Perceptions from the Diaspora – 12/05/2018

Is there an over-simplistic glorification of the images from Africa that we engage with from those of us in the Diaspora? I recently came across a post on Instagram showing a mother carrying her child whilst she carried a bowl of tomatoes on her head to sell in the market. The caption of the post spoke about the strength of African mothers as well as the importance of honouring African women. I liked this post as I resonated with the message of giving gratitude to the efforts of African women. I briefly scrolled through the comments of the post (not something that I normally do but for some reason I did) and came across a comment from another African living in the continent, criticising the post for being another example of the gazes from the west showcasing Africa as a land to glorify poverty. My initial reaction was that she was being dramatic and failed to appreciate the homage paid to African women. Despite my reaction she did raise an important point, which made me reflect on my perceptions of the continent that I harbour connections to from afar, namely about the portrayals we in the diaspora have of the motherland.

Paying homage to the strength of African women, from our past as well as our present is a beautiful and empowering feeling which always instils a sense of pride in me. However, trying to see things from the perception of the person that criticised the Instagram post, are we doing a disservice by simply cherry-picking aspects of Africa that fit aesthetics we in the diaspora celebrate? From images of the beautiful landscapes, to celebrating the variety of faces and hues from the continent as well as dashikis and other fashionwear, all of which have helped in celebrating and creating African aesthetics that we are proud of. We should also give attention to the structures in place that led to a woman tending to her child whilst manoeuvring the markets trying to sell tomatoes. Of course, this may have been her choice, but in the instance that it was not, which is most likely given the wide-scale increasing inequality that is prevailing in the continent, attention also needs to be placed on a system that creates a space that many try to survive in.

Growing up in the UK, the perceptions that were portrayed of Africa generally related to suffering and disorder courtesy of campaigns such as Make Poverty History as well as the regular depictions of starvation in charity adverts that aired on the TV. This type of conditioning contributed to the internalised self-hate which I carried for a number of years. As I have embarked on my journey of self-discovery and healing, my perceptions of Africa have gone a complete opposite way compared to my perceptions from my youth. I love Africa, I love being African and it is inspiring to appreciate the continent with its wealth of ideas, beauty and history. However, we are doing a disservice by paying minimal attention to the significant barriers created by this capitalist system that affect the lives of many. As this system thrives, it continues to play a key role in exploiting the strength of the African women that we praise, such as the market vendor carrying her child whilst attempting to make a living.

As members of the African Diaspora, in our attempts to forge a stronger connection to the continent, it is important to not only be led by aesthetic visuals. We must also cultivate or place ourselves in spaces to dismantle a system that contributes to the day to day struggles faced by a majority of people in the continent. This is not to say that Africa is defined by poverty, like the messages that were relayed to me as a child and continue to be relayed in the West, but it would be a disservice to simply follow an ideal of strength and resilience without paying attention to the barriers that are present in the lives of many which trigger these concepts.

Mindful consumption – 27/09/2017

Consumption; the act of consuming, as by use, decay, or destruction, as defined in the dictionary. It is an unavoidable concept which applies to all aspects of our lives; from what we eat, drink, read, watch, listen to, buy etc. We are in a society of excess with round the clock access to information, products and news which can leave little room to mentally switch off. Studies have even shown that we now have access to the equivalent of 174 newspapers of data a day which equates to receiving five times as much information than in 1986. The monetary impact of consumption can be taxing, but so too is the mental impact. Bearing this in mind, it is important that we are mindful of our role as consumers when deciding what we consume and its impact on our wellbeing in the long-term.
Having the brain constantly alternating between the various things that we choose to consume on a daily basis can feel very exhausting. It has been claimed that multi-tasking acts as an obstacle to our brain functioning to its fullest potential. Yet, the multi-tasking approach to consumption seems like the default one that we apply to many aspects of our lives; taking in so much at the same time but not really taking in anything. This can be seen through minor tasks throughout the day. Take for instance my own experience, as I write this article whilst listening to Frank Ocean. Granted he is an amazing artist but am I doing either of us a favour by trying to take in and appreciate his awesome album whilst also trying to give my full attention to unlock and utilize my creativity as I write this article? (N.B I soon stopped playing the music and allowed myself to focus on writing)
Mentally switching off has felt very unnatural for me, particularly with regards to my information consumption. My role as a consumer has felt like a full-time commitment which begins first thing in the morning and is the last thing that I do before drifting to sleep. Taking the time to reduce and manage the information that I consume has offered the chance to address some of the toxic mental habits that I have carried, namely comparing myself to others and being judgmental. Embracing digital fasts; ranging from 24 hours to a week-long fast, has allowed me to focus on my own life instead of constantly engaging in the lives of others. It has also given me the chance to reflect on the information that I consume and whether it is productive for me or simply fueling some of my negative thought processes.
Similar to the attitude that we may apply to lose weight or save money i.e. by cutting out certain foods or activities, applying the same approach towards improving mental health by being mindful and selective of the information that we consume is an important step to foster greater wellbeing.  Mindful consumption, works both ways. By also keeping in mind the energy and effort that has gone into the end product of something, be it food, skincare products, artwork, creative content, this contributes to greater awareness and appreciation of what we consume.
It is important that we take the time to understand the impact that what we consume can have on our mental wellbeing and to educate ourselves to assess whether they have a positive or negative impact. It is ok to log-off and resist the temptation to constantly engage in the content that comes our way. The sooner we give ourselves the space to be fine with that, the easier it will feel in managing our way through the society of excess that continues to thrive.

Restless and aimless – 06/10/2017

The concept of free-time invokes the perception of an opportunity to fully invest yourself in a project that you are passionate about.  In a society which often makes it difficult to take the space to invest and utilize your free-time, this can be a difficult thing to readily embrace. This is particularly the case for someone that applies multi-tasking to most aspects of life. Multi-tasking has been the default approach for me when I invest my energy in projects, it is fuelled by a desire to keep busy.
As I try to get out of bad habits which make me feel like I have wasted my time, I am still unclear about how to navigate my energy and focus my passion rather than going in different directions. As soon as work is over a mental tug of war begins once I arrive at home and start my “free-time”. Feelings of restlessness and aimlessness begin to occupy my mind as I attempt to make better use of my time. It draws attention to the difficulties faced when you want to invest in your passions yet you remain unsure of how to effectively go about it as your mind feels like it is going in different directions. Learning how to push past a general thought or idea and actually taking time to invest and apply myself is something that I am still trying to understand better.
Applying myself to projects is difficult to embrace as I tend to flood my mind with different thoughts on other issues. This often leads to my mind being elsewhere when utilizing my time. I am learning the importance of overcoming my bouts of overthinking to channel my passions better; one way that I am doing this is through writing. Nurturing my craft has provided me with a much needed outlet for thoughts. I am also learning to appreciate being in the moment; it is ok to not always have something to do. Instead of feeling weird about that and using your energy to shield this, embracing stillness can assist in providing clarity. The desire to do something yet not knowing how to draws attention to the need for patience. Instead of going in a number of different directions mentally, being selective with your time and where and how you invest your energy will help to avoid feeling drained.
It is important that we take projects in our stride instead of feeling like we need to do it all in one big sweep. From taking time for the gym to learning languages, dedicating time for writing, to having an interests in learning new practical skills. I am proud that I am motivated to pursue these things but it is important that I learn to manage my passions and fully invest myself, mentally as well as physically, in each craft.
‘Rome was not built in a day’ and it is key to bare this in mind during moments of feeling restless and aimless and take a step back and really think about where you feel like applying yourself. Being more in the present can help to bring clarity about how to channel your passions. Ridding yourself of the pressure to multi-task all aspects of your life and embracing patience and the space to take projects in your stride offers the opportunity for better mental clarity as opposed to feeling the pressure to keep busy.

Normalising anxiety – 05/08/2017

The definition of anxiety in the dictionary reads “A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties”, these uncertainties can range from carrying out day to day tasks to big life changes, both have the same effect of triggering fear and nervousness. Anxiety, the unwanted and overwhelming force which has the potential to switch our mood in an instance. Like most things that build up over time, it has the ability to consume your thoughts with panic and stress if left unattended. A few weeks ago my anxieties got the best of me, cue a session of randomly bursting into tears, faint breathing and increased tension. Despite, at the time wanting to curl up or escape somewhere, I am glad that it happened as it drew attention to my unhealthy relationship with my anxiety which stem from a long-term reluctance to address why I have them in the first place.
Asking myself why I have deep-rooted anxiety is a question that I have avoided for a long time. Instead, I have opted to view it as a way of life and something that I needed to dodge as much as possible. Recently I stumbled across a quote from Maya Angelou which excellently conveyed my desire to change my attitude towards my anxiety: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style“. Looking back at my experiences, I have opted to keep my anxiety at arm’s length, going through life desperately trying not to poke the anxiety bear rather than trying to understand and manage it better.
I view my recent experience of feeling overwhelmed by my anxiety as a way of my mind telling me that there was no space left, anxiety had taken it all and it was time to make some changes and go through a much needed mental spring clean. Some important habits that I am trying to adopt in order to achieve this include; speaking out more and channeling my thoughts instead of keeping them stored in my head. In addition, creating healthy boundaries in my relationships with friends, family, my partner as well as myself. Finally, having patience with myself and creating the space to understand the root-causes of my anxiety and why its presence increases and overwhelms me in certain situations.
Having anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of and it is important to give yourself the space to engage with it in order to strengthen a better understanding of self. Accepting and understanding your anxiety is an important step to achieving this, which can also help in facilitating better management of your emotions in the long-term. Instead of treating my anxiety as an unwanted stranger squatting in my thought process, I am accepting that it is a part of me. I am not defined by my anxiety but I am thankful to be in a place of wanting to understand why it is there and how I can manage it to foster better peace of mind in the long-term. Thriving over surviving.

The multiple layers of self-care – 28/05/2017

Self-care is a concept that I have only paid attention to in the last couple of years. During this time, it has been a process of confusion about what this means for me as well as confusion concerning how I apply and embrace something that felt very foreign to me. At times, self care seems like a term which is often branded as another task that you need to fulfill or something you need to acquire through financial means. From promotions of self-care retreats to lists of self-care rituals in relation to travel, massages, facials etc., I have made the mistake of associating self-care as a physical attribution and paid zero attention to the importance of the process of mental self-care.
I recently went on a solo-trip in the name of “self-care” and made the naïve assumption that by simply going on the trip and being in a new place the action of self-care had been carried out. I was shocked to find that I was not feeling as good as I thought which left me confused as to why I had not reached the mental nirvana that I thought I would have achieved. This experience taught me a lot about mental self-care. No matter how many times you treat yourself to things that you like in the name of self-care, if you fail to address the internal baggage that you carry in your thoughts, then this is simply a cosmetic solution which does little to understand the root causes of negative thought processes.
Certain platforms tend to depict self-care as things that can be easily achieved if you carry out certain rituals. Acts of self-care definitely help to uplift our spirits which is great in the short-term but I am finding out that it does little in addressing the root causes of issues. It is important that self-care is treated as a continuous process of living in your truth. This entails understanding why we harbour negative feelings and creating a mental space for healing. For me, this is crucial aspect of self-care which should not be lost in whatever act of self-care that is carried out.
Self-care has many layers and quick fixes are definitely needed in a society which can feel very consuming and which often leaves us drained both mentally and physically. However, instead of focusing all of our attention on the quick fixes that help to uplift our spirits it is also important that attention is placed on addressing the root causes of negative feelings that are harboured within us in order to attain better peace of mind in the long-term. For me, self-care is something that first starts from within, brilliantly put by Lauryn Hill “how you gon’ win when you ain’t right within?”.

Relearning and unlearning history – 11/02/2017

Embracing my Yoruba heritage was a struggle for me. Growing up, I felt embarrassed by it and felt that it acted as an obstacle for me to fit in amongst my predominantly British friendship groups. I craved to have a family that was more British and I avoided trying to engage with my Yoruba heritage, instead, I preferred to align myself in circles which were European focused. This level of self-hatred reached monumental heights as I entered university, where I proactively avoided joining African-Caribbean societies and hanging out with the ‘international crowd’. My focus was geared towards gaining acceptance from other British people and I felt that I could facilitate this by suppressing my African identity.
There exists a tendency to project European history as the most superior and advanced, which has contributed to a general assumption that a lot of African history began with colonialism. The presence of this default general assumption which has flourished also contributes to the negative self-image that can affect those of us in the African diaspora. My experience with struggling to embrace my Yoruba heritage is a prime example of this and it draws attention to the level of internalized self-hate that can exists for many people of African descent in European societies.
Language is an important aspect of heritage and culture. The dominance of the English Language in Nigeria today draws attention to the lasting effects of colonialism. I never questioned why I refused to respond to family members in Yoruba when they spoke to me in that language. I also never questioned the perception of aligning a person that is well educated with their grasp of the English language. This is another example of the structural systems that have contributed to the negative self-image some of us in the African diaspora experience.
My relationship with my Yoruba heritage is something that is still quite fresh for me. As I learn more about my heritage, I feel like I am understanding myself more. This draws attention to the importance of embracing all aspects of your identity. Learning about incredible women in Yoruba history, improving my understanding of spirituality in Yoruba culture and the strong sense of community that exists have contributed to healing a lot of the internalized negative self-images that I have carried for most of my life.
Knowledge of self, especially for the African diaspora in European societies, is an important tool for improving self-image and embracing heritage. Looking back at my previous attempts to disassociate myself with my Yoruba heritage, it saddens me that I perceived it as an embarrassing and negative aspect of my life. It also draws attention to the importance of facilitating better understanding of African history and promoting more positive associations with our African heritage. I have been able to expand my knowledge of African history online, here some good sources to check out: HomeTeam History, Yoruba Sessions  and Tunde Kelani .

Our impatient attitude towards patience – 05/03/2017

In a society which centres around instant gratification and on demand results, patience feels like a hard concept to embrace. This is particularly the case with regards to being patient with yourself. As a person that has tended to be very self-critical about most of my decisions or actions, patience is something that I am trying to apply to all aspects of my life. The ‘on the go’ approach that I have been accustomed to has contributed to my anxiousness and impatient attitude, even towards day to day tasks.
From the moment that I wake up my mind already starts mapping out my day and I begin thinking about all of the things I need to do/should do. This has left little room for appreciating being in the present; instead I treat being in the present as an afterthought, like another thing on my mental list which I will do once I finish doing all that I need to do in the day. From eating quickly and paying little attention to chewing to rushing through getting ready, nothing in my mind is focused on taking my time.
My approach has been to rush through tasks so that I can save time yet I have never really asked myself what I needed to do with all of the supposed time that I felt that I needed to save. Especially given the fact that my approach has been to rush through things. I am part of a society which centres around excess and quick results which has contributed to the impatient attitude towards being patient. There is an obsession to fixate on timing everything that we do which contributes to the feeling that you need to rush and cannot take your time. When you add social media to the mix as well as our tendency to compare our situation to others, this can also play a part in heightening insecurities and being impatient with yourself.
The lack of patience that I have towards myself has brought about a desire for me to appreciate being in the present and being more mindful of the things that I do. I want to stop feeling like I am just going through the motions and actually take a moment to be in the present without always feeling the need to rush through and think ahead all the time. As someone that has battled with self-acceptance, I am trying to practice being more patient with myself as well as with regards to the things that I do. I see this as an important act of self-care which is helping me address my anxieties.
Looking ahead, it is important that we embrace patience and take our time to cultivate our craft even in our day to day activities. It is time that we all start giving ourselves the space and time to set our own pace in this thing called life.

Altered perceptions of diversity – 20/04/2017

Diversity is a term which at first glance seems like a fairly straightforward thing to define. Yet questions always emerge as soon as it is claimed that diversity has been achieved. These questions relate to diversity in what sense? All ethnicities, all ages, sexuality? The list goes on. 2017 marks 60 years since the European Union was established based on the motto “united in diversity”. Some of the visuals that have been used to commemorate this important milestone have drawn attention to questions regarding perceptions of diversity and identity. Particularly with regards to the presence of black people and other people of colour in Europe and whether we shape the identity that is promoted and celebrated.
It has been interesting to see some of the visuals celebrating European identity, particularly with regards to the distinct lack of visibility for people of colour in these celebrations about the diversity of the continent, despite our presence here. In the recent discourse surrounding immigration to European, the rhetoric has been framed around ‘European identity and values’ being under threat and a strong belief that migrants are unable to integrate. In these discussions, European identity often tends to exclude people of colour, instead negative assumptions are reserved for us, and these assumptions are left to thrive in various media platforms. From claims that migrants should “act normal, or go away” to the racialized discussions surrounding border control. This draws attention to the ‘us and them’ sentiment that exists towards black people and other people of colour in Europe.
In addition to this ‘us and them’ sentiment, the racialised undertones of what it means to be a European, should not go unnoticed.  As a black woman that was born and raised in Europe, my experiences living and traveling around different European countries has really drawn attention to this. From questions such as “where are you really from?” to back handed jokes about black people and social housing, to comments about the presence of Muslims ‘and them not wanting to integrate’ there exists a negative default assumption that as people of colour we are a burden and are not included in the perceptions of what it means to be European in modern times despite our presence here.
As a black person working in European politics, I remain very shocked at the lack of diversity that exists and even more shocked at the fact that people do not really see it as a problem. Despite the significant praise for Barrack Obama as the first black president of the U.S from audiences in Europe, there appears to be a reluctance to compare and discuss the stark lack of people of colour within European politics. In comparison to our presence in Europe, our representation in politics remains very low. The steady increase of far-rights parties and their influences in the political discourse has coincided with the stark increase of racist hate speech from all levels including from European leaders.
It is wrong to claim that diversity thrives if certain categories of people are systematically and consistently ignored. As the migration discourse in Europe continues in its hostility towards people of colour, we are witnessing the racialized cracks with regards to default preferences to exclude this group of people despite our presence and contributions in European societies.

“Where are you really from?” – 18/12/2016

“Where are you really from?” is a question that is asked with such ease that it seems as if no thought is given to just how uncomfortable it can make a person feel. Despite being born and raised in London, this answer never seems to be enough to satisfy the curiosity of me as the ‘visible other’. When I finally go through my family origins, I finally receive an “oh I see”, a relieved response to have finally figured me out and where I fit as a black person in the UK and in Europe. It is a question that serves as a constant reminder that as a person of colour i.e. the visible other, I am not viewed as a Brit or a European.
As the child of an immigrant growing up in the UK, I was constantly reminded that I was not really British. From my primary school teacher saying that my name was too difficult to pronounce and that my name should be more “British sounding”, or the time my white friend’s mum was hesitant for her daughter to come to my house because she knew “what you Nigerians can be like”, these acted as gentle reminders of the engrained negative perceptions and reactions towards the visible other.
Our obsession to categorise the visible other so they neatly fit into existing perceptions is palpable. The overt intolerance towards Muslims, black people and other ethnic minorities in Europe is a prime example of this. From debates about ‘burkinis’ to the perception that ‘European values’ are under threat, the ‘us and them’ idea seems to be applied to almost everyone that does not visibly fall into the category of European.
Humans are social beings and we have a multi-faceted character yet the intolerance that exists within the UK and generally across Europe strips people of colour of this privilege. Instead, existing negative assumptions of the visible other are allowed to thrive, back-handed compliments are a prime example of the monolithic perceptions that are often reserved for the visible other, “You speak so well!” or “The people dress so smart in Nigeria!”. As people that are visibly different to what is considered as ‘British’ or ‘European’, we constantly have to show that we are different from the existing negative assumption that is placed on us.
In my adult life, I also notice how I try to avoid making white people feel uncomfortable about discussing racism. This draws attention to the psychological impact of being ‘othered’ where you feel that it is expected that as an ethnic minority, you should leave most of your ‘culture’ at the door and smile through the racial micro-aggressions and ignorant comments and just be happy of the fact that you are allowed to stay in the UK. The desire to touch my hair, make jokes about just how dark I get in the sun, say that I am pretty for a black woman, make ignorant comments about my traditional Nigerian clothes serves as a regular reminder of my ‘otherness’ to the white gaze. When I have reacted to just how easily I am exotified, I am quick to be labelled as rude and uptight which triggers more general assumptions of ‘angry black woman’ who causes trouble. By homogenising and applying single traits to the visible other this creates an opportunity for negative assumptions to become normalised and used as an example for failed integration. Consequently, this leads to the popular assumption that we are the ones that do not want to integrate.
There is a sentiment in Europe that the presence of non-white people is a concern. This was highlighted in the UK referendum campaign where images of the UK being flooded by refugees and the fear of Turkey joining the EU dominated the leave campaign. Reservations about multiculturalism and the belief that it has indeed failed stem from the argument that the values and character of the visible ‘other’ is too different for the traditional British values and culture. Yet the argument that ‘multiculturalism has failed’ and the sentiment that ethnic minorities need to assimilate in order to integrate better ignore the fact that there is no real effort or commitment to promote integration.
Integration is a two-way process; we cannot claim to say multiculturalism has failed if people of colour are constantly reminded that they are not part of a society. The steady rise of the far-right across Europe is a clear indication that subtle racism and the lukewarm acceptance of the visible other are being replaced in favour of greater intolerance which is being normalised in the media and political discourse. This has consequently exacerbated the overt negative reaction towards ethnic minorities in the continent.
Looking forward, improving integration first starts with an acknowledgement that it has not been supported and given a chance. There also needs to be a real commitment amongst the media as well as in political discourse to refrain from following negative assumptions and homogenizing the character of the visible other.