“You will never make it here,” she said.
“Here” was France when I was in my first year at a French university still trying to learn and grasp the language as a black, non-French speaker.
One of my teachers said those words to me as if my future was already written and that she was the only one that could see it. Those words played in my mind for so long time that I almost believed her.
“You are so brave for moving here,” she said to another girl. “Here” was still France. The same teacher said these words to a white girl who had just moved from the US with the same level of French that I had, and was in the same class as I was. I heard those words and I wondered what I must have done wrong, and why I was undeserving of this “bravery”?
Today, women all over the world are celebrating International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is breaking the bias. What does that mean? Does “breaking the bias” result in a world free of stereotypes and discrimination? A world that is diverse and inclusive of all women regardless of their race or background?
Being both black and female, I am discriminated against in two ways – because of my gender and due to the colour of my skin.
How I didn’t break the bias myself
In the workplace or college, black women often find themselves the only one, the first one, or one of the few. In situations like these, we are expected to be as twice as good in whatever do.
In my case, I was the only black girl in my class, the only African as well. Perhaps, this teacher saw me as the stereotypical African woman.
I did not stand up for myself. I did not believe in the power of my words. I was scared. I did not want to be labelled the “angry black woman”. I was angry. Who wouldn’t be? But I could not show that.
Women I have watched break the bias
I might not be where I want to be yet, but I am on a journey, one that I walk proudly as a black woman while watching other women of colour break the bias.
In Ireland, Pamela Uba, a 26-year-old black woman, who is also a medical scientist won the title of Miss Ireland. This made her the first black person in Irish history to be crowned Miss Ireland since the pageant began in 1947.
In the US, Kamala Harris, became the first woman and first woman of colour to hold the office of Vice President. In her victory speech, she spoke to women of all races and said: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last.”
In 2021, Africa took a big win when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a Nigerian, became the first woman and the first African woman to serve as Director-General of the WTO (World Trade Organisation).
How I will now break the bias
I will break the bias by telling every woman of colour, every woman that they can do great things if they believe in the power of their strength. I will break the bias by believing that my voice matters too. I will break the bias by saying to the teacher who said I will never make it.
“Je réussirai n’importe où et vous le verrez.” (I will succeed anywhere and you will see it.)
I want to believe I broke the bias by writing this.
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