me realise how common these types of experiences are and that’s not a good thing.


This is why it’s so important for me to be involved in the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) group of my company. I realised that ultimately, it’s up to me to make a change where possible, highlighting and calling out bias and to speak up whatever it takes. Speaking out ensures that people are given more motivation to combat prejudice and bias in society, understanding that it goes beyond not being racist but to call out racially motivated bias for what it is – racism and ignorance. If we want to see a truly inclusive society, we need to lend our voices to those putting theirs on the line for progress and change.

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