Tag Archives: race

Here We Go Again

lilywhite

The past few month has seen a lot of talk about racism in the media. Particularly in relation to the Oscars. With it, a lot of eye rolling and people saying they are fed up of black people going on about discrimination and playing the race card. What about the Muslims, the gays, the transgender, the browns, the women, the poor? It is a constant source of irritation and sadness for me when these discussions kick off and people start shouting at each other. My first issue is no one wants to listen. This is why racism and the many other forms of discrimination continue to thrive in our societies. Societies that are ashamed to admit a lack of progress and would rather hide what they consider dirty laundry out of view. As if out of sight is really out of mind. Well, it is humanity’s shame and face it we must. Because if we don’t face it then we won’t ever fix it.

On the Oscar issue: yes, it is inherently racist. Why? Because up until recently, majority (94% according to many internet sources) of those who are eligible to nominate and vote for the winners are white and ¾ of those are men. Human nature, and this is evidence-based, is such that if a selection of talented actors/actresses/directors is presented to a person, the voter will look for common traits to identify with the nominees. The easiest trait to identify: skin colour, gender and other physical attributes. So stands to reason that if 94% are white, they are more likely to nominate and vote for white people. There was a blog by a young black woman who works in the entertainment industry published on mumsnet. The reaction was one that had my gnashing my teeth. Many (white, brown and black) suggested that it was not the correct forum for such a discussion. I was dismayed. If mothers are not the people who need to be educated about the ills of discrimination and who need to be encouraged to socialise their children into seeing beyond colour, then who exactly is going to be the catalyst for change?

mother and child

I cannot for the life of me see which other group yields more influence when it comes to such a fundamental change. As a soon to be mother, I see it as absolutely my job to teach my child to see the inner qualities of every person they interact with and judge them based on their actions and words and not the things over which they have no control over.

queue jump

In Nigeria, there is blatant racism still. The fairer your skin is, the more socially desirable you are in many circles. The more foreign your English accent, the more educated you are perceived to be. Being resident in Europe or America or Asia elevates your self-worth. Doesn’t matter if you do the most menial of jobs abroad or have very little education over there. I was born in Nigeria, left as a teenager and I have now officially spent more of my life outside of Nigeria then in it. I see the discrimination clearly. Sure I am a highly educated and successful professional but most of the strangers I interact with don’t know this. To many it is all superficial. I get asked my opinion on things that are well outside my area of expertise and even when I am confessing to having little knowledge, my opinion carries weight. I get better customer service because of the way I speak. I get less abuse from those who like to abuse their positions of power – the police, road safety, customs and immigration officers. When I go into shops run by foreigners, I watch how they treat ordinary Nigerians with barely disguised rudeness or contempt and how those Nigerians do not complain about it. I speak up sometimes to the surprise of those Nigerians and I get told I am ‘feisty or fiery or outspoken’ with amusement or admiration depending on the age of the Nigerian I am defending. I have been in situations where a non-black person has walked into the place, seen the queue of Nigerians waiting to be served and decided that their time was more valuable that the locals and cut to the front. I wait to see if the officials say anything, rarely will they ask for the person to do the right thing. If nothing is said, I am never afraid to tell the person that there is a queue and we were all in it.

The other manifestation is through skin bleaching. It is so prevalent in Nigeria and indeed many other societies. People, mostly women, spend a lot of money on creams and lotions containing dangerous toxins which ‘whiten’ their skin. Some of the more expensive products do a good job and give them fairer skin that looks natural and healthy. Most do not. It is so ugly to see the patchwork that results from some of these products. You see women prancing around with their face and neck a Caucasian skin tone, their arms brown and their joints black as nature intended. It is so unnatural that it sometimes looks like a comedic caricature. Sadly, for those who do it, they look in the mirror and think they look more beautiful. Heart breaking to me because some of the most superficially beautiful people on the planet are all shades of brown and black. There is nothing more beautiful to me than flawless golden or deeper brown skin. I see photos every day and wonder how those who bleach are unable to see the beauty in brown skin. Of course this is all about superficial beauty. Maybe that is where we fail. We are too preoccupied by the outer image and fail to see the beauty within. I truly believe that for a person to be truly beautiful, their soul, their heart and their mind must have a positive nature. That is why I find beauty in the eyes – a person whose eyes glow with love, happiness, kindness and warmth is a person I naturally gravitate towards.  That is why there is nothing more beautiful to me than a baby (human or other mammals). That luminosity that is unspoilt by life and its many hardships, that bright light.

name spelling

Here in England, racism is everywhere. I have a surname that has 3 syllables. Pronounced exactly as it is written yet many won’t even attempt to pronounce my surname. If I can get my head around Siobhan actually being pronounced as shee-von and Yvonne pronounced as Ee-von, then I do not see how it can be hard to say a name as easy as Ab-dal-lah or Jo-da or Di-ya. Working as a doctor on the wards, I have had patients say to me with surprise ‘you speak good English’ and I turn around and say to them ‘why wouldn’t I? English is one of 3 languages I was brought up speaking’. I overhear staff talking to non-native English speakers (those with foreign accents or limited English) very loudly, as if the issue is with hearing loss. I hear comments about those non-indigenous Brits being ungrateful for asking for what is routinely offered to their white British fellow patients. I see the relief in black and Asian patients when I say that I will be their doctor and I will look after them. I empathise with them even as I feel sad that I make them feel better not because of my medical skills but because of the colour of my skin and how they perceive that I can relate to them better or will treat them with more dignity.

I will never forget the first time I was racially discriminated against. I was in my 3rd year of medical school on my first hospital placement in an inner city English hospital working with a medical team. On the first on-call I did with them (on-call means being responsible for the new patients coming in off the streets as emergencies), I was seeing patients who were then reviewed by the qualified doctors. Of course, there is a triage system so medical students never saw patients who needed urgent care for things like an on-going  stroke, heart attack or acute asthma that needed immediate treatment before information gathering. Anyway, I was allocated an elderly Asian gentleman to see. I walked into the cubicle and introduced myself, clearly explaining that I would see the patient then get one of the doctors on my team to review. The patient did not protest but his 2 sons were affronted. They, in their high-powered suits, did not think it was appropriate for their father to be seen by me. They wanted someone else. I got my registrar and told him what they had said. He, being Asian like them, was angrier than I was. He marched me back to the patient and his family, informed them that I was part of the team and as this was the NHS, they would be seen by the first available medic. Their choice was me or going private. How awkward for me and the patient! They apologised and I got through the consultation. This happened 10 years ago and happens to this day. I applaud my registrar for his stance and anecdotally, it is happening less and less because people like that registrar were calling people out for their attitudes.

random search

I spoke in another post about the attitude the police have when they stop you as a black person. The approach is usually quite different – the black person is more likely to be treated as guilty of some wrong-doing until proven otherwise even where you are the victim reporting a crime whereas the white person is more likely to be treated as innocent until proven otherwise. Same as when you go into a shop, a security man (or woman) is more likely to follow around a non-white person than a white person. Same as ‘random’ extra security stop searches in the airports. Once, I got stopped for a random search twice in 10 minutes in Birmingham International Airport less than 100m apart. I was irritated and the lady was apologetic and wouldn’t meet my eyes. I pointed out to her that her colleague had just stopped me randomly too and in fact he was only a stone’s throw away. What was it she thought would have changed in the distance to her? It is a random search ma’am. Randomly because I am black you mean. She flushed and muttered an apology as I gathered my bags and carried on. Random. Racial profiling is reality.

So whilst I know that majority of white people are not actively racist, just as I know that majority of Muslims are not extremists, it is clear that as a black woman, I have more obstacles to contend with. Life is just that little bit harder because I was born with the colour of my skin. I ask for no special treatment. I just want to be treated the same as my non-black friends are. I want to be treated with respect and given my dues. I want people to judge me for what I have said and done (which I have control over) and not the genetics I have inherited. I want my talents to be recognised for what they are and not the physical package they come with. I want the same rights afforded to me by virtue of being a human being. I want justice. I want acceptance. I want to freedom to be me.

Is the UK really a democracy or is it a dictatorship in cloaks?

no to war

Do you all remember when Tony Blair announced that Afghanistan was a direct threat to us UK citizens and that we would be sending in troops with America to fight the Taliban? That was in 2001. I was only 16 years old. Yet I saw straight through that lie. What a whopper! America was out for blood after September 11th and wanted one man in particular Osama Bin Laden. Majority of the UK population knew this. The marches in protest against sending in troops were the biggest ever in British history. Numbers quoted for those marches were around the 30,000 mark (police say 20,000, some sources say up to twice that number). I was one of those thousands of face. I might have been once of the few ‘children’ there but I can tell you, there were people from all works of life. Some poor, many middle class, few clearly wealthy. Some young adults, some elderly with walking aids, even the odd scooter here or there. There were Caucasians, Asians, middle Easteners and Africans like me. There were atheists, agnostics, muslims, christians, hindus, buddhists and more. Many came from all corners of the UK to join those of us who lived in London. We all marched for hours across London. We made it clear that we did not agree with the premise of the war and did not want our taxes paying for the illegal invasion of a foreign land. We signed petitions. The media talked about it for weeks on end.

The outcome? Tony Blair and his Government went ahead to approve the war and committed us to over 10 years of conflict. Our taxes paid for more than an estimated £37 billion. 454 of our armed forces died in that war. An estimated 21,000 innocent civilians living in Afghanistan, already terrorised by their Government and the Taliban, lost their lives. All because America lost 2996 people in the September 11 twin towers bombings. Sure that is a big number but what does it have to do with the UK really? Is the US not big enough to fight its own battles? Where is the proof that it was actually Bin Laden that carried out the bombings? Or maybe it was the Taliban. If there had been proof, the Afghanistan Government was willing to extradite those responsible. No such proof was forthcoming. Instead, the innocent were slaughtered.

Now their blood is on our hands. Despite the fact we stood up and said no. So I ask you: how is this a democracy when a significant proportion of your electorate says  we do not want it and you don’t even dignify them with a proper answer. No appropriate justification or apology for the cost of the war which we all could predict but not the government that is supposed to be looking after us. Can you imagine what we could have done with that £37 billion pounds instead? That is over £2.8 billion a year. That could have paid for 95,000 junior doctors, 113,000 band 5 nurses or 98, 000 high school teachers. We could have paid for most of the proposed high speed rail project (estimated £46 billion) or paid for an upgrade of our main railways and motorways. Which would you rather invest your money in?

Personally, as a taxpayer I would have been happy for the money to be spent on any of the aforementioned worthy projects which would improve our lives. I resent that I involuntarily paid for the slaughter of thousands of innocent Afghanis. Similarly, we invaded Iraq and the costs are still adding up. Because our murdering politicians (Tony Blair and his parliament) decided like a bunch of dictators to pursue an agenda not in the interest if their population. Not only are we still paying the financial cost, we now face bigger threats from groups like Islamic State who have evolved directly from the Afghani/Iraq conflict and our role in it. So shame on you Tony Blair and whoever was in a position to stop this and chose not to. Shame on you, You murderers of innocent children and women and unarmed men. Shame on you politicians pretending to be democratic when clearly you are the worst kind of dictators. Who else wants to declare war on these criminals and invade them, capture them and extradite them to Afghanistan and Iraq so that they can be punished for their war crimes? Anyone?

Male Drivers

Have you as a girl ever sat next to a male driver and heard them make the comment ‘female drivers!’ with disdain dripping from every word? Have you as a boy been the person making that comment? Well I have news for you, I think in many ways male drivers are just as bad and in some cases much worse drivers. Sure many female drivers tend to err on the side of caution and so you may be excused for getting a little impatient when they drive at a speed of 25 miles/hour in a 30 miles/hour zone and refuse to get into the slow lane. that annoys me too. However, ask anyone who has had an accident whilst crossing the road in a residential area where a boy racer (or just as likely a fat middle-aged balding man) has decided he would rather go at 50 miles/hour and you end up losing a spleen or even a kidney for a momentary lapse of concentration out on the roads. I regularly tell off male drivers for turning normal roads into formula 1 arenas and risking my life just to get to a movie or meal when they have wasted too much time starting out in the first place (you know who you are!). Not worth it is what I say.

One thing that intensely irritates me is when men say women have no spatial awareness. Er, I have no issues bay parking properly thank you very much and my reversing round a corner was the easiest skill for me to master. Ask my driving instructor and the person who conducted my driving test. I think men have spatial awareness issues big time. And they display these issues in the least expected place. They cannot drive within their lane! My husband is chief culprit. He is forever drifting over the line and sometimes well into the next lane without meaning to switch lanes. When I complained, he would say things like I am not holding anyone up or I was avoiding a bump. Rubbish! My father-in-law had to concede my point when on one 30-minute journey alone I pointed out 10 men drivers with their wheels on the lane divider or even over. And majority of those were holding me up too. Men!

Another thing is men in large expensive cars. As a sensible woman, my car is a good-size (I drive a Nissan Leaf and before that I had a little car, the Nissan Micra). I am forever having to pull up short because men see me coming and think they can just pull out in front of me when I have right of way. My husband laughs when I complain and says it’s because they think me in my smaller less expensive car would not want to bash their humongous overpriced toy. Well, I will have you know that this female driver makes it a point not to let such impudence slide and I never let them in if they try to force their way in front of me. I simply let the irate looks wash off my back and sometimes the swearing that comes with that. In fact, I usually grin broadly and give them a cheeky wave to rub it in. What a cheek! I regularly pretend I do not see them pulling out and purposely leave the braking a little late and then pull up just before I make contact whilst I enjoy the look of horror on their faces. Dangerous game I know but it’s so worth it when I get the reaction I seek. Hehehehe.

Biggest safety concern of all is men on their phones. It is as if that law was made for female drivers alone. The number of times I have had a man drive erratically in front of me and I have had to switch lanes to avoid an accident, only to go past them to see that they are busy fiddling with their phone. Van drivers in particular are always on the phone having a chat as they weave in and out of traffic. I always wonder who is supposed to be enforcing that law and where they are. I mean I sort of understand looking at your phone when you have stopped at a traffic light but actually driving at high speed and using the mobile phone is downright dangerous. Most of all I think it is very selfish. If you do not value your life all that  much and a phone call or text about how wasted you got last night is worth you risking your life, then take a second to consider that when you are driving a car, you are only 1 of potentially a whole crowd of people whose lives are at risk. I will give you an example of this. When I was out in Nigeria in 2012, one of my doctor colleagues lost his mother. How? His sister who was driving was using her phone, took her eyes off the road and crashed into another car, instantly killing her own mother and a passenger in the other car and causing serious injury to herself and the other passengers involved. I ask you: is it worth it? I know that if I killed my mother because of my mobile phone, I would probably lose the will to live. Even if it was a stranger that got killed or permanently disabled, it would scar me for life.

Having said all of that, I must commend male drivers for one thing. In general, I have found them to be more generous of spirit when it comes to letting you in when you are coming into slow traffic and they have right of way. I don’t know what it is with female drivers but it’s like a crazy competition not to let another female driver in front of them. Like letting you in is to give up their crown for the throne of I-don’t-know-what. I regularly am kept idling for multiple cars all driven by women and am finally let in by a kind gentleman. So all hail male drivers for their courtesy (and I will purposefully exclude the rude male taxi drivers particularly those in black cabs who are the opposite of gentlemanly). So I leave you on a final note that please when you drive out of your home and go on public roads, remember your highway codes, drive in your allocated lane (if you can’t tell where you should be, please do visit the optician at your earliest convenience), respect your fellow drivers female and male alike and most of all, do not presume to be a better driver because you have a penis. As far as I know, it is not actually capable of driving a car itself.

My Big Sis Loves Me

Dedicated to my adda manga (big sister to non-fulfulde speakers) who was there through thick and thin.

 Cue ‘of course she does’, ‘why wouldn’t she? You are so lovable’ and ‘so?’

Well, first of all, as you read my stories you will come to realise that I was a mass of contradiction as a child and not always so lovable. Secondly, it wasn’t always obvious to me that my sister loved me. Because as sisters do, we had our share of fights. More of that in the future. Finally, the so what. The realisation was beautiful and taught me a great life lesson…the people you love and who love you can be mean or make you cry sometimes but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

It all happened in the setting of Qur’anic school. I think I was 5 or 6 years old. My sister and I toddled off to Qur’anic school on this fateful Saturday morning, no doubt grumbling about having to wake up early on a Saturday after insisting on staying up because it was the weekend. Every weekend, we conveniently ‘forgot’ and grumbled afresh. My mama turned a deaf ear to all the moaning and off we went, generally the stragglers on the weekends.

The morning started out normal. Our Mallum (Fulfulde word for teacher) must have been called away for something important because she disappeared. We, the children, all continued to practise reading our Qur’anic passages but as the minutes ticked away, we grew restless and wooden slates were propped aside. Soon, none of us was studying anymore and a few even got up and started to play. Being the restless sort, up I popped. I was in a pretty white dress – I wonder why white looking back because I was always up to mischief. I needed the loo so I left the group to go to the back of the house. Traditional toilets in Northern Nigeria tend to be literally named ‘the back of the house or room’ in the many languages. In Hausa, it is called ‘bayan daki’ meaning back of the room. In Fulfulde, it is called ‘gada suudu’ also meaning back of the room.

I did my business into the pit (yes, it was old school) and instead of walking out like you’d expect, I decided to sprint out. Unfortunately, the door to the gada suudu made up of steel sheets stapled to a wooden frame had a bit of twisted ragged steel pointing out and in my haste, I didn’t see it. As I sprinted out, my knee was caught by this steel and it took a small chunk out of me. It didn’t hurt then but I knew it was bad because bright red blood started to stream down my leg. I put a hand over it and ran straight to my sister. She took one look, whipped off her headscarf and tied it around the gash as all the kids excitedly looked on. Without a word to anyone, she swept me onto her back and told me to hang on. Then she ran the 20 minute journey home, across the busy main street in Yola without pause. She didn’t stop until she found my mum and deposited me in her arms.

I remember my whole thinking was transformed. I looked at her worried face and how she ran around the whole day, not letting me move my dressed wounded knee. I was amazed at how she knew exactly what to do when I hadn’t a clue. Amazed by the stamina as she ran with me on her back all the way home. Amazed that she, who would always try to order me around, was running around doing things for me even after my mama took care of the wound and said I would be ok. I looked at my sister and I swear I saw a halo round her. She must be some sort of angel I thought. That is love! My eyes misted at this realisation and it still does today, 23 years later as I recall the day. Every time I look at the scar just above my knee, I think ‘my sister loves me’. And I can forgive her anything because she does.