Lola Olowoye: my story
It is that time of year again: Black History Month.
For me, it has only been over the last few years that I have fully understood the importance and significance of having Black History Month.
I moved to the UK at the age of 10 and I have to say at the time I was not impressed about moving to a country where it rained constantly and I had to wear a coat. Because of that, I cried constantly for a month...14 years later I still feel the same. Okay, I don’t.
During my time in the UK, I have learnt a lot about my blackness and what it means in society. Growing up in Nigeria, I was surrounded by people that looked like me and talked like me. It never crossed my mind that my colour would be something that defined me to others.
My initial thoughts on my blackness always stemmed from being Nigerian. If you get to experience Nigerians, you will realise we are very proud people. With this, I learnt from a young age to appreciate where I’m from and I always felt represented.
Moving to the UK brought me on a whole new journey and gave me a real first-hand experience on how blackness can be viewed. This was very apparent with my mum. Moving to a new country was daunting for me but I can only imagine what it was like for my mum to uproot her life with three kids to a country where she barely knew anyone.
She was faced with many challenges – and a major one was finding employment. This was odd to me as my mum was highly skilled and educated, but no opportunities were afforded to her. Her story was not unique. Many fellow African immigrants have had to settle for jobs that were below their skill level to provide for their families. It was humiliating to find out that African education and experience was not valued equally and if you had an accent you were looked down upon.
So, what do you do when you realise that what you are can be a hindrance? You assimilate to your surroundings and try and blend in as much as possible. The UK allowed me to connect to other people from different backgrounds and realise we all share a common experience. But also, we are not a monolith.
Many of us have had to dampen our blackness in some way in order to make our lives just a bit easier for ourselves. We are left to build our own communities to find a way to express ourselves or we might just lose it. These communities were my saving grace. I was able to connect with others like me but also remember to always be proud of where you come from.
I live life proud of who I am, proud of my blackness and proud of being African, if that makes me loud, too urban, or unprofessional, then so be it.
Lola Olowoye has a Bachelor of Law from the University of Sussex, works as a Financial Crime Analyst at MarketFinance and is an active member of our Diversity and Inclusion Committee. We’d like to thank her for sharing her story with us!