10.07.2018

Part Of My Lived Experience As A Black Woman In The UK | #BlackHistoryMonth

October marks the UK’s Black History Month, and For the last few months, I mulled over what I wanted my contribution to be. I knew I wanted to produce pieces of writing that would be transient, informative, engaging and above all, completely honest in every aspect. My four pinnacle posts for BHM will be a mixture of my documented experience and personal musings, but today’s post will briefly look into my personal lived experience as a black woman in the United Kingdom
My eyes have seen a lot and my heart has felt a lot. 27 years as a visibly black Nigerian woman in the UK will either make you or break you, but resilience is in the makeup of my DNA. I look at myself in the mirror, really taking in what I see and feel. The first thing I see is my skin; shiny hazelnut brown, dappled with the remnants of the afternoons' sun, shadows playing on the surface. My face is oval, surrounded by a mass of thick zig zag and pencil-thin coils, half brushed out, half squashed by my satin bonnet. My eyes are bright orbs of smoky quartz, expressive eyes that always, always, always give away how I’m really feeling. My mouth, thick lips, pink, purple and flecked with brown - melanin. My nose, the cause of my childhood bullying, the culmination of my blackness, my ‘Jackson 5 nostrils’, and not so affectionately called ‘channel tunnel nostrils’ during school. Without really knowing or understanding, I grew up with a deep internalized disdain for the parts of me that reflected my West African origins. I remember searching online for nose jobs at the age of 15, and wondering if it was possible to slim down my lips to a size that was deemed appropriate by western standards of beauty (ironic now I realise, as big lips are the 'in' thing). It has taken years of self-reflection, honest open conversations in safe spaces, deep friendship, and a lot of frustration to unlearn all the damage caused. I still have a long way to go, but I’m on the right track, breathing in radical self-love and breathing out an authentic unapologetic version of myself. Instead of feeling self-conscious of wearing my hair out, I free my fro’, feeling my kinky hair between my fingers and I revel in it. In summer, instead of hiding from the sun for fear of getting darker, I bask in the suns gentle kisses on my skin, embracing the warmer richer shade my melanin produces. Instead of avoiding lipstick for fear of accentuating my features, I pull out bright reds, pinks, purples and I wear them on my lips with pride.
Navigating My Blackness In The World.
For a long time. For a very long time, I disliked myself. My skin tone, my nose, my lips, my hair, the physicality’s that defined me as a black woman. I realised as a teenager that I couldn’t shake off what the world saw when it looked at me, neither could I change the way I looked.  From being followed in high-end shops by Male security guards with Yoruba first names to having to police my tone, how I walk, how I talk for fear of being labeled as ‘sassy’, ‘outspoken’, 'the angry black woman'. It was at aged 19 at university that I really understood how ‘different’ I was. Studying Architecture in Lincoln a tiny city in the Midlands, after growing up in multicultural London was a huge shock, but not as big as the shock I received when I realised that I was in a bubble of safety in London. Lincoln was the first place I was repeatedly called a N*****. Most of my assailants would shout the slur at me whilst running or from moving cars, but one evening as I went to visit a sick friend, a middle-aged white man decided to call me a ‘fucking n*****’ and usually I would avoid confrontation, but this time I walked up to him quietly and stood almost nose to nose with him daring him to say it again to my face. He cowered mumbling over and over again that he didn’t say anything. I laughed a manic laugh and screamed: “of course you didn’t!”. It was also in Lincoln I was kicked out of a pub, for and I quote ‘not drinking alcohol’, my friends at the time all white, stayed in the pub as they were of course allowed to and I walked home alone, terrified, humiliated and feeling very small and very lost. It was an incident that I will never shake off, even as I write this, the emptiness I felt that evening resonates to every part of my soul and I sit and wonder, why, oh why do we as humans treat each other so badly because of cultural, ethnic and physical differences? At university, I realised that black culture is cool, but actually being black isn't and it made me think a lot about performative allyship. 
Navigating Blackness In Blogging.
I’ve been running In My Sunday Best for a little over 8 years now, and as it’s grown, so have I. The more entrenched I’ve gotten into the influencer industry, the more I’ve almost torn my hair out in sheer disdain. From a severe lack of representation, particularly plus size women of all ethnicities, to brands behaving questionably. The blogging sphere is a tricky one to understand and a lot of the time it feels like black influencers are shouting into the void, but one thing I will say is great, is the sheer amount of support and love black influencers have for each other, and the excitement to build each other up. My platform is considerably small, but I tirelessly seek out talented underrated black influencers of all following sizes to big up and share, because I truly believe in the saying ‘when I eat, my sisters eat too’. For a long time, I struggled to see women who looked like me, who faced the same struggles I did, represented in the blog world but whilst we still have a long way to go, it’s great to see black content creators, particularly those with smaller followings absolutely doing big things with brands. Blogging actually opened my eyes to my own privileges in the black community, most brands are more likely to work with black bloggers who are thin, lighter skinned and more 'palatable' by western standards for their audience, and I can put my hand up and most definitely say I fall into this category. There are tonnes of darker skinned POC bloggers, non-binary bloggers, disabled bloggers, underrepresented bloggers who work harder than I do and get no shine, and as someone with a little bit of privilege, I think it's my duty to uplift these people. 
Navigating Blackness In Careers.
I’ve been exceptionally lucky this far not to have experienced any direct racism (that I know of) from colleagues or directors. However, working as a black woman in a field that is dominated (98%) by white males is never easy. One situation that stands out to me all of these years, was when I was required to undertake a survey of a pub in Southampton. I arrived at 9:00am on the dot to do the photographic and measured survey to be met with the irritable manager of the aforementioned pub. I took her disdain and unhelpfulness in my stride, eager to get the job done so I could get back to London in time for lunch. The pub was empty except for a middle-aged couple who were drinking beer... at 9:00am, but I digress. I began to photograph some structural columns, making notes on my floorplans to adjust the sizes I had previously drawn, when the man began yelling at me to stop taking photos, I walked over to the couple, showed my work details and told them I was doing a survey. The man told me to “fuck off and stop taking photos”, I replied exasperated, with an eye roll, that I was doing my job, he then got up and threatened me with violence, exclaiming that people 'like me' were taking his jobs etc - the usual spiel. Now, readers, this is where I lost it and I won’t type the exact words I said because I’m a child of God and I’m a changed woman, but I lit his ass all the way UP. One thing I noticed is that not a single person in the room came to my aid during this period. Not his white female partner, not the white female manager, not the white male barmen. Nothing. No one uttered a single word. Upon my furious return to the office, my bosses were kind, understanding and accommodating and really made an effort to listen to my recanting of the incident and took the correct steps to fix the issue, using their position of huge privilege to make sure the perpetrator did not walk away unpunished which I really appreciated. The incident shook me and alighted a rage inside me that I would never be able to extinguish. It made me understand that my blackness would transcend my academic background, my career, how ‘well spoken’ I may be, how ‘well dressed’ I may be. To a racist, I’m still simply BLACK an therefore worthy of abuse. It’s something to be addressed, time and time again I see and hear misguided comments such as ‘well maybe if he had been dressed correctly’ or ‘well maybe if she wasn’t so ghetto’ XYZ wouldn’t have happened to them. The blame must shift back to the perpetrators, not the victims. The experience taught me to be unapologetically black in all forms, to take up space as a black female in a male-dominated industry and not to shy away from the uncomfortable.

I know this post only really scratches the surface of part of my lived experience, but it’s leaning towards a dissertation so here is where I will stop, but there are some topics I really want to delve into deeper such as ‘The black excellence conundrum’ and 'Where home is' and 'Mental health and the Nigerian community'. Let me know what you think.



What I Wore...

Jacket - H&M | Top - &Otherstories | Jeans - &Otherstories | Bag - Lekki Market | Sandals - Clarks | Africa Necklace - KIONII


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3 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing something so personal! I had it much easier than you because I'm white. I can't and will never understand racism or any discrimination to be fair. I grew up without any self esteem due to constant bullying on my looks (or lack of them). I love who I am now, but not sure if I would be able to overcome it had I been any other colour as the abuse so many people like you suffer is far too big. You are gorgeous and elegant and an example to many of us :)

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  2. LMAO @ because I'm a child of God and a changed woman, that really made me chuckle.All jokes aside, I felt this post so deeply Sade. I admire you so much for squaring up with that awful man at 19 in Lincoln. It's funny because I'm 19 and I had this conversation with my siblings just yesterday, wondering how I would react if anyone was racist to my face.

    I grew up in Nigeria so didn't really know what it was to be black and different until I moved to England for school at 16. Whilst I haven't experienced overt racism, I've definitely expressed the microaggressions and those are just as bad. They honestly make my blood boil.

    Also love what you said about black culture being cool yet being black isn't, if that ain't the truth lol. The experience in the pub is so sickening, how appalling that no one stepped in. In all honesty though, whilst I'm disappointed, I'm really not surprised. I'm glad that your bosses stepped in and did something, sorry you had to go through that. Your upcoming posts sound so good, I look forward to them.xx

    PS: You look fab as always!
    Coco Bella Blog

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  3. Your paragraph about navigating blogging as a POC really spoke to me. I appreciate you writing this post and sharing your experience!

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Thankyou for commenting :) I read every single one!

XOXO Sade

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