A note from the editor,
I would formally like to introduce a new series in this journal: Experiences of Ethnic Minorities at UCL.
The year 2020 has brought along with it a number of unforeseeable and unprecedented circumstances. One of them undoubtably being the rapid growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement following the death of George Floyd who was brutally murdered in broad daylight by Minneapolis police. This was followed by worldwide protests and discourse, leading to the firing and arrest of all four officers on the scene.
Following the change this discourse has led to, it is evident that transparency and discussions are key for progress, and this is ultimately a pivotal reason for this series. The first in this series is an article by one of our writers Rukky Otive-Igbuzor, a third year Law student.
I hope this series continues beyond 2020 and becomes a safe space for students from ethnic minorities to discuss their time and experiences at UCL and begin a discourse on how to move forward and change their experiences for the better.
Editor of Amnesty International Journal at UCL (2019-2020).
(Image source: Quentin Monge)
From Nigeria to London: Being an ‘Ethnic Minority’
I lived in Nigeria for the most part of my life. Growing up, I was not self-consciously black (and this is a feeling that resonates with some of my Nigerian friends). Of course, I knew that the colour of my skin was black, but it wasn’t really something I thought consciously about. I guess when almost everyone around you looks like you, you tend to take some parts of your identity for granted.
When I moved to London for A-levels at age 16, I was suddenly an ‘ethnic minority’. Initially, I was a bit conscious about things like my accent and my hairstyle. I didn’t want to appear too different from everyone else. This was true even though my school had a fair number of international students.
I wouldn’t say that I ever experienced outright racism throughout my stay in London. (In any case, I don’t usually notice these things unless someone points them out. Maybe that has something to do with growing up in a country where the majority of people are black). But one thing I noticed is the ignorance.
For example, I remember vividly that during A-levels I attended a talk where the speaker talked about “countries like China, India, and Africa”. It was 2017 and there were people who thought that Africa was a country. Sadly, I have heard of people who still think this in 2020.
Another experience I have had is people asking me how my English is so good (I know that many ethnic minorities have experienced this as well). When you consider that English is the official language of Nigeria, you realise how ridiculous that question is.
I don’t expect people to know everything about Nigeria, or Africa. Really, I don’t. But when they assume that Africa, the second-largest and second-most populous continent in the world, is just a country, that says something about the limited Eurocentric worldview that they have adopted. And when they ask a Nigerian, ‘How come your English is so good?’ it is obvious that this question stems from their own stereotypical assumptions.
It is possible that people are trying to be spiteful by asking such questions. But I think it’s more likely that they are just unaware of their own prejudices. And this is why it is so important to raise awareness about these issues.
One thing we can do is encourage students to read books by African authors (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of my favourites). There is an ongoing petition to add Nikesh Shukla’s Good Immigrant and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race to the English GCSE reading list. You can sign it here.
We can also promote movies that are situated in African countries and give an insight into their diverse histories. Culture Trip recommends “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (1980), “Black Girl” (1966), “From a Whisper” (2009), “Hyenas” (1992), “Hotel Rwanda” (2004), “District 9” (2009), “Sambizanga” (1972), “Tsotsi” (2009), “Come Back, Africa” (1959), and “Osuofia in London” (2003). I would also add to the list, “Sarafina!” (1992) and “October 1” (2014).
Cumulatively, such steps can help to raise awareness about African countries and improve their representation, particularly in the Western world. In turn, this can lead to a gradual destruction of the Eurocentric worldview that fuels stereotypical assumptions and racial prejudices.