Discriminating against success

Home Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo

Email: abi.adeboyejo@yahoo.com Twitter: @abihafh

HAFH2Habits we cultivate consciously are perhaps not too hard to change. Habits that we’ve inherited from other cultures even more so. I wonder how many people will agree that they discriminate against people for no reason other than that they do not know any other way to behave.

Nigerians who live abroad will always have stories of discrimination to tell. Anyone reading this in Nigeria today is probably thinking that if you decide to live abroad, you have to take the good and the bad. I agree with that, but I do not condone it. What irks me is when Nigerians discriminate against each other out of sheer ignorance.

Before you disagree with the statement above, I must tell of my friend’s recent encounter with racism. Actually, I could go on and on about different episodes that have happened to me as well but some happen so often that I can’t be bothered to feel offended anymore. How many times has one of my hoity- toity neighbours greeted me and asked me questions that I can’t make head or tail of, simply because she can’t tell the difference between myself and the other black lady on my street. She clearly only sees the colour black, not the individual in that colour.

Anyone who is too blind of appreciate this chocolatey- brown curvaceous woman with (artificial) hair all woven in a most becoming style ( I am describing myself, if you haven’t already guessed!), is totally blind and lacking in good taste. In addition, I cannot be bothered with illiterate, half-bred idiots whose only claim to fame is their wall-gecko milky skin colour.

As I write this I can feel my anger boiling up again in spite of the fact that the incident I am about to write on happened a few weeks back. My friend, Eniola, works in an insurance company as a broker. Last quarter, her team achieved the highest returns ever for the whole of her department. Her team is made up of herself, her secretary and an office assistant and her department is made up of eight small teams. Eniola single-handedly achieved success for her team by working all hours, doing extra work and being a very nice person, as  many clients specifically requested for her when they needed insurance.

Eniola went on summer holiday to Lagos, only to return to her Job in Birmingham to find that her desk had been moved to the little corner just under the main stairs of her office. Gone was her open, airy space by the director’s office. She had always loved looking out unto the roads below from her seventh floor office glass walls and now she barely had enough space to stand by her new desk. Did I mention that Eniola is the only black lady in this organisation? When she challenged her manager, she was told that they were trying to utilise vacant space, and besides, they needed somewhere for the new state-of-the-art photocopier/printer/thingymabob!

Eniola struggled to cope with this obvious slight but found that her official parking pass had not been renewed. “Cost-cutting, my dear,” said the manager again. 2We are trying to get everyone to be eco-friendly. Use the bus and train, like we all do!” Eniola had not failed to notice that she was the only one who drove a fairly decent car. It was a nice Mercedes E class, (as many Nigerians do, naturally!), and she lived farthest from work from any of her colleagues so going to work by bus and train would add at least one hour to her journey time.

When new targets and quarterly aspirations were released in her office, Eniola noted with dismay that she had been given the hardest target areas to work on. These areas were so bad that they yielded very poor returns every year. When she called me to tell me that she cried for 20 minutes in her office toilet after she saw her targets, I felt my own anger rise. I told her of the little remarks and comments I got at work. I told her of the way my colleagues would say something really derogatory about a coloured person, and then swiftly turn to me and say “no offence!” No offence generally means “this is about other black people, not you.” Really? Then don’t generalise. Mention the exact person you are referring to instead of making sweeping statements.

Eniola is a very well educated lady with a master’s degree and many other qualifications. She is also very organised and works very hard, while being a wife and a mum to three kids. While no one is perfect, I think Eniola is being picked on at work because of her colour. I mean, heaven forbid a black woman to be doing so well in any profession. I reckon her colleagues are very jealous of her performance, including Mrs Manager who just completed a sandwich university degree (after seven years) and now feels her word is law.

At the risk of quoting clichés, I told Eniola that we are who we are- black  women. If anyone isn’t happy with us, that’s their bad luck. If we live abroad, it’s for a reason. If Nigeria were what it should be, we would not be looking for greener pastures. Nevertheless, while we live abroad, we will continue to work hard and make a difference. We aren’t just Nigerians by birth; we are Nigerians by blood: intelligent, hardworking people with a zest for life and a passion for fashion. No one, not even our bosses have the right to make us feel bad and if we do not give in, we will succeed.

If anyone reading this in Nigeria thinks that there is no discrimination in Nigeria, can banks and all self-confessed ‘cool’ employers explain why they would rather not employ women of child-bearing age? Even if they do employ young women, why do these employers limit maternity leave to such a short period? Even lower primates, like monkeys, would not leave their infants in the care of another monkey to forage for food so soon after birth

We may pride ourselves as not being naturally discriminatory, but we have inherited all sorts of unjustifiable discriminatory attitudes and behaviour from our colonial past. Things must change for the better for Nigerian women wherever we are, but charity should start at home.