I was walking on the road when i felt him walking behind me. As he walked past me, he turned, spat on my face and yelled “monkey, go back to your country”. I was scared. Others walked past me without uttering a word. I felt isolated and alone. It was just me and my 7 months baby in my womb.
Two years later, i was taking my baby to the childminder. My daughter is very friendly and would wave to this little girl with her mum. But each time, her mum would pull her closer and shield her away as though our presence terrorised them both. One day, my daughter said;
“Mum, why don’t they ever wave back at us?”
Seven years ago, i was working in a call centre when i had another terrifying experience. The conversation went like this.
Me: Welcome to xxx, you’re speaking with Efy. How can i help?
Caller: Can you pass me to an English speaking person?
Me: I am speaking English. Please how can i help you?
Caller: Well i want to speak with someone who has a british accent. I know you are speaking English and i can understand you but i don’t like your accent. Pass me to someone with an English accent.
Me: I’m sorry, i am not allowed to pass the call to someone else because i have been trained to deal with your query. Please how can i help you?
Caller: Right, let me be clearer. I don’t want to speak with a monkey. I want to speak with a human being. Pass me to an English person please or transfer me to your manager because i no longer want to speak with you.
I placed him on hold and went off to speak with one of our managers who said that i should go back and deal with that call. So i went back.
Me: Hello xxx, i’m sorry i have spoken with my manager and she wants to know what the query is; as she is sure it is something i can deal with.
Caller: (Screaming and cussing. With more people in the background making monkey noises) I do not want to speak with you. Pass me through to an English person.
I got off to speak with the manager again and explained what was going on. She said ” Well when you left your country to come to England, you should be ready to deal with things like this. Go deal with that call.”
Me: Hello xxx..
Caller: (Interrupts with anger and cussing)
I was scared and took off my headset, trying to be professional. Trying not to be accused of playing the race card. Trying not to allow the tears gathering in my eyes fall down my cheeks. Trying so hard.
It was at this point, that my teammates noticed something wasn’t right. My colleague asked, “Efy, is everything ok?”.
This was all it took and the tears just won’t stop. I went to the toilet and wept. I wept because it was my first time experiencing something of this degree. I have been called several names by other callers. “Go back to your country” was a phrase we have become accustomed to, so to be honest that didn’t affect me much anymore. But this incident was hard. Very hard.
My husband was coming home from the city centre and he used the tram which is one of our public transports. He was sitting in a corner when he heard the famous phrase “go back to your country”. However this time, it wasn’t just the phrase. It came with a punch to his eyes. There were other people in the tram and they did what we are used to experiencing here. They were minding their business.
My husband rang the police. However the guy has gotten off at the next stop. Knowing that the trams have CCTV we thought he will be caught. Our hopes were too high because the police came to our house several times with the same line “we are so sorry. We can’t see him clearly on the CCTV camera. Here is a form for you to make a claim should you want to”. My husband was left to nurse his injury to his eye. And no we didn’t make a claim.
My kids came back from school few years ago and said their friends were asking them when they will be going back to their country. My kids were all born and raised here in the UK.
I now work in the corporate world. I have been for about 6 years. When i came into my last role, i realised that majority of my clients owed the company money. This wasn’t mainly their fault. It was because at the time, although the company had a process, it wasn’t implemented and lack of accountability meant that most of it was going unnoticed. I got all the money back and implemented a better process to help avoid that from happening again. My manager was grateful. Weeks later, a joke started going around and it was “if you have a difficult client, pass them to Efy, she will bully and scare them into paying”. This lines sounded very familiar. “The angry black woman” came to mind.
I was used to that stereotype. Many people like me are used to it too.
My Nigerian accent is a problem. My skin colour is a problem. My sassiness is a problem. My enthusiasm doesn’t go down well either. There is always a problem with my tone. No matter how polite i try to sound and be.
I say all of this to say, RACISM DO AND STILL EXIST! I understand some people might not want us to mention it. I know you might prefer we just sing kumbaya and just move on. I understand you think it is media propaganda because you have an election coming up soon. I don’t hear you say the same thing when your voice is loud to speak up against abortion. Just saying!
I understand you want to focus on heaven. And Jesus. And your glorious eternal prize. And all of that good stuff. I get it. We get it. We see it. We know it.
Silence is a response. Your silence is deafening! It isn’t enough to be non-racist. What brings about change is when you are anti-racist. Your people hear you better when you speak! Speak up! Speak up!!
When we say #blacklivesmatter, you don’t like it. You prefer to say #alllivesmatter. But when a house is burning in the street, you don’t say all houses are burning. You are specific because you realise that that is the only way the desired help can be offered to the burning house. Do you understand this analogy? This is why we say #blacklivesmatter.
And before you come on the defensive, i am not saying all white people are racist. Of course not. Just to be clear, the person who spat on my face, the caller, the lady and her daughter, the guy who hit my husband, the school kids, my colleagues who made silly jokes at me, are all white. And…..
My lovely team mates who stood up for me and ensured that the call was listened to, and that it was escalated to the highest level, were all white except for one who was black. In fact one of the ladies reached out to me after seeing the killing of another black man by a white man in the US and said “Efy I am so sorry. Please i am doing my best in educating myself and those around me. I am always standing with you all. I am speaking up against this. Please let me know any way i can help make this stop”.
I wanted to continue with my bible study post today because i love to do that. However if you want to know me, i feel it is important for you to know how i am feeling today. I am sad. I am heart broken.
In the words of Will Smith;
“Racism isn’t getting worse. It is getting filmed.“
Are you still paying a blind eye? Jesus didn’t. He wouldn’t. He stands for justice.