In a series from the Atlantic, a Nigerian girl named Toluse Akinlabi talks about her experience living as the only black person in her community in Ireland. Some people who had the misconception that Africans live on trees were often shocked to find out she could speak English fluently.
Read her below
Hi there! My name is Toluse, and I’m 22 years old. I was born in Nigeria and lived there till the age of six. We then moved to Lesotho, then moved on to Cavan, Ireland, where I’ve been since the age of nine—that makes it 13 years that I’ve called the Emerald Isle home.
Despite this fact, though, it can still feel like I’m a stranger here.
When I first moved here in 2003, I couldn’t understand why people kept being surprised that I spoke English fluently, that my parents both worked in the medical sector, and that I loved Kylie Minogue as much as the next person. The fact that we were middle-class Africans, and not refugees or asylum seekers, seemed like a shock to the system for many of the people in the small town we lived in.
To their merit, some people did try to make a conscious effort to be sensitive and normalise the fact that my siblings and I were the first and only black people in our school. I remember doing some colouring with classmates in my first month at school. Amanda said “pass me the skin colour” (what I would call peach), and Gillian replied, “you can’t say skin colour, because that’s not everyone’s skin colour.” Gillian will never understand how touched I was by her defence of my reality.
I can’t say I’ve ever encountered aggressive racism, but I’ve certainly experienced a number of microaggressions because of my skin colour. From guys asking if I taste like chocolate and declaring that they can “handle” me, to people asking where I’m REALLY from after I state that I’m from County Cavan. It’s like they don’t understand how it cuts at a person when you question their identity with no other basis except for the fact that their skin has got more melanin in it.
I am Nigerian and I’m Irish; I can’t twerk, but I love Nicki Minaj; I braid my hair and I play field hockey; I speak Irish, Mandarin, and Yoruba. I am not just “that black girl”; I’m Toluse Akinlabi—phenomenal woman, that’s me.
Toluse also kept a blog during her year living and studying in Beijing