I was 14 years old when I moved to Ireland. My first day in Secondary School was so hard with teachers struggling to pronounce my name. The students made fun of my curly hair, my accent and the fact that I was from Nigeria. They would say things like “She is the new girl that came from Africa.. ha-ha you mean the jungle”. They would ask me questions like, ‘did you live with monkeys and wild animals? Did you have to sleep on the floor? Did our donations help?’
My parents took time to pick my unique name. My full name is Oluwatumininu. It has two meanings – God has comforted me or God is within me. Due to the experience I had in school I started to hate my name. I didn’t understand the meaning behind my beautiful name. I made a shorter version – ‘Tumi’ so that it would be easier for people to pronounce my name as I hate the longer version but unfortunately the hate didn’t stop there….
I was ashamed because of where I came from and I just hated everything about me and my culture because of the hurtful things people said, “Black people are dumb and look like monkeys.” or “Why are black people so dirty and uneducated?”
People at my school would constantly ask me why I don’t look like all the lighter skin colour singers (e.g…Beyonce) as lighter skinned black people were more acceptable and stood a better chance at life. They were the exotic people. I never knew what that meant growing up … why was my skin so dark as if there was something wrong with me – why was my hair so curly. It was hard growing up In Ireland I had a constant battle with my identity. I didn’t feel good enough about myself. I always wanted to change in order to fit in and be accepted. I was so tired of people calling me ugly and for once I wanted to be called pretty.
Hurtful comments like “Look at her and her dark skin and her short hair, her lips are so big I would never date a black girl.” Or “ I find black girls so ugly and dirty, don’t you know that they smell and are really dirty they probably have Ebola …” So whenever people used to ask me where I was from I would always try and ignore the question as I didn’t want to be called “dirty” or “Ebola”.
My sisters have a lighter skin complexion than me and I felt as if I was cursed having a darker skin tone. Every day after school I would go home and research about bleaching creams and look up plastic surgeries. I would dream about the day I would be able to afford all the surgeries and look beautiful. I never saw the beauty in my skin.
My mum would always warn me not to speak up whenever people would say nasty things about my skin. She would always remind me, “It’s not your country in the first place so you need to deal with it, pray about it and God will solve the rest!” My prayers were unanswered.
Nasty words can scar a person for life. I just grew numb to those words. I was vivacious, jovial, outspoken and a social butterfly but due to what I had been through in school it erased who I truly was.
After finishing college I received an email from my lecturer to apply for a job at Cork County Council. I spoke with some of my friends about the opportunity for advice on how I should prepare for the interview. Some of the responses I got were unhelpful and discouraging. Some people told me that the Council would never give me a chance as it is a job for only Irish (Irish speaking) people and I should not have high hopes. Some also offered hope saying that I might get through the interview stage because they have to give everyone a chance.
Growing up in Ireland I didn’t see many black young successful women in the field (Pharmaceutical and Environmental Science )and so it was no surprise that I honestly thought that I wouldn’t be given the opportunity to work in a place like that.
I was so discouraged but I applied anyway with the hope that I would prove everyone wrong. I was certain that I had all the qualifications required for the job and met all the criteria. I got the call for the interview and a few months later I got the job!
I was 21 years old and I was working full time as a Laboratory Analyst for Cork County Council. It meant the world to me because I had faith in myself and worked very hard.
There is no doubt that I got the job due to my qualifications but we have to be honest I also got the job because the people on the interview board saw me as a human being and they did not base their decision on my skin colour, my cultural background or where I was born.
Comments like, “You are stealing our jobs “ or “Go back to your country!” need to stop!
People need to keep in mind that foreigners have to work twice as hard and it’s not easy.
Foreigners are frontline workers who have made huge sacrifices for this country also (I couldn’t see my family for 4 months due to my work )
Foreigners pay taxes
Foreigners are not here to steal peoples jobs
Foreigners are human beings
I hope my story gives young people hope that they can do anything they set their mind too. If you do not see yourself represented on TV or in a place of work don’t be scared to make a difference because the change starts with you. You can change people’s lives by taking action! Apply for those jobs that people tell you not to apply for. Just go for it!
My hope is that young people speak up against racism I wish I did sooner. Neither should you have to get used to it or “get on with it”. Please don’t lose yourself just because you want to please others. Celebrate who you truly are, don’t ever be ashamed of where you come from. Never apologise for being loud and full of life.
Black people are beautiful and so smart. Do not let social media and others tell you otherwise