Brown Girl In The Ring
“Brown Girl in the Ring came from a place of desperation” says Olukemi Ogunyemi. “Though my recollections are pretty harsh, the memoirs reflect my reality. All of us were in some kind of pain. People feel judged sometimes when you ask them to change something without any understanding of why they could consider doing so. If we understand things, we are more inclined to make changes” says Olukemi”.
“All of the experiences have been a learning, a deepening understanding to myself. The painful moments are deeply painful. The pain does pass and as it passes, you can understand why it’s happened. This is not about accepting it. Sometimes it’s just about understanding so that you can move to the next part. Struggles are where our biggest growth comes from. Then if we choose to do so, we can share our experiences and help others. “
Love isn’t enough
In interracial relationships love is not enough. When two people come together and love one another, they don’t necessarily understand the hardship that may emerge, especially when children are involved. Standing up for your partner can be incredibly difficult and sometimes one partner may not be able do it. The person of colour needs to be able to be strong enough within themselves to basically coach their partner to recognise and meet their children’s emotional needs in the face of the racism the children may be experiencing.
We have to prepare our children to go out into the world feeling relatively safe and equipped to find their space there. Identity matters. We need to know who we are so we can help other people to understand us better.
Olukemi recalls her experience at a book signing at a Black Wall Street in Devon. The majority of people that came to see her were white moms with their mixed-race children.
“somebody like me who lived in survival, spent most my life making myself smaller and bending to where I would fit in. I learned how to do that. Sadly, I’ve taught my children how to do that. My husband is mixed race, and we still have problems, because we’re still learning about our own bias.”
“My daughter arranged for me to go for my 50th birthday without me knowing. The night she told me I was going, my aunt appeared to me in a dream. She said, “you’re going back for what you need for this next part in your life.” It really did feel like that. The visit to Lagos woke something up me. A new Kemi was birthed.”
I felt like royalty in Lagos airport. This visit made me really proud. I admired the way people in Lagos hustled to live and came back to Scotland with a greater appreciation for actually living in the UK.
When asked how she got through the challenges she faced in life, Olukemi replies, “My faith has kept me going. I learned that from my grandmother. There is more to us than just what you see. There is something really spiritual.”
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host, Tesse Akpeki, and co-host me Paula Okonneh, where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you, our audience will walk with us in this adventure. Let me tell you about our special guest Olukemi Ogunyemi. She’s proudly black and Scottish. And Olukemi Ogunyemi is the best book author and award winner for 2022 ,with her memoirs of “A Brown Girl Living in Scotland”. This is a beautifully crafted, beautifully personal memoir in which she tells her momentous struggle growing up as a mixed race child in Scotland. She tells in graphic details and describes the treatment she received and the acts of racism that continued into adulthood, which affected her life as a wife and a mother of four children. She lives and she breeds compassion, not blame. And she’s a highly successful body therapist who blocks on racism and transgender issues she can be found at “olukemiogunyemi.com”. And with that, I want to say welcome to “TesseTalks”
00:01:32 Olukemi: Thank you for having me.
00:01:34 Tesse: Hi Olukemi, I’m so overjoyed to at last be talking with you. I’m a great fan of what you do in your work. And I’ll be asking you some questions relating to some things that you have said to have said in reviews and interviews. So I’m going to pull some of them. The first one is a quote, which is, “we have some of the best laws in the world for racism, but without the understanding of why we need them. It’s like passing an exam that someone gave you the answers for without understanding there can be no real change without building new foundations and real community”. Now, this really touched me as a quote, and I wonder whether you can elaborate on that perspective.
00:02:25 Olukemi: Well, I do think that in the UK we have some really good laws that are supposed to protect us. But they’re not upheld a lot of the time, because people don’t understand why they’re there in the first place. And to get people to change, they need to understand why that changes. If we understand things, we are more inclined to make the changes. So I think that government in different places put out different things where they say now it’s going to be like this and people don’t comply, they tend to get into them and our situation as if. I don’t know if people maybe feel judged sometimes when you ask them to change something without any understanding. So I think that’s what we’re missing, a key piece of education really.
00:03:14 Tesse: Yeah. So education is very key. And Paula’s going to kind of ask a question relating to another thing that you said to in the rewiew. So Paula, over to you.
00:03:25 Paula: Yes. So you mentioned that in interracial relationships, love is not enough. And you said as a mixed race, woman and mother, your answer sadly is no. Please say more. Because I mean, I read a lot of your book, I didn’t read everything just because there wasn’t enough time. But Oh my gosh. So can you elaborate on that? Love isn’t enough.
00:03:48 Olukemi: No, no, no, no. Not in the world that we live in. Absolutely not. Even if you got a prime thing in our country, if you look at what happened in the Royal family that shows, like people were shocked at some of the things that came out when Meghan was pregnant and the questions that were asked. My children have always been debated about, will they have Afro hair? How dark will they be? Sometimes it’s just questioning, and sometimes it’s through sheer worry. And I think that when two people come together and you do love one another, they don’t necessarily understand the hardship. And for somebody like myself who just lived in survival. So I spent most my life making myself smaller and bending to where I would fit in. I learned how to do that. I’ve taught my children how to do that, sadly. So I think that I didn’t realize the impact of having children with somebody that would actually turn out to be, have really racist issues and problems within himself, and his family that have impacted on the children. So I don’t think that love’s enough. My husband now is mixed race, and we still have problems, because we’re still learning about our own bias. I’ve got three brothers, I’m married to a mixed race man. And even from the perception of them being able to defend the sister or the wife or even stand beside them, they find that incredibly difficult and sometimes can’t do it. So for somebody that doesn’t understand it makes it harder, and if you don’t know that then yeah it’s going to be tough.
00:05:42 Tesse: Absolutely.
00:05:44 Paula: Yeah. That says a lot. That says a lot. It’s going to be tough. So what do you think, I mean, these might be deep questions, but your book is very, we mentioned this in the bio that is graphic, but it’s also, I mean heart wrenching. And it’s also a book that I read. I wish I could listen to it, and I’m sure that it’s going to come out at some point.
00:06:07 Olukemi: Yeah.
00:06:09 Paula: But I read, but I walked with you in those hard relationships. I could feel it. As I said to you earlier on, I woke up this morning and continued reading and crying. I’m like, she went through enough, a lot, you know? So what do you think, if love is not enough, what do you think builds relationships?
00:06:30 Olukemi: I think primarily we need to understand who we are, first of all, you know? Individually, personally, we need to know who we are. Because if we don’t, we tend to follow things that we maybe, if we sit down and think about, we don’t actually agree with. So I think ultimately we need to know who we are. And especially for people of color, I think we need to know who we are so we can help people to understand us better as well. Because we’ve spent generation after generation surviving, bending into the way things are. So when I wrote the book, it came from a place of desperation and it was, I mean, actually there was a lot of things that weren’t in the book, believe it or not. You know, and it was still pretty harsh. But that’s been my reality, I haven’t known anything different than that. And I think being brought up by a mother who didn’t know the importance of what a mixed child would need. My mom was affected by the bias and the racism around her. So she, for her own survival became that to her own family. You know, it’s like she doesn’t see her own bias in that. But I think that if we’re honest, there’s a lot of people, people of color as well, where to survive we’ve had to bend. And it’s like if we don’t put these things on the table and be honest about it, then it takes more than just love to bring up children, especially children of color. We have to prepare them at the moment to go out into the world to feel relatively safe, to find the space there. So I think that people that are bringing up children of color, they need to be aware. It’s fundamental for their child. They must be aware and they must be aware of who they are.
00:08:35 Paula: Wow. That’s very, very true. And you know, you can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t be what you’re not. And I think about, like as I said, I read your story and it was gut wrenching. But I’m just thinking as you talk about preparing your children, children of color need to be prepared. I just was thinking your mom had never had that experience and she couldn’t because she wasn’t a woman of color.
00:09:00 Olukemi: Absolutely. Absolutely.
00:09:03 Paula: Yeah, I guess it was really hard for her to, what you were telling her, she couldn’t experience it. She couldn’t understand, because she’d never walked in those shoes. Whereas with your children, you’ve walked those shoes and so you can tell them, yes, I understand. I’ve been there, right?
00:09:21 Olukemi: Absolutely. A hundred percent. But I think as well from my dad’s perception, you know, like he wasn’t strong enough to step in and say that this is damaging to the children. Because he came to the UK, went to university, worked, you know. And like it wasn’t his country to begin with, although he’s been here for most of his adult life, it’s like he was in survival as a black man, you know? So it is like everybody’s in pain. So, but I think my generation and definitely the generations that are coming behind, they’re showing something different. And I think there’s more openness and space and people are feeling more confident to say now that isn’t okay. So yeah, I think that we have to be aware. But my mom, she, my mom also didn’t want to ever, like when I was younger and we lived in London, she was very part of the black community and everything was mixed in. But when things didn’t work out with her and my dad, and she went to Scotland, like the black community was the worst thing in the world for her. So in her, young woman with two young children, it was like her bitterness was put towards that. She didn’t realize the importance of taking her children away from that, what it would do. And she did. I mean, I saw her last year and we spoke, did actually speak briefly about the book, and she said to me, I’m really sorry. She says, I can’t believe that you’ve turned out the way you have turned out with what happened to you. So although we don’t have a relationship and we can’t connect as mother and daughter, she was able to say, yeah, I know it was bad. But she also said to me, this was the first time I ever heard this, she hadn’t wanted to leave London. She had no choice. So I don’t know what life would’ve been like had we not left London.
00:11:28 Paula: Yes. A life that was never experienced. Tesse?
00:11:34 Tesse: Yeah, I’m reflective. Look at me, the book really touched me, from the very beginning when you wrote a tribute to your auntie, who you got on well with, who loved you to bits. And there’s so many different parts in it, and you’ve just mentioned that there are bits that weren’t in it. So for the sake of our listeners, is there a story, any story at all that you’d love to share in this space? You know, something that really resonated with you, and yeah, we’d love to hear anything at all that you’d like to draw out on and speak a little bit more. Like, you know, little bits of nuggets of “Brown Girl in the Ring”.
00:12:13 Paula: Yes, and that is our theme, isn’t it?
00:12:15 Tesse: It’s definitely is our theme, yeah.
00:12:16 Paula: “Brown Girl in the Ring”. Yes.
00:12:18 Olukemi: Well, it’s easy to speak about my auntie, because it’s really, really interesting, because I went to Lagos last March, because her daughter, I hadn’t seen since she left. It’s in the book when she had her baby, and she left because she had fallen out with my mom. So she heard that I wrote the book, got the book, and was able to track me down. So I went and met her in London and that was just beautiful. And she filled in bits that I hadn’t known, which was really, really interesting. And my aunts actually what she’d done for me, she’d done for four other cousins that also struggled with their moms, and it was her brother’s children. So she was very, very, very, very special, very special woman. And I didn’t realize at the time how important it was going to Lagos by myself and having the experience with the family and having her show me a different way of life, which absolutely a hundred percent gave me appreciation for actually living in the UK. So seeing that as a child, it was really quite disturbing to see shanty towns and different things like that. But when I returned, last March to Lagos, like I came in on the early flight. I came through the airport really gracefully because my cousin had arranged it. So I didn’t even need to go through like normal passport. It was like royalty in Lagos airport. That is amazing, you know.
00:14:02 Paula: That’s Naija for you, Nigeria.
00:14:06 Olukemi: So fantastic. So, as you’re probably aware, Google Maps is everything in Lagos, so we should have made it across the bridge. My cousin lives in Ikoyi, in time before the bridge got busy. But Google took us all the way into Lagos main city through all the times at like 6:30, 7 o’clock in the morning. So I saw the hustle as an adult. I saw the children going to school. I saw people coming out to sell their wares, like real community, real thriving, it’s like. And then actually traveling over the bridge and realizing as an adult, a country that actually should have so much wealth. It’s like there are these young, beautiful women in little black skirts and white shirt on the back of dirty motorbikes, you know? Little buses jammed full with people because there is no transport. And to see that as an adult, it disturbed me as a child, but as an adult, it made me really proud. It made me really proud that, that that’s the way it works. In Nigeria, it’s like, do you know if you don’t hustle, you don’t eat. It’s like you have to get to work. Family is everything. To be back inside that cocoon again, because I realized that I didn’t go into a lot of personal, what kept me going throughout my life and it’s always been a faith. And that’s what I got, I learned that from Nigeria. You know I learned that from my grandmother. I learned that there was more to us than just what you see. There was something really spiritual that happened to me as a child there, and that really kept me going all the way through. So to return there like all those years later, and to see that, that was really special and that was like, that was of God’s making itself just for me to see Lagos properly. And when we got into my cousins and we sat down in the kitchen, she’s like, ah, Kim, Kim, God needed you to see that this morning. She says, that never happens, and I said, yeah I know, and I’m really grateful for it. And it, yeah that for me has been fundamental to be able to just see that again.
00:16:39 Paula: Wow. And I’m sitting here thinking, Olukemi, that, that gave you a new identity almost it sounds.
00:16:47 Olukemi: Completely.
00:16:48 Olukemi: Wow.
00:16:49 Paula: So it kind of woke something up in you that.
00:16:52 Olukemi: Completely. Completely. You know, it was really funny because I am a dreamer. You know, there’s been dreams in the book that come, and my youngest daughter, we have her birthday on the same day, she arranged for me to go for my 50th birthday without me knowing. So I found out three weeks literally before my birthday that I was going to Lagos. So it all happened really, really quickly. And the night she told me I was going, I dreamt that my aunt came and she says, yeah, you’re going back for what you need for this next part in your life. And it really did feel like that.
00:17:31 Paula: Wow.
00:17:32 Olukemi: It really did feel like that very strongly.
00:17:35 Paula: Wow. I hear in you like a strength that came into you from that experience. As you said, it was like a new identity. It was like a new Kemi was birthed, you know, from that.
00:17:48 Olukemi: Absolutely.
00:17:49 Paula: Yes. Yes. One thing Lagos, I mean, or Nigeria does, is it gives you an identity of who you are.
00:17:56 Olukemi: Oh gosh. Yeah. But I think that’s definitely what happened to me as a child. If I hadn’t had that part, I wouldn’t have survived completely.
00:18:07 Paula: So with all of that, listening to that, you know, how do you term success? You know. You know, you’ve talked about when you went back, now you walked into the, I mean, you don’t even have to go through immigration. You were, you had now written the book. Because it was like meeting you, you were like almost a celebrity.
00:18:26 Olukemi: You know, well, my cousin’s older than me by six years I think it is, but she went like very unlike all the rest of my cousins. She returned to Nigeria after she qualified, and she became the first female director of Shell Oil.
00:18:44 Tesse: Ooh, wow. Read about in the papers.
00:18:48 Olukemi: Yeah. Yeah. She’s retired and she still works, but she works like in charities and different things like that. So, Yeah, and her husband, I went to Nigeria thinking that her husband done something with computers to later figure out when people kept asking her when the next season was starting. So he owns the biggest network company in Nigeria. He’s the person that’s taken, I want to be a millionaire and everything into Lagos. Until they got, so that was the reason I think I was fast tracked through the airport. It’s more to do with their status than mine. It all helps.
00:19:29 Tesse: It all helps. It all helps.
00:19:34 Paula: Still related to you, still your cousins. Yeah. Oh wow. Wow. Such a story. Such a story, Olukemi.
00:19:47 Olukemi: You know, just to, if you don’t mind, I would like to go back to when you asked me about interracial relationships. So last year I’d done a lot of book sign-ins, and one of the book sign-ins I’d done was for Black Wall Street, the new one that opened in Devon, and I was there for a whole afternoon. And the majority of people that came to see me were white moms with their mixed race children.
00:20:12 Paula: Whoa.
00:20:14 Olukemi: It was unbelievable. And the mothers came in like angry and fighting and they had been fighting the world, like really, as you can imagine what these children go through. And one young girl in particular, the head was down, you could see that she wanted her mom to stop talking. She didn’t want to be talking about this. And after her mom kind of spoke nonstop for 10 minutes, she said, so I don’t know what to do, so I just bought her your book. And the amount of women that came with the young children because I don’t want people to think that I don’t think that interrelationships is not right. That isn’t what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, is that the person of color needs to be able to be strong enough within themselves to basically coach their partner for what their children’s emotional needs will be.
00:21:11 Paula: Yeah. Yeah. That’s a pivotal point. Really crucial. Yeah. And you know, a lot of it comes from, you know, awareness ,and spreading awareness. Your book has probably, has not probably, your book has opened up a lot of conversations, I’m sure about the impact of racism on children of, you know, interracial couples. And the impact it’s having on, you know, the children of color. Especially, I can see it being especially hard if your mom, who normally is the nurturer has not experienced that and doesn’t really know where to go from there.
00:21:53 Olukemi: So a hundred percent. And I think it’s one of those things where It’s a really difficult conversation to have. Because nobody ever wants to tell people how to bring up their children. But I feel that from my position, you know, I am somebody’s mixed race child, and I have mixed race children. So I feel that it’s something that I must speak about for these children that are coming up behind us, if you like.
00:22:23 Paula: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
00:22:27 Olukemi: Yeah, because in Scotland especially, I think it’s important because the population, in the cities, you have more black people and mixed race people. It’s a lot of the suburbs and stuff don’t,.So there’s a lot of young children that do suffer because in environments like that, there is no, like, people talk about privilege and different things like that. These children don’t have that at all, in any way, shape, or form. I think the awareness is really important.
00:22:59 Tesse: Whoa, this is so deep and actually so insightful about what you’re sharing with us now, and you know, as we close out, are there any last thoughts as you to our listeners about what they see success as? You know, you have been through so much and yet our encounter with you even today is of a woman who is successful. Yes. Last thoughts.
00:23:22 Olukemi: You know, we never get more than we can handle.
00:23:26 Paula: I agree.
00:23:27 Olukemi: And I think that for me, like all of the experiences have been a learning, a deepening understanding to myself, you know? And it’s like, yeah, that the painful moments are painful, but it does pass and as it passes, you understand, if you can understand why it’s happened, it’s not about even accepting it. Sometimes it’s about just understanding, even if it’s not the way you would do stuff it, it’s to understand that so that you can move to the next part. Because I think for all the struggles, it’s where our biggest growth comes from, and then we can share and help others.
00:24:10 Tesse: Wow. Paula, I think that’s an excellent place for us to wrap up, don’t you?
00:24:15 Paula: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. Olukemi. You have said it. I say that over and over that you know, our struggles are sometimes not for us, it’s for others. So that when we see them going through it, we can be that place or that person of hope. Or sometimes we may not even know them. You know, as you wrote that book, it has impacted and reached so many more people than you can think of. And you going to make some changes through your writing as difficult as it was for you, I believe.
00:24:52 Olukemi: Absolutely. Absolutely.
00:24:54 Paula: So to our audience, thank you so much for tuning in. Please head over to “Apple Podcast”, “Google Podcast”, “Spotify”, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. And if you like what you heard, who wouldn’t, please write us a raving review. And if you’d like to be on our show, remember it can be personal or professional. And please head over to our website, “www.tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks” and apply. Thank you again Olukemi for being such an amazing guest.
00:25:32 Tesse: You’re awesome.
00:25:34 Paula: You are special.
00:25:36 Olukemi: Thank you for having me. It’s been a complete pleasure.