Olugbemi talks about her experiences with her cultural identity.
I was born and raised in London. My childhood was an amalgamation of Nigerian and British cultures. My parents spoke Yoruba and I answered in English. I would have jollof rice for breakfast and pizza for dinner. However, I know there are some who only identify me as “second generation immigrants”. It doesn’t matter that I’m more fluent in English than Yoruba, or that most of the time I’ve been in Nigeria has been two and a half months. I am an immigrant. Likewise, in Nigeria I am seen as a British girl, although I can understand everything my relatives say. It doesn’t matter that I wear my Nigerian clothes and can cook most of the dishes.
When I started college, I had quite an identity crisis. People found me a little exotic. Many people had never met a black man and were curious. People wanted to know how I did my hair. My name, which had never caused much trouble, felt pretty awkward. There were a lot of questions like “is there a shorter version of your name?” And “Is there anything else I can call you?” I also struggled with an eating disorder; I hated my body and wanted to hide. However, I was constantly the center of attention and it felt negative. In many ways, I felt like I had to work harder not to be seen, and so I relied more on negative coping mechanisms to deal with things. I don’t think the struggle with my cultural identity caused my mental health problems, but in some places that struggle has certainly made my mental health worse.
I have now reconciled my cultural identity. The defining moment for me was when I learned to take everything on myself. I have beautiful black skin and I can’t hide that. I answer questions that people are really curious about – even though I’m not entertaining anything malicious. I am trying to improve speaking in Yoruba and English grammar. Now I realize that culture is not a homogeneous concept. It is influenced by generation, relationships, experiences and a lot more! I’m not the perfect archetype of someone Nigerian or British, but I doubt they really are. In recent years, people growing up outside of their country of citizenship have become more recognized – individuals of the third culture. TED conversations like this one have helped me come to terms with my identity, and I recommend this video to anyone interested in learning more about experiences like mine. Check out this brilliant Ted X talk.
For more information on the individual and societal challenges facing members of BAME communities, see this resource compiled by the Mental Health Foundation.
I am linda. I did a BSc in Psychology from the University of Warwick and now I am doing an MSc in Psychological Research and work part time.