Young, British and Black, is a series exploring what it’s like being a young Black person in Britain today.
Our young writer Sean Boyle sat down virtually with Abigail, to get an insight into her experiences as a young Black woman, what needs to change and what brings her joy.
Sean Boyle: Hi Abigail! Many Black people feel that they encounter stereotypes- how do you feel you are stereotyped as a Black woman?
Abigail: I think the inability to express yourself fully is something that I’ve always kind of struggled with because my natural personalities are quite chatty, and quite loud. In some ways, I feel like that plays up to the stereotype of like, you know, the “angry black woman” or a “strong black woman” narrative, and I’ve always kind of thought to myself, am I playing up to that narrative because it is out there?
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During my time at university where you just meet a lot more people from different backgrounds, and people’s perception of you is based on popular culture. You sometimes find people view you as a caricature, and minimise your experience and your personality. With the strong Black woman narrative people think that you can just take everything on the chin and people come to you with all their issues. Especially places in university where you face challenges you’ve never faced before like, you need to be able to be vulnerable in that moment.
I feel like my friends have struggled with the idea of me being vulnerable and me being more emotional in my responses because that’s not something that they’ve identified as an experience that they would have with other Black women around them.
Sean Boyle: Do you feel like people also see you as more angry?
I wouldn’t necessarily say that I am an argumentative person by nature, but like, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good you know, healthy clash of ideas like that, so a lot of people find me to be quite combative.
This can be unfortunate and when you’re trying to build relationships, sometimes professional ones or network with people, you don’t want to ever build up a rep of ‘she’s a bit too much there, she’s a bit too bossy’. There’s a lot of Black women who have had to actively minimise themselves in the workplace in order to make sure that they don’t come across in a way that can be detrimental to their professional futures. Which I think is really sad. It means you can’t speak up on a certain thing, or bring a certain idea into the workforce because you’re scared about how bad is going to influence your relationship with your peers, your manager, your department.
Sean Boyle: There’s often a view of Black women as “hyper-sexualised” as well compared to other women. Does this match up with your experiences?
Abigail: the over sexualization of Black women is very present, especially with popular culture. If you think about popular Black women, like Nicki Minaj, your Cardi Bs, your Megan Thee Stallions. These are over sexualised women.
People say Cardi B is a rapper because she’s a stripper; but she can’t talk about political issues with Bernie Sanders, or that she can’t have an intellectual conversation with Kamala Harris or Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez. Why do those two things together seem so contradictory; you’ve got people like Angelina Jolie who has posed naked for like Vogue or something, but is still a UN global Ambassador? Like, why can’t those two things correlate in the same space?
Sean Boyle: Speaking as a Black woman in the United Kingdom in 2020, how would you define your identity in terms of self-identity and then your relationship to ‘Britishness’ or ‘Britain’?
Abigail: Hmm… I think for my self identity, I will always describe myself as a British Nigerian. In the UK, most people are known to be seen as truly British, but in Nigeria, I’ll never be seen as truly Nigerian. This is the case for a lot of British Nigerians who have grown up in the UK, went to school here, have a London accent, grew up with British music, culture, cuisine, etc.
But at the same time, I was raised in a Nigerian household, often hearing Nigerian music, and eating Nigerian cuisine. So it’s a duality of cultures which sometimes can clash. That goes for many people who are other minorities in the UK in general. But for me, I think it is a really interesting and beneficial combination of two different worlds. Like I’m so proud to be British and I love my British identity, especially as like a second generation immigrant I can see what the benefits, and the impact of being born and raised in the UK has done for me. In the same way, I love being Nigerian and it’s not something I can ever take away. I’ve also lived in Nigeria for a bit of my life as well.
A lot of people are not necessarily sure where they are on that spectrum when they come from two different places or more and still have a journey to come through before we get to that place.
Sean Boyle: Identity ties in a lot with Britain and it’s past. Why do you think that the United Kingdom has such an issue addressing its colonial past? And what role does education play within that?
Abigail: I actually saw a video from an Irish group that went viral on Twitter, And he said something that has really resonated with me, ‘ignorance was built into your culture’ and I think for me that just says it all really. The British narrative when it comes to colonialism is inherently ignorant. It was a sense of ‘we tried to help all these people and we tried to educate, we tried to sanctify, we tried to anglicise’, both in terms of Britishness and also in terms of religion.
I think there’s a lot of ignorance that comes hat narrative. For example, the first use of concentration camps were by the British. People talk about the Americanisation of the world- but America learnt it from the British. There’s this massive gap in our education where we just don’t learn about the colonisation of a quarter of the world by Britain. It means people can think they live in a post racial society, but how can you live in a post-racial society when you haven’t addressed the society that brought you to this point?
There’s a lot of discourse around trying to change not only the historical curriculum, but curriculum to English curriculums across the board to be more inclusive of minority people which I think is important.
There’s pressure now for people to be like ‘”Oh, because of BLM we’ve got to make sure that our Black History month is really on point.” No. It should be inclusive, the whole time. A whole year of history of races, the history of LGBT people or the people who experience ageism and accessibility issues. It should be inclusive of all.
Sean Boyle: Let’s end on a positive note; despite the struggles, what brings you joy as a Black person?
Abigail: For me, blackness is intrinsically tied to joy. We drive culture. We are innovators from our native lands and throughout the diaspora. My community brings me joy as a Black person – drumming on tables in the classroom, knowing the same jokes, flying all of our African flags even as minorities in the UK (and proudly) – that is what black joy is to me.
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