Fashion + Community

We are blind to our own thinking and behaviour: A short story of a young black woman

Margarita is a 24-year-old black woman living in the United Kingdom. She is originally from Greece with a strong heritage of Nigerian culture through her parents. Margarita moved into the United Kingdom couple of years ago to study midwifery, which has been her dream occupation since childhood. She chose to move and study abroad because she wanted to gain new experiences, broaden her horizons, and she knew the midwifery education in the United Kingdom is of a high standard.

“Oh you’ve got an accent!”

When Margarita’s studies at university began, she was surprised to learn she was the only non-British student on her course. The other students seemed curious of her in the beginning: they asked questions from her and wanted to know her background. Quickly, Margarita realised from the way they were addressing her and the questions they asked that the students didn’t actually want to get to know her, and part of the seemingly friendly conversations were actually discriminative. She had to answer questions like “How come you didn’t stay in Greece to study?” or “Why did you come here to study instead of staying at home?”. As plain questions they may not feel inappropriate, but the way they were presented to Margarita was rude.

By asking certain questions in a certain way the other students made a point out of the ways she was different to them, emphasising how Margarita and they had nothing in common, making her an ‘othering’. Many also commented on her accent, which was enough on top of everything else to knock her confidence down.

After the other students had learned a little about Margarita, she was left out and made no friends on the course. She identifies a clear difference between cultures, customs, and beliefs between Greece and the United Kingdom. She says she has met many of the latter who are not actually interested in or want to get to know anyone else other than people who have the same background.

Miseducation and mistreatment

One of Margarita’s lecturers decided to make a presentation about Nigeria after learning about Margarita’s background. The presentation was held as an example within a theme of poor and uneducated countries, and what the lecturer presented as facts about Nigeria was mostly untrue and based on assumptions and bias.

During Margarita’s work placements at hospitals, she has witnessed situations in which families from the BAME society have been scrutinised and criticised in a way that the white families have not been. She says the treatment of white British citizens as patients is different from that of BAME members.

Mixed style with elements of old and new

Margarita feels strongly about her roots and embraces the Nigerian and the wider African culture in her dress style. She does not follow fashion apart from what she sees on the high street shops. Margarita prefers her own personal style, which is a mix of traditional, bright, and colourful African way of dressing, with contemporary, practical and comfortable clothes. Regarding shopping and garment selection in the United Kingdom, she finds clothes that fit her more easily than in Greece. Margarita thinks the design of garments for average women in the UK is better. She finds the garments she needs, and she has not had to change her style for moving into a different country. Margarita wears makeup only for special occasions like dinners and birthdays. She adores natural-looking, hand-crafted jewellery such as wooden earrings or simple accessories that represent Africa in some way.

Margarita has had her hair braided since she was three years old, mostly for practical reasons. People tend to comment on and ask questions about her hair a lot, especially in areas where there are not many BAME people. Margarita says it is not bothering her if people are genuinely curious, but sometimes it is almost like discrimination dressed in a compliment, when people are making a number out of her hair. Some even come and touch her hair without permission, which obviously is inappropriate.

Black models and Black Lives Matter – just passing trends?

When asked about black women’s representation in the media and social media, Margarita says “We are not represented for who we are. It’s fashionable to be black and proud of it. The culture isn’t represented, only features of it and African women are being sexualised. We are not fully accepted as who we are. They are just picking up the things they like and presenting their own interpretation.” Margarita would want to see the real culture to be represented, not only what white people like and want to see.

She feels the Black Lives Matter movement is “just a trend. People don’t know what they are actually talking about. It’s much deeper than what the media is insinuating. Why do people have to die to make something happen?” Margarita says education is needed to be able to change it. She thinks that some of the discriminative behaviour she witnesses is not intentional but caused by people’s ignorance.

Margarita says she tries to focus on her life and not care about the racism and discrimination she faces. I think that this and what she shared with me says a lot of truly awful things about our society. My first thought while writing this article was to give a proper ‘rant’ at the end of it, but instead, I wish that when you read her story, you noticed the grievances and injustice yourself. If you did not, please read again, and please read more about this subject. We can and should always learn more and aim to treat everyone equally.

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