By Ronke Lawal
First Published 19 November, 2020
Being born and raised in the UK, is to grow up in an environment that doesn’t like to see people show off. British culture is very much rooted in humility and not making grand declarations that will draw too much attention to oneself. It’s OK to be great but don’t be too loud about your greatness. From a very early age I realised that that wasn’t quite making sense even if I couldn’t quite work out why. I’m Nigerian, Yoruba specifically, inherently we are a proud and vibrant people. We celebrate ourselves and each other boldly and so to be born in a country where that is frowned upon (unless of course you’re a sportsperson who has won a medal for the nation) is challenging. To make it more difficult is the constant knowledge that there are unspoken rules which dictate who is allowed to be boastful and who must always be “know their place”. It was clear and never really hidden that anti-black racism and discrimination and working class prejudice were going to be barriers not only to progress and entry to certain spaces but also to my confidence as a Black woman in the UK.
I grew up watching Black Hollywood or as I call it Amerinollywood films and content from the US in which Black women were given space to boldly declare their greatness. I grew up on Nollywood films and Nigerian music videos in which women were highly visible and never hidden. So seeing that and knowing intrinsically what I was capable of, I have often felt boxed in as a Black woman in the UK; like the environment in which I am living, though home, wants to contain me but not necessarily let me shine beyond a certain point. When I first started my business I was extremely gregarious, I knew what I wanted to accomplish and where I wanted to go. I was so full of ideas and energy and light, light that I think has been dimmed slightly along the way but I often find new ways of reigniting that light . I know I am not alone in this feeling I have often had conversations with other Black women in my network who have wondered whether their best bet is to leave this country. From my own personal experience the constant questions about what I’m doing, why I’m so active on certain social media platforms, why I’m so intentional about self-promotion, have always to me come across as another way to remind me of my place in this society. This is not to say that there are not extremely successful Black women in the UK, but if you look around how many of them are allowed to take up space at any one given time. In fact I would argue that by allowing this one at a time unspoken rule it not only gives the impression that the UK is a “meritocracy” (this is not the case, hard work is not enough) but it makes those of us who are not given a spotlight despite being good at what we do, question whether we’re good enough and so we continue to “work twice as hard” to the point of exhaustion even though we are more than good enough.
As someone who proudly represents Black business owners, mainly but not exclusively women, I am a champion of ensuring that Black women receive their proverbial flowers. I am also an advocate for not waiting for those flowers to be given to you:
By nature I am a confident person but the environment and society which I have been raised in made me question that confidence many times, I am not necessarily someone who requires a vast amount of attention to validate me in fact I do not require external validation to know what I am capable of. I have the humility of someone who knows that nothing in life is promised and this world is tough but I have the confidence to know that I can overcome – not immediately and not easily but I can overcome. I am not modest about my talents; I know that I am gifted, multi-faceted and that I do not wish to be contained to the limitations of society. I want all Black girls and Black women who read this to know that they do not have to be modest about their talents and gifts either – you do not have to wait for anyone to celebrate or recognise you. It’s absolutely OK to admit that you’re proud of yourself and even if you’re the only one in this moment who recognises it make sure you pat yourself on the back and give yourself the credit that you deserve. So many of us have been conditioned to downplay our achievements and accept the crumbs of opportunity that this country offers us when in fact we deserve more than crumbs we deserve the entire cake with tea.