My name is Adesola Ajilogba, I work in Fintech as an SEO Specialist. Since joining the tech industry in my first graduate role 7 years ago, I’ve had many experiences I buried until now. Micro-agressions, bias and discrimination that I’d normalised and internalised, so much that I stopped noticing the impact they were having on my mental health and sense of self worth. Now is a good time to bring them to the surface, share them with people who care and who knows? I might inspire someone to do better.
Here are some things that have been said to me (as in, to my face) or within earshot of me:
“I make my own jerk…” said to me by a senior manager on my first day in a graduate role in tech. Context is everything, so here’s some context. He was describing himself masturbating and ejaculating jerk chicken marinade instead of sperm. He found a way to be both racist and sexist at the same. Clever.
“Do you have a different name…? I can’t pronounce Adé…Adés…Aids?” Said to me at an interview. I started introducing myself as “Grace” to white people after that.
“The African knows her giraffes!” Said to me when I answered a question in the office Christmas quiz about the colour of a giraffe’s tongue correctly. I only knew the answer from watching children’s TV.
“Before you started, HR sent me on a course to be able to work with you! They didn’t want me to say or do anything weird…” A manager announced to me with pride on my second day at a new role. I’m glad the course worked out.
White children driving past me and making monkey noises to my face at my local high street. Yup! That happened last year. Do you know what it takes for CHILDREN to associate black people with monkeys in 2019? Those parents would have had to be active racists, for their children to feel no compunction about making monkey noises IN PUBLIC to a black person.
I could go on about the erasure of my contributions at different corporate jobs, where “the team” gets praise for work I’ve done, while white colleagues get cheered for simply showing up. I’ve been left out of meetings because they were “too technical” for me, when I was the only person in the company with the specific job title to handle the technicalities.
Writing this has been traumatic. I’m in tears and actually surprised. I didn’t realise how many agonising memories I’d suppressed.
I want to take a moment to address the people who happen to be white. The allies, comrades and active anti-racists. Those of you who don’t see whiteness as a weapon of status but recognise the destructive path white supremacists have carved through humanity’s history.
Pay attention, I’m about to tell you how to use your super powers for the greater good.
One, recognise that even the smallest thing you do to use your privilege in an attempt to shield and fight with victims is valid. Two, don’t centre yourself in this conversation. This isn’t about you. You’re not stepping in to help black people and victims of racial abuse and injustice because they can’t do it without you. You’re stepping in to help lighten the load, to fight with, not for. Three, conscious action. Notice if there are no black people, ethnic minorities and women in the spaces where you are attempting to advance your career. Ask the difficult questions and if you’re in a position of power, go out of your way to do something about it. It’s important. Four, everyone should make a concerted effort to reach across cultural boundaries and make friends who don’t look like them.