A Nigerian girl named Toluse Akinlabi (pictured above) recently
talked 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
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.