Where I’m from, the colour of my skin didn’t make me “the minority”, nor did being a female determine my academic success. Where I’m from, it was quite commonly joked about that the girls were smarter and more mature than the boys because, after all, “behind every successful man is a strong woman who helped him get there”. So, from an early age, I never once thought that my gender would determine my progression.
That quickly changed on arrival to University. As excited and starry-eyed as I was, I didn’t quite know what I expected but, to be the ONLY black person in all of my programmes at the University was not what I had in mind. What a way to stand out…as if being one of five females in an engineering Master’s wasn’t enough, the colour of my skin made me stand out even more, and simultaneously put a target on my back. As black women, we are easily identified when we make mistakes but seldom recognised for achievements. We are boxed in by stereotypes which narrate that wearing specific garments or accessories were deemed as distracting rather than fashionable. So, to avoid drawing even more attention to myself, I tried to dim down that stereotypical “black girl” image in hopes that the hoops or head wraps wouldn’t distract from my intelligence. I guess I did pretty well as I have even been told “you’re quite soft spoken for a black girl”.
At a point in my programme, I was amazed by how much my female classmate admired and looked up to our female lecturer. However, there was no one I could relate to as all my lecturers were mostly male and I didn’t expect the only female lecturer to understand what it was like to be a black woman in STEM. The feeling of isolation and being misunderstood through the lack of representation was, and continues to be, a struggle. As a black girl in STEM, it became clear that we often have to forge our own paths and strive to be that example and mentor for future generations. I later realised, it was not the failures that were going to define me or us minority females but, rather, the resilience in getting back up and fighting through these challenges that makes me and other women of colour stronger.
But you see, the challenge never ends, never really ends. With the rise of diversity and inclusivity, we now check the boxes of many organisations:
Black; Female… but this only gets me in the door. I have to work even harder to show my ability as there is a probability that I was just selected to help boost their diversity score. Sadly, this reality is often expressed by bitter male colleagues who think they deserved your spot. But please don’t let my shyness or “quiet black-girl” nature fool you because, through my heritage, I have been raised strong and resilient. I know my worth and my lack of entitlement has taught me how to be a part of a community and blend across gender, race, sexuality to get the job done.
So, although we struggle to be represented, I’ll say thank you because it only makes us stronger. We work harder, we work smarter and are more committed than ever. So, now I wear my hoops and headscarves with pride because IT’S TIME THAT WE STAND OUT AND BE RECOGNISED FOR THE WORK THAT IS TRULY OURS AND GIVE YOUNG GIRLS SOMEONE TO LOOK UP TO WITH PRIDE.