Musings

The Illusion is Shattered; What Next?

I’m conducting an experiment that’s making me uncomfortable and forcing me to mentally fight against all of the conscious and unconscious biases that have been thrown at me all my life.

Biases based on my race, gender, economic status and identity as an African.

A little backstory: this all started when I painfully accepted a truth I’ve known my whole life. The illusion I had seemingly held onto for so long shattered in an instance. This truth that remains very difficult to say or write, but a truth nonetheless.

English is my first language

English is the language I speak, write, read and understand best.

I can barely follow conversations in my native language, Yoruba. I can manage to read simple texts but don’t even bother asking me to speak.

Wow! Simple words but very difficult to say. I find it very difficult to admit this.

I’ve always known this. At the back of my mind somewhere, I knew this and people around would often remind me in conversation so it wasn’t a surprise. But still, knowing something and accepting it are two different things.

So yes, my name is Ọrẹ, a very Yoruba name but don’t bother asking me to speak the language because sadly, I can not.

Don’t get me wrong, I could get by and like we say in Nigeria, ‘Nobody can sell me while speaking Yoruba’. This basically means I understand the language well enough to know if I was being sold (this might’ve originated from the times of slave trade 🤔)

Back to my experiment – I noticed how lots of different non-African people around the world who have names that have ‘symbols’ never (or hardly ever) write their names without these symbols. In Yoruba, we would call this ami (and yes, I realise I just typed ami without the proper ami 😅).

For instance, my name is Ore (without the ami) and Ọrẹ (with the ami)

Anyway, I noticed this about people around me and remembered how my dad would always add the proper ami every time he wrote my name.

Then I wondered, why don’t I do that? I see lots of people doing similar things around the world but we (Africans) don’t and the reasons for this are numerous.

From intentional acts to destroy our native languages to the shame that has been directed towards it for centuries, it’s no wonder me and so many others struggle with this. I could write pages on this topic alone.

So with all the stereotypes and biases running around in my head, I plunged on and decided to do a simple experiment.

I added the proper ami to my entire name on LinkedIn! 😎

I can’t find the right words to express the amount of courage this took. Social media would have been much easier but this is LinkedIn, a professional space. A space where I’m trying to sell myself so why on earth would I add more complications to an already long name?

I ran a quick search on LinkedIn and came across a good number of non-African names with symbols and that gave me courage. My name might have a few more letters than most names but I’ve already lost my language, do I also have to strip my name of its proper history and heritage?

A LinkedIn feature which I love and use is the recording of your name so visitors to your page can listen to how your name should be pronounced. I love the feature! It’s inclusive.

I’ll be frank, another thing that gave me courage is the fact that I’m not actively job searching at the moment. I’m certain I would have hesitated much more if that were the case.

You might find this silly or you might be able to relate. Either way, I’d like to hear from you.

If you’re a hiring manager, would you hire someone or even look at a CV with a name such as Ọrẹolúwa Matẹ̀milọ́lá?

And if you’re African with a name that has symbols or maybe even from West Africa with a Yoruba name with ami, would you feel confident adding the proper ami to your name in a professional space?

And while we’re on the topic, let’s continue to work hard at breaking those centuries-old biases that have unknowingly seeped into our very sub-conscious and made us wary and ashamed of our very own culture.

©Ọrẹolúwa Matẹ̀milọ́lá 2022 All Rights Reserved

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